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Colostrum: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Monday, February 15, 2021

True or False? Women have no breast milk until 2-3 days after birth.

If you said false, you are correct!

Women start to make a special type of milk, called colostrum, beginning around 3-4 months of pregnancy. This clear, thick yellow or yellowy-orange early milk is very valuable for your baby’s health.

Health benefits of colostrum

Colostrum has been called ‘liquid gold’ because of its’ health benefits for your baby. It:

  • Is packed full of antibodies to fight off germs.
  • Coats baby’s gut, providing a protective layer to prevent germs from getting into your baby’s body.
  • Acts like a natural laxative, helping your baby to pass his first stool (this is important as it gets rid of bilirubin which can cause jaundice in your baby).
  • Provides all the nutrients and fluids your baby needs in the early days and helps to prevent low blood sugar in your baby.

Available in small quantities

Your baby knows the smell of your colostrum; it smells similar to the amniotic fluid he was surrounded by in the womb! Expressing a drop on your nipple before feeds will help your baby to find the breast.

During the first two or three days after birth, your breasts will make small amounts of colostrum, perfect for the small size of your baby’s tummy. Expect your baby to feed frequently. You won’t get a lot of sleep but this frequent feeding is exactly what your body needs to establish a great milk supply.

One way to tell if your baby is getting enough colostrum is to count your baby’s pees and poops. See this post for more details. Warning: it contains photos of baby poop!

Your health care provider will also weigh your baby to ensure they are getting enough. All babies lose weight for the first 2 or 3 days. The weight check will make sure the loss is within normal limits.

Collecting colostrum for your baby

It is possible to collect colostrum for your baby during pregnancy. Antenatal collection of colostrum allows your own milk to be used if your baby requires extra milk after birth. Talk to your health care provider to see if this is an option for you.

If your baby struggles to latch or is too sleepy after birth, hand express a few drops of colostrum onto a spoon and offer it to your baby. This will help to stabilize your baby’s blood sugars and signal your body to keep making milk. Babies only need about a teaspoon of colostrum each feed in the first 24 hours.

Research has shown that beginning hand expression in the first hour after birth (if your baby has not already begun to feed) will help you to produce significantly more milk down the road. If you have to be separated from your baby after birth or if your baby is unable to feed for health reasons, try to hand express every 2-3 hours. The colostrum you collect will be very beneficial for your baby’s health when your baby is ready.

Even if you don’t plan to breastfeed, consider hand expressing to give your baby colostrum. Colostrum is the most important first food for babies!

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References

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, “Breastfeeding Benefits Your Baby’s Immune System.” HealthyChildren.org, 2016, https://healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Breastfeeding-Benefits-Your-Babys-Immune-System.aspx
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics, “Why Breastfeed?” HealthyChildren.org. 21 Nov. 2015. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Why-Breastfeed.aspx
  3. La Leche League GB, “Antenatal Expression of Colostrum.” LaLeche.org., 8 Apr. 2016, www.laleche.org.uk/antenatal-expression-of-colostrum/.
  4. La Leche League International, “Colostrum: General.”  LaLeche.org., 2019. https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/colostrum-general/
  5. Office On Women’s Health, “Making the Decision to Breastfeed.” Womenshealth.gov, 14 Mar. 2019, www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/making-decision-breastfeed.
  6. Public Health Agency of Canada, “10 Great Reasons to Breastfeed your Baby.” Phac-aspc.gc.ca., 05 Apr. 2015. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/childhood-adolescence/stages-childhood/infancy-birth-two-years/breastfeeding-infant-nutrition/10-great-reasons-breastfeed-your-baby.html
  7. Stanford Medicine, Newborn Nursery. “Breastfeeding in the First Hour”, Newborn Nursery, 2019. http://med.stanford.edu/newborns/professional-education/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-in-the-first-hour.html

Published June 24, 2019

Learn more about breastfeeding in these posts: 6 Important Ways to Prepare for Breastfeeding and How to Get the Best Possible Start with Breastfeeding.

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