Culture |Science | Interviews | Breastfeeding 101
Colostrum is the epic nutrient hit 'first milk' you produce in the early days of breastfeeding.
This amazingly nutritious sticky fluid is full of carbohydrates, proteins and antibodies. It's super easy to digest, and designed to have high impact at low volumes - perfect for tiny newborn bellies that can hold only 5-7ml.
It doesn't look like much, but colostrum is kind of magic. Let us explain why.
Colostrum is perfectly engineered to prep bub for outside world. It plays a vital role in:
establishing beneficial gut bacteria
sealing the digestive tract,
transitioning the system to oral feeding,
moving the first stool (preventing jaundice) and,
firing up the immune system
First up, immunity
Colostrum is a completely safe, natural and effective vaccine.
Babies are born without their own immune system, so this first milk is full of compounds to build a strong foundation for immune health.
Colostrum is jam-packed with antibodies called 'secretory immunoglobulin' or IgA, which help protect the mucous membranes in the throat, lungs and intestines - the places that are most likely to come under attack from germs.
Colostrum also contains a high volume of leukocytes, which are protective white cells that destroy harmful viruses and bacteria.
Next, digestive health
The role that colostrum plays in the digestive tract of newborns is just starting to become clearer.
Colostrum helps to establish beneficial bacteria in the gut - and is full of unique compounds including oligosaccharides, prebiotics and probiotics. This foundation of healthy gut microbes in early life is likely to have long term health implications.
The intestines of a newborn baby are very permeable, and colostrum is designed to seal the holes by 'painting' the digestive tract with a barrier. This helps prevent foreign substances from reaching the bloodstream in those early days and weeks.
This early milk also contains special components known as growth modulators, that help the baby's digestive system adjust to oral feedings. This can be particularly important for premature babies.
Colostrum also has a mild laxative effect which aids the passing of the first stool, which is called meconium. This stool is usually dark or black, and is important to pass to clear excess bilirubin from the body (a waste product that causes jaundice).
Colostrum: how much, how often?
In the first 3 or 4 days after birth while you are producing colostrum, it can be easy to think you haven't got enough milk. Your new baby's stomach is only the size of a marble, and it doesn't stretch to cater for over-eating like yours! So don't panic, the odds are you've got just the right amount.
You should feed your newborn on demand, or at least every few hours - the more the better. Colostrum digest quickly. The guidelines recommend 8-12 feeds every 24 hours, but don't worry too much about watching the clock. Just feed often, and know that you can't overfeed a breastfed newborn.
High frequency feeds in those first few days are important not just to ensure your baby gets all the benefits of the colostrum, but also to stimulate production of your mature milk. Over the first week, your milk will increase in volume and become thinner and whiter.
Bottom line, colostrum is the perfect food for a newborn tum. A super nutritious immune boosting elixir that costs nothing and gets you bub off to a million dollar start.