What to Know About How Breast Milk Tastes

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 02, 2022
5 min read

It’s natural to wonder about your newborn’s taste experiences. Since the first flavors that most children experience come from breast milk, many parents find themselves wondering, “What does breast milk taste like?” 

The answer is that the exact flavor of breast milk varies from person to person and from day to day. It’s affected by factors like what you eat and how fresh it is. In general, many people say that it tastes like skim cow's milk.

Many adults know so little about the taste that they couldn’t even guess if breast milk is salty or sweet. Breast milk should be slightly sweet.

But — under the right conditions — other flavor profiles can develop. Most of these flavors aren’t bad or unhealthy for your newborn. For example, if strong spices or lots of garlic are a regular part of your diet, then your milk will take on mildly spicy or garlicky smells and flavors, and that's fine. 

If your child is ever fussy about a particular taste in your breast milk — particularly some that’s been in the fridge for a while — then you can try mixing it with a different batch of milk. Usually, a fifty-fifty blend will reduce any unwanted flavors enough for your child’s tastes.

The one thing you need to keep an eye out for is spoiled milk. Human breast milk can spoil just like any other kind of milk. This leads to a sharp, sour smell and flavor. There’s no way to save spoiled milk. You should be able to tell it’s spoiled by tasting a sip of it yourself. 

Milk is fresh when you produce it. But many women choose to pump for a variety of reasons. Breast milk is only safe for up to eight days in your fridge and lasts a bit longer in the freezer. Discard it as soon as you realize that too much time has passed.

A variety of factors can change the flavor of your breast milk. These include: 

  • Your diet. The foods that you eat can greatly influence the taste of your breast milk. This is particularly true for foods with strong flavors — like garlic. 
  • Timing. The precise composition — and therefore the taste — of your breast milk can vary even from the start of one feeding session to the end. For example, your milk tends to get fattier as the feeding session continues. The nutrient composition of your milk also changes as your baby grows up. The milk that you produce the first few days after birth is packed full of nutrients and tends to be thicker and yellower than normal milk. 
  • Enzyme activity. All types of milk contain an enzyme called lactase. Lactase helps your body break down the fats in milk and even provides immune benefits. But some people have overactive enzymes that move faster than normal. This can create a fishy or soapy odor in breast milk that you pump and save for later. It can even affect the taste. Sometimes your baby won’t have a problem with the milk, but other times they may refuse to drink. The milk is still safe. You can scald your milk to restore good flavor by gently heating it for a brief period. 
  • Certain chemical reactions. Sometimes your milk can smell and taste sour. This can happen very quickly if you have certain additives in your diet — like polyunsaturated and rancid fats or water rich in copper and iron ions. If you notice that your milk is spoiling very quickly, then you’ll likely need to change some aspects of your diet. Talk to your doctor as soon as you notice the problem.

You may be concerned about your breast milk developing unusual flavors or just curious to see how the taste changes over time. In the case of an unusual flavor, you should double-check that all milk-pumping and storage devices are clean and free of bacteria. Certain bacterial contaminations can cause serious health problems for your child. 

If everything is clean, then you should taste your milk when it first comes out and store it normally in the fridge. The less desirable flavors from lactase overactivity can develop over hours or days. This means that you should taste it every few hours for the first day and then once a day afterward. Take note of when you start to notice soapy or fishy flavors. 

If the flavors set in quickly, then you may need to figure out how to scald your milk in diverse places when pumping away from home.

There are many myths and rumors surrounding the benefits of breastfeeding your child compared to other early feeding solutions. 

The flavor of breast milk is one of its benefits. Most formulas are only one flavor. That’s the only flavor that your child will experience from one meal to the next. Breast milk provides a more varied experience. 

The other flavor advantage is that breast milk specifically introduces your child to the flavors that they’ll experience in your home as they grow. It adjusts your child to the particular herbs and spices that are most present in your diet. Most of the time, this directly reflects the flavors that they’ll grow up with. Breast milk gets them used to these ingredients right from the start.   

Other, non-flavor-related benefits of breast milk include:

  • Lower risk of diarrhea, stomach problems, and ear infections for your child
  • A fantastic bonding experience — since newborns can only see 15 inches in front of them, this gives them a chance to study your face and meet your eyes
  • Exposure to a lot of immune-system components, like antibodies, that are relevant to their environment

Even though they’re both mammalian-made milk, there are some important differences when comparing breast milk vs cow milk. 

The nutrients in cow's milk vary depending on whether or not it’s a whole or low-fat variety and whether or not it has added nutrients, like vitamin D. 

Both have fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. They’re also both packed with micronutrients like calcium, potassium, and a variety of minerals. 

But the nutrient balance in breast milk is specifically designed for a human baby, while the ratios in cow milk are right for a baby cow. Cow's milk, for example, should never contain human antibodies or human-specific immune components.  

As you transition away from breast milk to cow's milk, keep in mind that lots of young children are allergic to traditional dairy products. You should seek immediate medical attention if you think that your child is having an allergic reaction to any new food. 

Symptoms of a dairy allergy include: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing and tightness in the throat
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Watery eyes that may also itch
  • Hives