Viral Photo Shows How Breast Milk Changes for Your Baby's Needs

An Arkansas mom noticed her pumped milk changed when her baby was sick demonstrating one of the amazing things about breast milk.

two bags of different colored breast milk

Facebook / Mallory Smothers

Can we talk about how amazing breast milk is for a minute? Research shows that not only does breast milk provide babies with the ideal nutrients they need, but it also adjusts in quantity based on the baby's hunger and reformulates with added immune benefits if they are sick.

Case in point: Meet Mallory Smothers, the mom whose photo of her breast milk changing to fit her baby's needs went majorly viral. During a late-night breastfeeding sesh, the Arkansas mama noticed her little girl was "congested, irritable, and sneezing A LOT." Smothers recalls thinking that her daughter probably had a cold.

The next morning, Smothers pumped her breasts like she always does. Only this time, she noticed something she described as "just cuckoo awesome:" Her breast milk had changed color and was more yellow, resembling colostrum, the antibody-rich milk the body produces during pregnancy and the first few days postpartum. So, Smothers decided to post a side-by-side pic to Facebook.

"I read an article from a medical journal not too long ago about how Mom's milk changes to tailor baby's needs in more ways than just caloric intake," Smothers wrote in her caption. In other words, breast milk composition adjusts to the health and nutritional needs of your baby.

In the article, the doctor explained that when a baby nurses, they create a vacuum in which the infant's saliva sneaks into the mother's nipple, says Smothers. "There, it is believed that mammary gland receptors interpret the 'baby spit backwash' for bacteria and viruses and, if they detect something amiss (i.e., the baby is sick or fighting off an infection), Mom's body will actually change the milk's immunological composition, tailoring it to the baby's particular pathogens by producing customized antibodies."

Research shows that this interchange between the nursing parent and their baby informs the makeup of the breast milk the baby receives from feeding to feeding as well as over time as a baby grows. In fact, in the evenings, breast milk has a higher fat content and contains more of the building blocks babies use to produce melatonin helping them sleep. Additionally, a 2013 study published in Clinical and Translational Immunology found that when a baby is ill, the number of leukocytes in their lactating parent's breast milk spikes.

This information made a big impression on Smothers: "So I filed that away in the back of my mind until I was packing frozen milk into the big deep freeze today."

That's probably why she realized what had happened when she noticed the color change in her breast milk. She explained the significance of the side-by-side breast milk picture this way:

"I pumped the milk on the left Thursday night before we laid down for bed," she said. "When we got up Friday morning, I pumped, just as we always do. What I pumped is on the right side of the photo. I didn't notice a difference until today, but look at how much more the milk I produced Friday resembles colostrum (The super milk full of antibodies and leukocytes you make during the first few days after birth) and this comes after nursing the baby with a cold all night long. Pretty awesome huh?! The human body never ceases to amaze me."

Same here, Mallory! Mad props for showing the rest of the world just how evolved (and just plain awesome) breast milk can be.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom. Check out her website for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.

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