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Extracted from Survival Guide to Midwifery, 2nd Edition (2012) Diane M. Fraser and Margaret A. Cooper, Oxford; Churchill Livingstone: 2012. Courtesy Elsevier

Human milk varies in its composition. The most dramatic change in the composition of milk occurs during the course of a feed. At the beginning of the feed the baby receives a high volume of relatively low-fat milk, but as the feed progresses, the proportion of fat increases. The baby's ability to obtain this fat rich milk is not determined by the length of the feed but by the quality of the attachment to the breast.

It is the fat and not the protein in human milk that has particular significance.

  • 98 per cent of the lipid in human milk is in the form of tricglycerides
  • Over 100 fatty acids have so far been identified
  • Fat provides the baby with more than 50 per cent of calorific requirements

Human milk also provides carbohydrate, in the form of lactose; protein; vitamins A, D, E, K and C; minerals and trace elements, including iron, zinc, calcium; anti-infective factors including leucocytes, especially in the first 10 days of life when there are more white cells in breast milk than in blood; immunoglobulins; lysozyme; lactoferrin; bifidus factor; and hormones and growth factors.

The Practising Midwife featured articles

Human Milk: Medicine for Premature Babies 2011; 14 (11): 32 Author: Sioned Hilton

Breastmilk breaks new boundaries 2012; 15(7): 37-39 Author: Sioned Hilton

Further reading

Infant Nutrition Council (Australia & New Zealand). Breastmilk information. Ballard O, Morrow A. Human Milk Composition: Nutrients and Bioactive Factors. Pediatr Clin North Am 2013; 60(1):49-74 Available at:

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