When you first start breastfeeding your newborn baby, you produce milk called colostrum before you start producing mature milk. But what is this for? Let’s break down the facts on colostrum and the fantastic benefits it provides for your baby before mature milk arrives on the scene.
What is colostrum?
Before your milk comes in, your breasts are producing the nutrition your baby needs in the form of colostrum. Colostrum is the thick, sticky form of milk you produce in the first days of your baby’s life. Most nursing mothers will produce several teaspoons of this nutritional power-pack per day.
That might not seem like a lot, but remember: a newborn’s stomach is tiny. Full of vital nutrients and immune-boosting antibodies, colostrum is the perfect food in the perfect serving size for a newborn. Your colostrum will gradually change into higher volumes of mature milk according to your baby’s needs.
You may notice the change into more opaque, whiter liquid on around the third to fourth days after giving birth if you feed your baby early and often.
Colostrum and mature milk: What’s the difference?
Compared to mature breast milk, colostrum is:
- Yellow or creamy in color
- Stickier and thicker in consistency
- Produced in smaller amounts (teaspoons rather than ounces)
- Denser in protein and vitamins
- Lower in fats and lactose
- Higher in antibodies
- Higher in lactoferrin, a protein with anti-bacterial and iron-binding properties
Colostrum is 5 times richer in beta-carotene than breast milk (yes, the same stuff as in carrots), which makes it visibly yellow or even orange in color. The higher concentration of protein and water-soluble vitamins also means it’s much thicker in consistency than breast milk.
As your baby grows and their nutritional needs change, this changes into the thinner, whiter breast milk you may be more familiar with.
Colostrum helps new babies and new moms
Feeding colostrum gives your baby a great start to life, providing the nutrients they need to grow and the disease-fighting antibodies they need to stay healthy. But feeding colostrum has benefits for Mama, too.
Frequent breastfeeding in the early days of your baby’s life helps get your body accustomed to nursing, prevents engorgement, and helps you build up a bountiful mature milk supply – all while ensuring your baby gets the benefits of colostrum.
What if I’m not producing colostrum?
Not every new mom produces the same amount of colostrum. If it seems like you’re not making enough to satisfy your baby, try using a gentle breast massage to get things moving. That said, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It can be hard to tell if your little one is drinking it all up without you being able to see the colostrum produced.
Some moms worry that they’re not producing any, but it often turns out that their colostrum flow is simply smaller or a different color than they were expecting. If you’re not sure, ask your doctor, midwife or breastfeeding counselor to help work out if you’re producing enough.
Your love is more important than colostrum
Don’t worry if your breast milk is taking a few days to “come in”: after a few days of feeding, colostrum will gradually change into the breast milk you’re expecting. Whether you’re able to see your colostrum flow or not, frequently allowing your baby to nurse is the best step you can take in these early days.
Thanks to its dense nutritional content and immune-boosting powers, even tiny amounts of colostrum are incredibly precious for your baby. However, even if your body doesn’t produce colostrum and cannot feed it, your baby can grow up healthy. Don’t forget that your love is more important than colostrum for the start of your baby’s life.