You may have heard that breastfeeding is a great opportunity for a mother to bond with her newborn and that breastmilk is an excellent source of nutrition for babies. But you may not know that during the first few days after giving birth, the breasts produce a nutrient-dense fluid known as colostrum. Let’s review what it is, its benefits, and more.
What Is Colostrum?
Colostrum is the first milk your body produces after giving birth. It forms in your mammary glands, and because it’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and antibodies, it plays a vital role in building up your baby’s immune system. Because of its golden color and high nutritional value, it’s often called “liquid gold.” In some cases, colostrum may appear clear, white, or creamy. It’s stickier and thicker than typical breast milk and may contain faint traces of blood, which is completely normal.
What Nutrients Are in Colostrum?
A newborn’s immune system has not fully developed, making them vulnerable to infections. Colostrum is rich in proteins, low in fat and sugar, and contains vitamin A, magnesium, copper, and zinc, which help protect against harmful organisms while strengthening the immune system.
What Is the Difference Between Colostrum and Breast Milk?
Colostrum is the first breast milk produced after giving birth. A few days after your baby is born, it changes into traditional breast milk; however, there are trace amounts of colostrum in breast milk for several weeks.
The main differences between the two are:
- Colostrum is filled with immunoglobulins to boost your baby’s immune system and protect it from illness.
- Colostrum has two times as much protein and four times as much zinc.
- Colostrum is lower in fat and sugar, so it’s easier to digest, which is important because a baby’s stomach is only about the size of a marble when it’s first born.
- Colostrum is thicker and more yellow, hence the nickname “liquid gold.”
The Three Stages of Breast Milk
Here is a timeline of what your body produces:
- Colostrum: This milk comes immediately following giving birth. Your body will produce this anywhere from 2-5 days.
- Transitional Milk: This milk is a combination of both colostrum and mature milk. Transitional milk is produced after five days and up to two weeks after delivery. You’re likely to experience an increase in milk production during this time, and you may experience full, firm, and tender breasts.
- Mature Milk: By 4-6 weeks post-delivery, your milk will be considered mature and contain no traces of colostrum. Your milk is now thinner and whiter and contains higher sugar and fat.
What Are the Benefits?
As mentioned, colostrum strengthens your baby’s immune system and helps establish a healthy gut by coating the intestines, keeping harmful bacteria from being absorbed, promoting growth, and acting as a natural laxative to help with the baby’s first poop. It is easy to digest, helps prevent low blood sugar in full-term babies, and helps your baby regulate their body temperature, metabolism, and lung and circulatory functions.