Colostrum (also known as beestings or first milk) is a form of milk produced by the mammary glands in late pregnancy and few days after giving birth.
It is a thick, sticky substance, which can range in color from clear to dark yellow.
Most of the mothers might start to produce this colostrum in the last trimester.
It often referred to as ‘liquid gold’. Why you may ask? Read along and you’ll be stunned by the benefits it has for your bundle of joy.
What is colostrum?
Your breasts start preparing a milk-like fluid at around three or four months of pregnancy. This is known as the colostrum. It is the ‘first milk’ you produce in the weeks prior to childbirth and the early days of breastfeeding. Initially in your pregnancy colostrum looks thick, creamy, and is yellowish in colour.
As you near childbirth, this becomes almost white in colour. Colostrum is low in fat and high in protein, carbohydrates, and antibodies. It is also very easy to digest.
While babies only get small amounts of colostrum at a time–about a teaspoon or two at each feed–it’s all they need. Colostrum is highly concentrated and packed with beneficial properties, like antibodies, designed to protect your baby.
What benefits does it have for my baby?
The benefits of your first milk is incomparable. It is the ideal first food and mind-blowing super food for your baby. Here are a few different ways it helps your baby:
It matches your baby’s tummy size
Your newborn’s stomach in the early days is about the size of a marble. Colostrum is produced by your breasts in just the right amounts to match your baby’s tummy size.
In the first 24 hours, for example, your baby will consume between 2-10 ml of colostrum in a single feed.
Gives immune protection
Newborn babies are susceptible to numerous infections as their immune system isn’t completely developed. This is where colostrum comes in. It is a concentrated source of immunoprotective factors which provide your baby with all the nourishment and protection needed.
These immunoprotective factors comprise antibodies, white blood cells, prebiotics, and probiotics. None of these is present in formula milk. These factors protect your baby from illness.
The role of colostrum in your baby’s gut is also very important. Newborns have a leaky gut, which indicates that dangerous substances from the environment can easily enter and cause harm to it.
Colostrum helps create a barrier in your baby’s gut to prevent entry of harmful substances. This protects your baby from several food allergies.
It has a laxative effect
The laxative effect provided by colostrum helps initially in easing the passage of stools for your baby. This helps prevent jaundice by excretion of the excess bilirubin.
Removal of colostrum in the first hour helps increase milk supply
It has been observed that when colostrum is extracted within the first hour after birth the mothers tend to produce more milk.
There are also several other steps you may need to take to get breastfeeding off to an ideal start and help start milk supply.
It helps establish a healthy gut microbiome
The bacteria present in the gut are called the gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is very important for our overall wellbeing. It is more diverse and less likely to shift towards unhealthy bacteria.
Newborns that consume only colostrum in their early days and are exclusively breastfed thereafter tend to have a normal healthy gut colonization pattern. The differences observed in the guts of breastfed babies when compared with formula-fed babies are quite remarkable.
Giving your baby even small amounts of formula can cause changes in his/her gut microbiome which potentially puts him/her at an elevated risk of poorer health outcomes.
Other benefits of colostrum include:
- It has very high concentrations of the antibody known as the secretory immunoglobulin A. Hence, it is believed to be your baby’s first immunisation against infections
- It is also thought to have neuroprotective effects which may help in preventing Alzheimer’s
- As colostrum is high in cholesterol, it aids in the growth of your baby’s nervous system
- It also helps in the overall growth and development of your baby by nourishment with nutrients like zinc, calcium, Vitamins A, B6, B12 and K
How long does it last after childbirth?
Your breasts will produce colostrum for about 3 to 4 days after your baby is born. From the fifth day onwards, colostrum is gradually replaced with milk which is more in volume and thinner and whiter in appearance. This is called ‘transitional milk’ which is a mix of both colostrum and mature milk.
How much colostrum is enough?
It’s quite normal to make just 2-4 teaspoons of colostrum each day. This simply means that your baby’s stomach needs just that much milk. Your little one’s stomach is only the size of a marble but grows each day.
Your breasts produce just the right amount of colostrum for your baby. You need to ensure that you breastfeed your baby as and when required to help your milk supply start strong.
What are the risks of not breastfeeding my baby?
Not breastfeeding your baby puts him/her at an increased risk of the following:
- Infections such as otitis media, gastroenteritis, pneumonia, urinary infection etc.
- Childhood obesity/malnutrition
- Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
- Premature babies not getting breast milk is associated with an elevated risk of necrotizing enterocolitis
- Food allergies
For you (mothers), not breastfeeding is related to an increased incidence of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained gestational weight, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
In conclusion, the benefits colostrum provides are profound and you should try your best to make sure your baby receives them. To help your baby receive all the benefits colostrum has to offer, here are a few things you could do:
- Ensure many of your baby’s first feedings are colostrum
- If direct breastfeeding is not possible due to some medical concern, try expressing a bit of your own colostrum
- You can do this with the help of your hand or use a breast pump and then feed it to your baby by a spoon or syringe
- Protect your baby’s gut by colostrum and avoid giving him/her any other fluids