You may not be familiar with the term, Colostrum, but we’re guessing you’ve heard of ‘liquid gold.’ It’s nickname comes from its light yellow color (as well as a taste and smell similar to buttermilk), it’s thicker than mature milk and tailored to your newborn’s unique needs.
What is Colostrum?
Colostrum is breast fluid that is released before breast milk production begins. It’s packed with nutrients and contains high levels of antibodies such as proteins that fight off bacteria and infections.
When will I produce colostrum?
The timing is different for each woman. Most women start producing colostrum in the third trimester, while for other moms, it begins as early as the first trimester.
Usually, if you’re in your third trimester and you squeeze your breasts, you’ll see some of this liquid gold exit your nipple. If you don’t see any yet, don’t worry. The real hormonal shifts signaling the production of colostrum happen after the placenta is expelled.
For how long will I produce colostrum?
Most moms will only produce colostrum for the first 2-5 days after giving birth. After that, you’ll get what’s called “transitional milk,” which sticks around for 10-14 days. This is a blend of colostrum and breast milk and will later be replaced by regular breast milk that is also thinner in texture.
What’s the difference between colostrum and regular breast milk?
We’ve touched on some of this already, but colostrum has a light yellow color, and is richer and thicker than breast milk. Some say the consistency is similar to blood. The thicker composition is because it’s packed with white blood cells and immune-boosting properties.
Colostrum is also higher in protein and lower in both sugar and fat. This combination makes colostrum easy to digest, which is extra helpful for babies whose guts are still immature.
How does it fight infection?
According to an article on Medela, up to two-thirds of the cells in colostrum are white blood cells that guard against infections, as well as help your baby start fighting infections for themselves.
White blood cells are especially important for immunity because they protect against pathogens. These white blood cells produce antibodies that neutralize bacteria and viruses in your baby’s body. Most notably, these antibodies help relieve (and avoid) stomach discomfort like diarrhea.
Can it help support your baby’s immune system?
Absolutely. Colostrum is rich in an antibody called slgA, which protects the baby against disease. Instead of passing this antibody into the bloodstream, it lines the gastrointestinal tract. Babies can have very immature gut health, so this is a major help for their overall health.
Medela notes that Colostrum is also rich in other immunologic components and growth factors that stimulate growth of protective mucus membranes in your baby’s intestines. At the same time, probiotics in colostrum help build up the ‘good’ bacteria in the baby’s gut.
What other benefits does it have for my baby?
In addition to boosting your baby’s immune system, there are four other major benefits of colostrum.
Supports early nutrition:
As a baby’s first food, Colostrum provides infants with hydration, protein and nutrients to keep them happy and healthy.
Research has shown that babies that consume colostrum soon after birth are more likely to breastfeed. Mothers whose babies consume colostrum are more likely to produce breast milk. According to this 2018 study, early skin-to-skin contact and colostrum exposure also encouraged breastfeeding.
Meets your feeding goals:
There was a 2020 review that found that preterm babies who received their mother’s colostrum (via oropharyngeal administration) met their feeding goals (and therefore were released from the hospital) sooner than babies who did not.
Supports healthy weight gain:
Similarly, babies with a low birth weight who receive colostrum from their mother or from bovine supplement formula tend to reach a healthy weight and continue to thrive as they grow.