Breast milk is amazing because it is enough as the sole nutrition for your baby for the first six months. It contains antibodies, so your baby has a first line of defense against illnesses. No other milk can replicate the protection breast milk gives your baby because it can also change, according to the nutritional needs of an infant as he ages.
In fact, the nutritional content of breast milk changes depending on the time of day it is expressed. It was illustrated by a birth doula, Sarah Fillmore, on a Facebook post that recently went viral.
In the post, Fillmore wrote that breast milk has its own circadian rhythms, much like the human body. Breast milk produced in the morning has a different composition than breast milk produced at night.
“One of the amazing qualities of human milk is how its composition changes throughout the day,” Fillmore wrote. “Milk produced in the morning has three times the level of cortisol, a hormone that promotes alertness, than milk made at night. Night milk is higher in melatonin, which encourages sleep.”
There’s lots of scientific evidence to back this up. Researchers from the University of Southern California found that milk expressed during the day does have more cortisol, as Fillmore mentioned, and it also contains more amino acids that promote activity. Aside from melatonin, a hormone which promotes sleep and digestion, milk expressed at night contains DNA building blocks that promote healthy sleep.
La Leche League Internationalnotes that scientists have discovered other substances in breast milk that follow circadian rhythms. These include iron, which peaks at around noon; vitamin E, which peaks at around 6 p.m., and sodium and potassium, which both peak in the morning.
What does this mean? While more research still needs to be done, it can be beneficial to feed your baby morning-expressed breast milk during the day, so he stays awake and active. Giving him night-expressed milk at the end of the day can help improve his circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. Experts suggest it may also help him distinguish day from night, which he cannot do so yet.
“A practical tip for breastfeeding moms building up a freezer supply is to label the milk with the time it was pumped and try to feed it around the same time of day or night. This may help your baby establish better circadian rhythms, and may help you get a better night’s rest,” Fillmore shared.
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If you struggle with getting your little one to sleep throughout the night, giving him melatonin-rich milk before bedtime might be the best way to help him (and you) get a good night’s rest.