Why Is Colostrum So Important for Newborn Babies?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that newborns be allowed to breastfeed as often as they want in the first few days of life, as this will help ensure that they get enough colostrum.

Newborn baby breastfeeding
Newborn baby breastfeeding

Is Colostrum Important?

Colostrum, which has also been called the “first milk," “liquid gold," or “immune milk," is a clear, sticky, thick liquid that is produced by a mother’s mammary glands after the first day of her baby’s birth.

Colostrum is rich in proteins, carbs, lipids (fat), and immune factors. The benefits of colostrum are enormous. Colostrum is produced in small quantities for the first four days and then replaced with a lighter, thinner liquid (mature breast milk). Your breasts might start producing colostrum during the last months of pregnancy, but it is also normal for them to begin producing it the day your baby is born.

As soon as the placenta is delivered at birth, your body will start to produce larger amounts of colostrum. Between days 3 and 5, your milk becomes whiter and more abundant. Many mothers call this the "coming in" of milk. The gradual increase in milk gives your baby and your body time to adjust. By days 10 - 12, you will have achieved full production.

On day one, your baby's stomach capacity is about 5-7 ml or the size of a marble. This is why just a few tsp of colostrum is needed to satisfy a baby’s appetite. On day seven, your baby’s tummy is about the size of a ping-pong ball. By then, your milk supply will meet your baby’s demands with mature milk. So, new mothers should not be worried about a low milk supply during the first few days. Breastfeed your baby as often as possible so your milk supply increases sufficiently.

newborn breastfeeding, colostrum
Newborn baby breastfeeding

Colostrum Benefits

  • A newborn baby has a tiny stomach, which can only take small amounts, and colostrum is provided in small quantities.
  • It is a concentrated (high in nutrients) liquid made especially for a baby’s needs.
  • Colostrum encourages the occurrence of a baby’s first bowel movement, clearing the digestive tract of meconium (first dark stool).
  • Colostrum also contains many antibodies and growth factors. The growth factors support the development of a baby’s digestive system, and the antibodies promote the immune system.
  • It contains immunoglobulin A, an antibody that protects the baby against infections of the throat, lungs, and intestines.
  • It contains protective white cells, which help destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
  • A new scientific discovery is the presence of a substance called pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor (PSTI). This ingredient in breast milk is seven times higher in colostrum. It provides extra gut protection.
  • Colostrum encourages the growth of good bacteria because of its ph level.
  • It contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Protection of the gut lining.

Does Leaking Colostrum Mean Labor Is Close?

No, colostrum leakage can occur at any time during the third trimester of pregnancy, and it is not uncommon for some women to experience leakage several weeks before labor begins. In other cases, colostrum leakage may not occur until just before or during labor. It is also possible for some women to experience no colostrum leakage at all before childbirth. Colostrum leakage is normal and does not necessarily mean that labor is imminent.

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Can You Express Colostrum if You’re Pregnant?

Expressing colostrum before childbirth is generally not necessary, as the amount of colostrum produced is usually very small, and the baby's needs are met through breastfeeding after birth. However, some women may choose to express colostrum for various reasons, such as having a small supply of colostrum on hand in case of premature birth.

In most cases, expressing small amounts of colostrum during pregnancy is safe and does not cause any problems. If a pregnant woman is concerned about the possibility of expressing colostrum causing contractions, she should discuss her concerns with her healthcare provider.

Can You Pump Colostrum?

Colostrum is difficult to pump with a breast pump because of its thick consistency, so many people recommend and prefer hand expressing it instead. Hand-expressing colostrum is often more effective than using a pump.

swaddle, baby swaddle, sleeping baby
Sleeping Baby on mother's chest - Fascinating Breastfeeding Facts

How Much Colostrum Does a Newborn Need?

During the first few days after childbirth, a newborn's stomach is very small and can only hold a small amount of colostrum. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that newborns be allowed to breastfeed as often as they want in the first few days of life, as this will help ensure that they get enough colostrum.

A newborn's stomach can hold about 1-2 teaspoons of colostrum per feeding in the first few days of life. As the baby gets older and their stomach grows, they can take in larger amounts of milk at each feeding. The amount of colostrum will increase as the baby nurses, so it is normal for a newborn to only take small amounts of colostrum at each feeding.

parents and baby, co-sleeping
Parents sleeping with baby in between them.

Is Breastfeeding Important?

How Do You Get Colostrum Out?

If you find it challenging to get the colostrum flowing, consider repositioning your fingers closer or farther away from the nipple until you find the most effective position. A gentle massage on your breast may also be beneficial.

How Do I Know if I’m Producing Colostrum?

It's common for colostrum to leak, and some individuals experience this as early as the second trimester of pregnancy. However, not everyone will notice this leakage.

What Happens if No Colostrum Comes Out?

If you're unable to express any colostrum, there's no need to be concerned. Your baby is more equipped than any other tool for expressing milk; whether you see the colostrum or not, the body produces it.

How Long Does Colostrum Production Last?

Colostrum is the initial milk produced starting from mid-pregnancy (around 12-18 weeks) and continues for the first several days following your baby's birth. As mentioned above, by days 10 - 12, you will have achieved mature milk production.

How Can I Produce More Colostrum?

Breastfeeding within the first 60 minutes after birth, often known as the Golden Hour, helps you make the most of your body's elevated Oxytocin levels, stimulating your lactation hormones; this kick-starts your milk production.