The Internet is loving this recent side-by-side photo of two starkly different-looking batches of one woman’s breast milk:
Mother of two Ashlee Chase, 29, took a photo after her daughter Elliot caught a runny nose and fever, thus nursing less than usual. But when Chase went to pump her extra milk, she was surprised by its yellowish tint.
Read the Facebook post here.
After Elliot’s pediatrician said the milk’s color didn’t make it unsafe to store and serve, Chase gave it to the baby. The next day, Elliot’s symptoms seemed to subside. Chase posted a photo of the milk on Facebook as a testament to the way her body seemed to know just what her baby needed, and appeared to have altered its milk accordingly. “Breastfeeding is hard, so why else would I do it?” says Chase.
But although there is proof that breast milk sometimes changes to meet a baby’s needs, it’s hard to say whether Chase’s body actually made the milk more colorful in response to her daughter’s illness — or played any role in alleviating her particular symptoms, according to Steve Hicks, MD, a pediatrician and breast-milk expert at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
In a study published last month, Dr. Hicks and his colleagues found that the breast milk of moms who gave birth to premature babies contained more microscopic molecules that regulate metabolism, growth, and immune response than the milk of moms who had full-term babies, thus helping pre-term babies develop faster. “It’s possible that this also happens in response to an acute illness, as in this case,” he says, “but I wouldn’t expect the molecules to alter the overall appearance of the milk.”
It’s also possible that exposure to an ill child could change the content of another microscopic health booster, Immunoglobulin A (IgA), found in breast milk. This might contribute to the immune-system benefits of breastfeeding, Dr. Hicks says.
That said, breast milk’s color may have more to do with a mom’s lifestyle than the needs of her baby. “Changes in a mom’s diet and hydration, time of [milk] collection, and storage [conditions] can influence the fat content of breast milk,” Dr. Hicks says. The ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat may affect its color.
The bottom line: Although this isn’t the first time a yellow-ish bag of breast milk has gone semi-viral, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to breast milk’s benefits. “There’s a lot of science to support the claim that breast milk changes to meet a baby’s needs on a day-to-day basis,” Dr. Hicks says, but “whether you can see those changes in a picture is hard to say.”