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Colostrum as Baby’s First Food

By Michele Savin, MSN, NNP-BC

Colostrum as Baby’s First Food

Colostrum or “liquid gold” is the first gift you give your baby

Your breasts produce colostrum as early as 16 weeks. This super milk is clear to yellow in color, thick, and sticky. This “liquid gold” is easily digested, and is the perfect first food.

At birth, you already have enough colostrum to nourish your baby. Going skin-to-skin with baby right after birth will help him smell the “liquid gold” and latch on for his first feeding. Your baby is born wanting to suck. Introducing him to the breast within the first hour will encourage his natural desire to breastfeed.

Baby’s First, Tiny Meals

Since your breasts are not yet full with breastmilk, it’s easier for baby to learn to suck and swallow. In those first few days it’s more important for babies to feed frequently than to nurse for longer periods of time. It’s tiring but breastfeeding your newborn at least 8-12 times each day will give him all the benefits of colostrum, stimulate production of your mature milk, and get breastfeeding off to the best possible start.

Newborns have small stomachs perfect for tiny meals; colostrum delivers concentrated nutrition. Most healthy babies begin taking in anything between ½ to 2 teaspoons of colostrum per feeding the first day; this increases to 1-2 ounces per meal by the end of the third day. Somewhere between days 2 to 5 after birth, colostrum production will give way to a higher volume of what’s called transitional milk, with your mature milk then coming in by 1-2 weeks.

Colostrum’s Nutritional Powerhouse

Compared with mature milk, colostrum is high in Vitamin A, sodium chloride, carbohydrates, protein, and antibodies; it’s also lower in fat, and contains more minerals and amino acids. It is also known to encourage cell growth.

Baby’s digestive system also benefits from colostrum as it promotes normal gut flora, and prevents harmful bacterial growth. Colostrum also helps the small intestine absorb nutrients and helps baby pass his first stool, called meconium.

Colostrum is rich in antibodies, including Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which protects mucous membranes in baby’s throat, lungs, and intestines, and leukocytes that begin protecting the infant from viruses and bacteria. Together, these and other important immune factors that are more highly concentrated in colostrum jump start baby’s immune system.

Should You Pump and Store Colostrum?

Some experts are advising that moms pump and store colostrum before baby’s birth but there’s little research that supports this. There is one research trial now ongoing that many are hoping will help answer whether this is helpful for babies. If you’re considering expressing colostrum before birth, discuss your plans with your healthcare provider.

Benefits to expressing it for baby include less formula use, more breastfeeding and increased immunity protection for baby. But it’s not known if the colostrum present in your breasts during pregnancy differs from the colostrum baby gets at birth. If you do express colostrum, it can be kept at room temperature for up to 24 hours, or in the refrigerator for up to 8 days, but ideal use is within 3 days.

Michele Savin, MSN, NNP-BC, is a neonatal nurse practitioner at Christiana Health Care Services in Wilmington, DE, and an expert advisor to Healthy Mom&Baby.

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