Calories in breast milk

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Many breastfeeding mothers are worried about how many calories breast milk contains. This article tells you everything you need about the calorie, mineral, and fat content of breast milk.

How many calories does your baby need?

The energy your baby needs during the first two years of his life depends on how active he is.

Pre-term babies need a lot more calories than full-term babies because their little bodies are growing and developing much faster. The same goes for overweight infants. Babies who grow at a slower rate also need fewer calories.

Calories norms per day for your baby depending on his age:

  • 0-6 months  - 9 kcal per kg of baby's weight (which is about 28 kilocalories per pound)
  • 6-12 months - 7 kcal per kg, which equals about 25 kilocalories per pound
  • 1-2 years - 5.5 kcal per kg, or 20.27 kilocalories per pound

Example: A baby who weighs 8 kilograms at the age of six months will need 56 calories a day; if he weighs 10 kilograms at the age of one year he will need 52.5 calories a day; and when he is two years old, it's only 48.75 calories a day.

Breast milk contains a lot of calories because it is composed of fat, lactose, and protein. Protein contributes towards building muscle mass while the energy content in breast milk is about 1 kcal/ml, while cow's milk has 3 kcal/ml.

Breastfed babies get approximately 5% of their daily calorie requirement from their mother's milk which comes down to around 200-250 kcal per day (if breastfeeding exclusively) or 60-80 kcals/kg/day for a child weighing 15 kg. If both mom and baby are healthy, there is no limit for how long they can breastfeed because it will usually stop when the baby no longer needs it.

Breast milk calories and ingredients

The calorie content of mature breast milk is around 68 kcal / 100 ml. Breast milk contains around 7.3 g / 100 ml lactose as well as smaller amounts of other carbohydrates (oligo and polysaccharides, glycoproteins, glucosamines, etc.)

The fat content of mature breast milk is 4.2 g / 100 ml, the majority of which is accounted for by the triglycerides. 57% of the fatty acids in breast milk are unsaturated. The fat content of breast milk also contains fat-soluble vitamins, phospholipids, and cholesterol. Mature breast milk contains 0.9 g / 100 ml protein. The whey proteins include immunoglobulins, lysozyme, lactoferrin, and alpha-lactalbumin.

Breast milk also contains minerals, trace elements, and vitamins. Other components are hormones, enzymes, and growth factors.

White blood cells swim in breast milk (75% of all MM cells are macrophages), which eliminate bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Breast milk also contains minerals and trace elements, namely: K, Cl, Ca, Na, P, Mg, Zn, Fe, Cu, F, J, Mn, and Co, in descending order of concentration. Iron from breast milk is absorbed up to 50-75%.

In terms of calorie content, fat, protein, carbohydrates, etc., mature breast milk remains the same throughout the breastfeeding period, only with regard to the antibodies and some vitamins, and changes occur. 

The antibody level increases after about six months and then again in the second year of life, in each case when the child becomes more mobile and makes more contact with the outside world. During the weaning phase, there are changes in the salt content.

Calories in breast milk are constantly changing

Breast milk constantly adapts to the needs of the child. It changes within the first 2 weeks of life from the so-called first milk (colostrum), to transition milk and then to "mature" milk. In addition, because of its higher water content, breast milk quenches thirst particularly well in summer and is then more energetic in winter. 

The composition of breast milk also depends on the child's developmental phase and whether it is sick and needs a particularly large number of antibodies (immunoglobulins). 

Even the meals required on a daily basis vary in their composition. Every child gets its own milk, which is intended only for itself.

Calories in cow and lactose-free milk

If you want to have a full understanding of these numbers, you have to get know with calories in other types of milk.

When you look at the label of lactose-free milk, you will find there are 48kcal / 100ml.

The energy value of fluid cow's milk is given in fat and carbohydrate content (50% carbohydrates). The carbohydrate content of 100 ml fluid milk is 6 g. Cow's milk also contains two types of proteins, casein and whey proteins.

Calories in cow milk

They are constantly changing. Cow's milk is mainly a source of fat and protein. The energy content of 100 ml fluid cow's milk is 162kcal, the carbohydrate content is 4g, and the protein content is 3.3g. The composition of cow's milk also contains lactose as well as minerals, trace elements, vitamins, etc.

Cow's milk has been used for many years because it can be produced almost everywhere and does not require a large production area.

Calories in almond or banana milk

If you choose almond milk instead of cow's milk, 170ml (1 cup) contains about 30kcal. Banana milk is much more caloric with 270 kcal per 100 ml serving.

Calories in soy or rice milk

If you choose soy or rice kinds of milk, they contain around 60-90 kcal / 100 ml because these types of milk are plant derivatives and therefore have a higher carbohydrate content which is transformed into energy in the body.

The protein content is very similar to that in cow's milk since these plant-based drinks also contain many proteins - soy contains 9g protein / 100ml, banana 6g protein / 100ml, cow's 3.3 g protein /100ml).  

Benefits of breastfeeding

Breast-fed children receive a diet that is appropriate to their species and that is optimally composed for them. Through breast milk, they absorb protective substances for the gastrointestinal tract and receive antibodies against various diseases. Breast-fed babies have increased protection against:

  • Respiratory diseases
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Otitis media

Sucking on the chest naturally promotes jaw and tooth development and language acquisition (training of the various muscles and muscle groups in the face).

In babies who are exclusively breastfed, breast milk provides natural allergy prophylaxis, delays the outbreak of allergies and neurodermatitis, or alleviates the course of allergies. In addition, it is a proven beneficial effect on the gastrointestinal tract in general and on additional organs that are sensitive to allergic reactions.

Benefits of breastfeeding for a mom

Breastfeeding helps you become skinnier. On average, breastfeeding burns 500 kcals daily (if breastfeeding exclusively). If breastfeeding partially, this value is around 350-400 kcal/day.

Your breasts will get smaller because of the reduced milk volume (compared to when your baby was bf). The breast size during pregnancy and the first weeks afterward is a consequence of adequate nutrition in terms of calories and nutrients in order to meet a growing fetus' requirements. If nourished properly, the breast will automatically shrink back down after weaning.

It can improve menstrual pain due to its antispasmodic effect on smooth muscles throughout the body.

Are there any disadvantages of breastfeeding?

Sometimes the mother might take the wrong diet, which may cause diseases such as bacterial vaginitis or thrush. Breastfeeding should not be combined with smoking.

The breastfed child's immunity is reduced in the first six months of life because he has to rely on his own immune system to fight infections. Breast milk does not contain all necessary antibodies and white blood cells that protect against infectious agents outside of the body, so it can easily get sick when exposed to respiratory viruses (diarrhea).

To prevent this, you should start giving your baby food rich in iron to meet their nutritional needs for growth and development. Iron deficiency anemia in children may result in developmental delays affecting motor, learning, language, and attention.

To conclude, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding it is best to consume a well-balanced diet that contains all necessary nutrients in the right quantities. For example, foods rich in vitamin B6 help with the additional production of breast milk.

It's also important for breastfeeding women to eat enough food because reduced appetite during pregnancy can lead to malnutrition and anemia. It's hard work being pregnant or nursing not only physically but mentally too!

The lack of time makes it difficult for many women to prepare meals from fresh ingredients every day which is why they often choose easier "ready-made" solutions instead. However, these products are often high in calories and fat content while containing little fiber, this may lead to overweight or obesity

When will you stop breastfeeding?

According to the World Health Organization, exclusive breastfeeding should continue until 6 months of age along with complementary feeding.

Final thoughts

Breastfeeding is a very important and natural way of feeding babies with the best nutrients for their health and development. However, it can put a lot of stress on moms and this is why they need to have a balanced diet in order to get the appropriate amount of energy from foods rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids that fuel up mommy's muscles during breastfeeding.

24 hours of breastfeeding then is about 800 calories needed from the mother's body to produce that milk, then this quantity of food provides an additional 2200 kcals above what the baby needs for its own nutritional requirements.