Colostrum Benefits: What is Colostrum?

    Colostrum Benefits: What is Colostrum?

    You may have heard of colostrum as you've started preparing for the arrival of your little one and learning about breastfeeding. Get the full breakdown on this important "first milk."

    Colostrum is an amazing, natural substance that the body produces for your little one. Learn how it can fit into your or your partner's breastfeeding journey and into your little one's nutritional needs. Even if you don't plan to breastfeed your baby, having all the info about this important liquid can help you make informed decisions about their nutrition and health.

    What is colostrum?

    Colostrum is sometimes called "first milk" or "pre-milk." It is the first breast milk that lactation produces, and has a waxy, yellow appearance compared to the milk that will come in later, which looks whiter and more liquid. Your body might start producing colostrum right before or during birth, or shortly thereafter. All mammals produce colostrum before their mammary glands produce regular milk. This is meant to be baby's first meal, and as such is chock-full of important benefits for newborns.

    What are colostrum benefits?

    Colostrum contains antibodies, proteins, salt, and more to help protect your newborn's vulnerable systems and give them a jumpstart on thriving outside the womb. In particular, colostrum benefits gut function and the immune system.

    During birth a baby goes from the relatively sterile environment of the womb, where nutrition was received directly through the

    , to the wide world where bacteria poses a threat and nutrition will need to be taken orally and digested. Colostrum will help provide your infant's gut with the good bacteria necessary to have a healthy gut biome. This will help your baby's digestive system adjust to eating as well as activate their immune system.

    Colostrum also acts as a laxative, helping your baby to have their first bowel movement, called meconium. When babies eliminate meconium it also clears

    . Bilirubin is a byproduct of dead red blood cells, something the infant's body will have a lot of at birth. Removing bilirubin helps to prevent
    . These colostrum benefits are unique to colostrum and are not included in the regular breast milk that will follow it.

    When does colostrum come in?

    Colostrum can appear as early as the second trimester, though usually it will be late in the second trimester. There's no need to be worried if your breasts start leaking colostrum long before your due date. This leakage is not a sign of premature labor, nor does it mean that you won't have any colostrum left by the time your little one arrives. Just wear a little padding so that you don't have to deal with stains on your bras/clothes.

    How long does the period between colostrum and regular milk last?

    Usually your breasts will start to feel firmer after about three to four days. This is a sign that your regular milk is coming in. Many physicians and breastfeeding experts stress the importance of colostrum in part because this phase is very brief. Once it's done it's done, and all those colostrum benefits are gone too.

    How much colostrum does a newborn need?

    Every baby is different, but generally newborns will need to eat 8 to 10 times per day, as their stomachs can only fit about a teaspoon of colostrum or milk at each feeding. Your body probably won't produce much colostrum each day, so you don't need to worry about over-feeding at this stage. Your doctors will watch your baby's weight to make sure that they're getting the nutrition they need.

    As long as both mom and baby are healthy and breastfeeding is going well for both, your little one will get the amount of colostrum necessary to impart its benefits.

    What if I am unable to nurse? Can I pump colostrum?

    There are a number of reasons that a mom may not be able to breastfeed, or a baby may not be able to nurse. If you’re unable to nurse while your body is producing colostrum, you can hand express this important pre-milk and offer it to your baby in a bottle (because colostrum is thicker, it might be difficult to use a pump).

    If you're an adoptive parent, if your doctor recommends supplementing with formula, or if breastfeeding is simply not an option for you, consider a baby formula that contains lactoferrin. Lactoferrin is a key protein also found in colostrum and breast milk. Ask your baby's doctor what your options are and how to pursue the best nutrition for your little one.

    There's so much to learn about formula, bottle feeding and transitioning from breast to bottle, that it can often make a new mom's head spin! No matter what your feeding protocol with you new little one, these are precious moments to embrace. By taking time to bond with your baby during these first feedings, it builds the foundation for even more newborn milestones and magical moments to come!