What is colostrum?
Colostrum is the earliest breastmilk produced, beginning in mid-pregnancy (12-18 weeks) and is continually produced for the first few days after baby’s birth. It is thick, sticky, concentrated milk and is usually yellow, clear or white, although it could be other colors as well. It is made up of immune factors, protein, sugar, and fats.
Why is it important for your baby?
Colostrum gives your baby immunity to the germs that are in the surrounding environment. It is protective, coating the intestines to fence these germs out so they cannot be absorbed into your baby’s system. This barrier seals your baby’s insides, preparing your little one for a healthy life. Colostrum also kills harmful microorganisms and provides protection from inflammation. It is a laxative as well, and will help clear your baby’s system of the meconium (black stool) that has built up while baby was inside of you. Early clearing of meconium helps to reduce jaundice. In healthy full-term babies, colostrum helps to prevent low blood sugar. Colostrum is important for all babies, and it is particularly important to preterm, immature babies. Premature babies receiving their own mother’s colostrum have significantly better health outcomes.
Colostrum is waiting for your baby at birth. Nursing in the first hour will yield a large colostrum feeding that is protective and satisfying for your baby. Remember that your baby’s stomach is tiny at birth, so a large feeding may look very small! Learning to suck and swallow milk is easier in small amounts. If for some reason your baby cannot nurse in the early hours, hand express the colostrum so it can be fed to your baby. Hand expressing colostrum generally yields more volume than using a breast pump in the early hours.
The first day, most babies drink about an ounce, divided over several feedings. The amount your baby drinks will be increasing each day. Your colostrum will prepare your baby for the larger feeds ahead, and will fill the tiny stomach, as your own milk will be gradually increasing in amount each day! This will gently stretch your baby’s stomach over the first week. By the fourth day, most babies will be drinking colostrum mixed with more mature milk. The colostrum will remain in the milk for the first few weeks.
Colostrum is the most important first food for all infants. Although it available only in small amounts, it is a powerful food!