colostrumColostrum, often referred to as first milk, is produced during the latter stages of pregnancy. The milk is thick, yellow and packed with antibodies and protein to protect and feed your new baby. Colostrum lasts only a short while and is soon replaced with the thinner, more abundant breast milk that will continue being produced until you stop breastfeeding.

What are the differences between colostrum and breast milk?

Colostrum is only produced for about the first week after birth. The thick, yellow milk is low in fat, high in protein and rich in antibodies your new baby needs. Colostrum is also easier to digest than breast milk so baby’s sensitive digestive system can digest colostrum easier than breast milk. Colostrum works as a mild laxative to help baby pass the first stool or meconium. Meconium helps move bilirubin out of the body. Bilirubin contains dead red blood cells. An excess of bilirubin can cause jaundice, a common newborn condition.

When is colostrum produced?

Your body starts producing colostrum about the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy. You may start leaking colostrum in the latter weeks of pregnancy just before birth. After birth, your colostrum supply continues for two to three days before mature breast milk production takes over.

What is the purpose of colostrum?

Colostrum is often called “high octane” milk. The milk supplies immunoglobulins and antibodies to protect against bacteria and viruses. With protein levels three times that of mature milk, colostrum supplies all the nutrients a new baby needs in a smaller dose. Baby’s stomach holds about five milliliters at birth. By day seven, when mature milk fully comes in, the stomach grows to hold about two ounces per feeding.

Colostrum and NICU

If your baby must be cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) you can pump and store colostrum for feedings. Your mature milk will come in within 72 hours of birth even if you do not breastfeed during that time. The hospital lactation expert will work with you to pump and store colostrum for baby.

Can I pump colostrum before giving birth?

Pumping colostrum prior to birth is not a good idea. Nipple stimulation can cause uterine contractions, which could spark labor, in some cases. Breastfeeding mothers may notice cramping when breastfeeding or pumping in the hospital due to nipple stimulation. The cramping is a sign the uterus contracting. 

Colostrum is the golden milk of life and protection. Even if you do not plan on breastfeeding exclusively, breastfeeding experts suggest breastfeeding during the first three days to supply baby with antibodies and immunoglobulins needed to protect baby against the viral and bacterial dangers of the world outside the womb.

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