As adults, the milk that we drink is pretty consistent in appearance, taste, and nutrition. But breast milk is different in that it changes in the days following childbirth. During pregnancy and then when we begin breastfeeding, our bodies make colostrum. After a few days transitional milk comes in and gradually changes to more mature breast milk.
What is colostrum?
Colostrum is an early form of breast milk that a person’s body produces during the second half of pregnancy and for at least a few days following childbirth. Colostrum is an incredibly nutritious, protective, and healthy form of breast milk that is so important in a baby’s first days.
What does it look like?
Compared to breast milk, colostrum is usually stickier, thicker, and more yellow in color. It is lower in volume and has a slower flow than mature breast milk. New parents do not usually feel like their breasts are full until their mature breast milk comes in.
Why is colostrum so important?
In the days immediately following birth, newborns need the protective effects of colostrum more than they need nutrition from breast milk. Colostrum is easier for newborns to digest, and it has a natural laxative effect which helps them pass all of the sticky, tarry meconium in their bodies and reduces the risk of jaundice. The small quantities baby eats may not seem like “enough,” but remember, baby’s stomach is about the size of a blueberry at birth. Colostrum also contains the following:
- Antibodies: Protect the baby from germs and boosts their immune system
- Leukocytes: White cells that fight bacteria and viruses
- Lactobacillus: A type of bacteria that helps protect the intestine
- Nutrition: contains all of the carbohydrates and proteins baby needs, plus elevated levels of Vitamin A, Zinc and Magnesium
How can babies get the most benefit?
In the first few days following their baby’s birth, people who are breastfeeding should try to follow their baby’s hunger cues and breastfeed eight to twelve times in 24 hours (or more if baby appears hungry/thirsty. This decreases pain during engorgement and helps stimulate a healthy long-term milk supply, while making sure baby is getting all the protective benefits of colostrum.
For those who aren’t breastfeeding
A lot of parents who can’t or don’t plan on breastfeeding might worry that their baby will miss out on the protective effects of colostrum. If you fall into either of these categories, talk to your provider about your options (some people may be able to provide colostrum without directly feeding or pumping). It is completely valid to focus on doing what is right for you. Infant feeding is complex, and your family’s needs are unique.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “Colostrum: Your Baby’s First Meal.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 21 2015. Web.
- “What is colostrum? How does it benefit my baby?” LLLI. La Leche League International, Jan 9 2016. Web.