What Is Colostrum?
Working with mothers that breastfeed over the years, we have learnt that “colostrum” is often misunderstood. Colostrum, or otherwise known as “the first yellow milk” has been given various false identities such as:
- “The milk that contains evil spirits”
- “The milk that is not enough for my baby”
- “The milk that is dirty and should be thrown away”
The above-mentioned however, is far from the truth. So, what is colostrum really?
1. Defining Colostrum
Colostrum can be defined as the first breast milk that is released by the breast (1). It can at times leak from the breasts from about 24-week’s gestation (yes, during pregnancy). Colostrum is yellow in colour and is thicker than the white (mature) breast milk that follows. Colostrum’s main function is to promote the development of your baby’s immune system (1). Colostrum is produced in quantities needed to fill your baby’s stomach (estimated at about 1-4 teaspoons per feed).
2. Is Colostrum Enough For My Baby?
For some reason, mothers often think if they can not feel the breast milk in their breast, it is not there. Although colostrum is made in small amounts (2-20 ml per feed), it is enough for your baby. In the beginning it is important to know that you baby’s stomach capacity is about 6 ml on the first day of life and 12 ml on the second (2). From the third day of life your breasts will start producing higher volumes of breast milk.
3. What Is Colostrum Made Up Of?
Colostrum has low levels of lactose, calcium and potassium and high levels of protein, sodium, chloride and magnesium. Other features of colostrum are that it has a high concentration of growth factors and immunoglobulins. Growth factors promote growth of living cells in the body and allows systems to mature faster, whereas immunoglobulins promote immunity development, helping to fight off infections (1).
4. Interesting Facts About Colostrum
- Colostrum fat content of older mothers is much higher than that of younger mothers (3)
- Colostrum contains the highest levels of fat soluble vitamins A and E (4)
- Colostrum contains the high amounts of lactoferrin (which protects against bacterial infections and binds iron) (3)
- Colostrum also has the same smell as amniotic environment that your baby was used to, helping the baby recognize mommy (5)
In conclusion it is important to realize that colostrum is important to give your baby the best start to life. Even in small quantities this breast milk is potent in reducing infections and promoting maturation of vital organs such as lungs.
- Ballard, O. & Morrow, A.L. Human milk composition: nutrients and bioactive factors. Pediatric clinics of North America, 60(1):49-74.
- Wilson-Clay, B. & Hoover, K.L. The breastfeeding atlas. 6th ed. LactNews Press: Texas.
- Hausman Kedem, M., Mandel, D., Domani, K.A., Mimouni, F.B., Shay, V., Marom, R., Dollberg, S., Herman, L. & Lubetzky, R. 2013. The effect of advanced maternal age upon human milk fat content. Breastfeeding medicine, 8(1):116-119.
- South Africa. Department of Health. Protecting, promoting and supporting exclusive and continued breastfeeding: a breastfeeding course for health care providers toolkit. Pretoria.
- Schaal, B. How amniotic fluid shapes early odour-guided responses to colostrum and milk (and more). In Flavor:23-53.