Colostrum: Baby’s First Superfood
“I formula fed my baby for the first few days because I didn’t have any milk. Once I got my milk, I breastfed.”
“When my baby was 2 days old, she wanted to feed all night. I gave her formula so I could get some sleep.”
“My baby is in NICU. I am pumping but I only get a few drops. It’s not worth pumping.”
How important are the first feeds after birth? Incredibly important!
Colostrum, mother’s first milk, is an amazing fluid, full of antibodies and properties that are important for a baby’s health. Its importance can be overlooked as it is present in small volumes and it does not have the appearance of “milk”.
Soft breasts and frequent feeds, both normal on baby’s second day of life, may lead women to conclude they don’t “have anything” for the baby. Understanding the unique and special properties of colostrum can help you protect this special time for baby.
We loved this summary of the importance of colostrum, written by Sarah of the “Nurse Loves Farmer” blog (reprinted with permission):
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What is Colostrum?
“Simply put, colostrum is the first milk a mother’s body produces. Colostrum production begins during pregnancy and continues for the first few days after birth and up to two weeks mixed with the mother’s mature milk. People often refer to breast milk as “liquid gold” and if that’s the case, then colostrum is “liquid platinum”. This special yellowy milk is thick and sticky and it’s perfectly tailored to a newborn’s needs and it is extremely easy to digest. It is high in protein, carbohydrates, sodium, potassium, chloride, and Vitamin A and is low in fat. A lot of new parents don’t know that a newborn’s stomach is the size of a marble at birth (yes, it really is that small!), which is why newborns feed so often. Colostrum is concentrated in nutrition – they need only teaspoons vs. ounces of it. It also acts as a mild laxative helping to clear out baby’s first meconium poop, which also rids their tiny bodies of excess bilirubin. A build up of bilirubin causes jaundice (yellow) in babies which can in turn lead to other health problems.
Other than the superpowers of colostrum’s nutritional benefit, another extremely beneficial reason to feed newborns colostrum is that it acts as a 100% safe and natural vaccine. Babies are fed large amounts of immune cells, such as leukocytes, and antibodies called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) passed from the mother to help fight against many harmful agents. The concentration of these immune factors is significantly higher in colostrum than in mature milk. In utero babies receive the antibody IgG via the placenta, but IgA protects the baby from germs that likely will affect the intestines, lungs, and throat mucous membranes.
It’s Good for the Guts
Colostrum plays a very important role in the newborn’s gastrointestinal tract. Colostrum seals the holes of a newborn’s extremely permeable intestines by “painting” the gastrointestinal tract with a barrier, which mostly prevents pathogens from penetrating. As I already mentioned above, colostrum also contains high concentrations of leukocytes, which are your “warrior” white cells, which can destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
The colostrum gradually changes to mature milk during the first two weeks after birth. During this transition, the concentrations of the antibodies in your milk decrease, but your milk volume greatly increases. The disease-fighting properties of human milk do not disappear with the colostrum. In fact, as long as your baby receives your milk, he will receive immunological protection against many different viruses and bacteria.
I think one of the biggest motivating factors for me, as a breastfeeding mom to push through and keep breastfeeding, especially in the early days, was this piece of information that I think a lot of new moms aren’t aware of. I learned this from the nurses who took the 18-hour breastfeeding course offered in our health region:
Even one supplemental bottle of artificial infant milk can sensitize a newborn to cow’s milk protein. Formula changes the gut flora in breastfed babies by breaking down the mucosal barrier that colostrum provides them. This violation allows pathogens and allergens entry into the baby’s system. For this reason, artificial supplements should not be given to infants who are at a high risk for allergies. In susceptible families, cow’s milk proteins may also increase the risk of a baby or child developing insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. —Ellen Penchuk
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Some babies may require supplementation for medical reasons. In most of these cases, colostrum can still be provided. Knowing the value of this first milk may motivate women to offer their babies colostrum, who otherwise would not have. It really is an amazing gift to your baby!
(Note: You can read Sarah’s post in its entirety here.)
Other posts you may enjoy: Getting the Best Possible Start with Breastfeeding and Preparing to Breastfeed during Pregnancy.
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.
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