Colostrum is nature’s perfect food for a newborn baby. It protects, nourishes and feeds your new baby in ways that formula never could replicate in any way! Just getting this from their moms gives babies a huge advantage to start their life!
What is Colostrum?
The simplest definition of colostrum is the first milk produced by an expecting mother. Production starts in as early as the third month of pregnancy and continues for a few weeks after the baby is born. When a woman’s milk “lets down” and becomes more voluminous, it has started the transition from colostrum designed to nourish a newborn to milk designed to help a growing baby thrive. The milk will continue to contain some colostrum for a few weeks.
Colostrum is often thick and may be yellow, white, or even clear. It’s stickier than the milk that is produced after let-down, and it is produced and released in much smaller quantities. New mothers who don’t intend to breastfeed long-term are strongly encouraged to do so for at least a few days after birth so that their babies benefit from the health benefits that come only from colostrum.
If you or someone you love is expecting a bundle of joy, it’s important to understand what this early milk does for a newborn. Keep reading to learn more about a natural substance that will protect and nourish your baby for years to come.
Health Benefits of Colostrum
There is a good reason that the World Health Organization recommends colostrum for every newborn baby. Research has proven that microbes are passed from mother to child during vaginal delivery, and those microbes are essential to establishing healthy bacteria in the gut that protect the baby from disease and illness for years to come. Breast milk, starting with colostrum, is also critical to this process and is believed to make a tremendous difference in the health and wellbeing of the baby throughout childhood. (Mueller, 2015)
When the process of seeding the newborn baby’s gut with healthy bacteria from the mother is interrupted, the baby is at much higher risk of developing immune and metabolic diseases. Scientists now promote breastfeeding, starting with that powerful colostrum, as an essential way of preventing these diseases right from birth.
Research has also shown that colostrum helps infants grow and thrive in the early days of life. One study conducted on babies deprived of colostrum due to cultural taboos found that babies not receiving this nourishing substance struggled to gain weight and were lighter than other babies. Other studies have shown that breastfeeding babies are at lower risk of developing diabetes, suffering from childhood obesity, or dying from an infection or SIDS.
Breastfeeding clearly has overwhelming benefits for your baby, and it all starts with that colostrum. Let’s take a closer look at how this sticky substance works inside your baby’s developing body.
5 Ways Colostrum Helps Your Baby
1. This first food will give your baby’s immune system the power needed to fight off germs, bacteria, and infections present in our world today.
There’s a reason that colostrum is usually much thicker and stickier than the milk delivered after let-down. This early milk has the important job of forming a protective coating over the baby’s intestines. This blocks out potentially harmful intruders that might otherwise make the baby sick while the immune system strengthens.
Colostrum can also give your baby’s immune system a powerful boost. This may explain why babies who are fed formula right from birth are more likely to develop some life-threatening diseases later in life. (Ash, 2014)
2. Colostrum serves as a much-needed laxative to kickstart your baby’s digestive system.
A newborn baby’s digestive system is filled with sticky, black stool known as meconium. This is the black or greenish, tar-like stool that every new baby passes in the early days of life. Meconium collects inside the baby’s digestive system while in the womb, and colostrum serves as a natural laxative that pushes it out quickly and efficiently in the early days of life.
Many new parents also find that jaundice clears up much faster once the meconium is passed. Since it’s likely to pass through the baby’s digestive system faster and more smoothly with colostrum, this is just another benefit of breastfeeding within the first hour of life and throughout the first month of the baby’s life if not much longer.
3. It protects your baby from inflammation.
This is often considered a benefit primarily for premature babies because they’re at greater risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (Gates, 2016), which is a digestive issue rooted in inflammation that can cause part of the intestinal tissue to die. Research has shown that babies are better protected from this condition plus many others when they consume colostrum in the early days of life (Underwood, 2014.)
Colostrum helps fight inflammation and is easier for the under-developed digestive system of a preemie to digest. Premature babies may suffer less bloating, spitting up, and other signs of digestive discomfort when they are given colostrum rather than formula. These inflammation-fighting benefits extend to full-term babies as well.
4. It is the training milk that helps your baby learn to breastfeed successfully.
A newborn baby’s stomach is the size of a small rock or marble, so it’s not ready for a large meal. On the day of birth, the stomach’s capacity is less than 1.5 ounces. The baby’s stomach will start to expand after a few days, which naturally correlates with the time that a new mother typically experiences let-down and starts producing a lot more milk.
By the end of the first week, most babies can accommodate up to 2 ounces of milk per feeding. By the end of the third week, most babies are consuming more than 20 ounces of milk per day. Is it obvious why the breasts produce so little colostrum the first few days of life? The baby simply cannot handle more.
This low volume of milk also helps a newborn baby learn to latch onto the breast, suck to express milk, and then swallow it down efficiently. This is a natural process, but your baby is inexperienced and needs the slow flow of the thicker colostrum while he or she is learning. A faster flow and larger volume would likely lead to more choking and spitting up.
5. Provides the perfect balance of nutrients in just the right quantity for a tiny digestive system and little body with big needs.
A new digestive system isn’t ready for a high-fat diet, and even too much protein would make digestion difficult and possibly painful. Colostrum is Mother Nature’s answer to this dilemma. This early milk contains the perfect ratio of protein and fat to go through the digestive system smoothly. It also contains vitamins and other nutrients that are essential to the growth of a newborn baby in the first week or two of life. It’s the perfect meal that nourishes without overwhelming the developing digestive system.
Is 3-4 Days Enough for an Infant?
While colostrum is the only milk product the first few days of a baby’s life, it is still in the milk for a week or two longer. Breastfeeding for three to five days is the absolute minimum for any mother who wants to make sure that her baby receives all of the health benefits of colostrum that we have already discussed. This will give your baby a solid start in terms of a healthy gut, an immune system boost, and protection against future disease and illness.
You can maximize these benefits by breastfeeding for at least a month or two to take advantage of the colostrum contained in your breast milk after let-down. The World Health Organization recommends that all mothers breastfeed for at least six months. This is due to research that proves the health benefits of breast milk even after that powerful colostrum is no longer being produced.
Should I Supplement Just in Case?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! There is no need to supplement with formula while waiting for your milk to fully drop. It’s common for new mothers to produce four teaspoons of colostrum or less each day (The Importance of Colostrum, Hanson, 2010), and that is all that your newborn needs to thrive in the first three to four days of life. If you supplement with formula, you are actually depriving your baby of the colostrum it needs!!! Also, colostrum is easier for your baby’s digestive system to process and formula doesn’t have the protective benefits that come from breastfeeding.
You don’t want to risk your baby getting so full or uncomfortable from formula that he or she doesn’t want to breastfeed. Work with a lactation consultant if needed, and trust the process of breastfeeding. It’s just what your body is made to do even if it doesn’t seem like your baby is taking in enough milk to grow.
Mothers of preemies often produce colostrum that is too high in protein or otherwise lacking in nutrients due to the early date of birth. These mothers may also struggle to produce even one ounce of colostrum each day. If you fall into this group, you should talk to your medical professionals about securing donor colostrum for your baby. This will ensure that your little one receives all of the health benefits of colostrum even if you have to put little bits of it into the baby’s cheeks with your finger.
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