What is Colostrum?

Baby and Mother

Colostrum is the baby’s first nutrient. Colostrum is high in protein (10%) and is full of vitamins, minerals and anti-bodies that protect the throat, lungs, and intestines.

The liquid is low in fat, easy to digest and made up of 124 components. The production of colostrum usually starts in the third trimester, but it can also start as early as the first one. 

Read our breastfeeding advice and what to expect in the first few days after your baby has been born. Including why colostrum is so important and how often you should expect to feed your baby.

What colour is colostrum?

Colostrum is a thick yellow or gold coloured breastmilk. As you start to produce mature breastmilk, the colour will change to white.

Some mothers may continue to produce yellow milk, even months into breastfeeding. But don’t confuse this for colostrum, as it will be mature milk that will be slightly coloured due to the mother having high number of oranges, carrots and sweet potatoes in her diet.

How much colostrum does a new-born need?

Colostrum is super concentrated and comes in very small quantities at first, gradually increasing as the baby suckles more. Newborn babies have tummies the size of a marble or 5-7ml (24 hours old), meaning on the first day, most babies drink about an ounce or 40-50ml.  As they grow, this will increase - for example, after two days they will drink one to two ounces of colostrum at each feed. While by two weeks, they’ll start to drink three to four ounces.

How long does colostrum last?

After birth, mums will be pumping colostrum for the first 2-5 days, after which the fluid will start to transition into mature milk, known as breastmilk. Some mothers also express a little quantity into syringes to freeze in the last few weeks of the last trimester of pregnancy, in case either they or their baby face feeding difficulties at birth. Before mums decide to do this, this should be discussed with a  health professional/healthcare provider.

Colostrum benefits

Colostrum is seen as a superfood for baby’s immune system, which also helps your baby grow and develop. Some of its main benefits are:

  • Helping the baby produce their first stool to excrete meconium (the substances ingested while in the womb).
  • Lining the intestines of the baby with protein, to better defend against bacteria and viruses. This is done by providing an opportunity for growth of good bacteria and prevention of bad bacteria to be absorbed into the body.
  • Helping flush the digestive track, which reduces the baby’s chance of getting jaundice.
  • Regulating bodily functions such as helping the baby adapt outside of the womb, regulate body temperature, vascular system, glucose metabolism and lung function.
  • Fighting infections, as two thirds of the liquid is made of white blood cells, which produce anti-bodies.

How often should I feed my new-born?

Some babies can be sleepy for the first few days and need to be encouraged to feed at least two – three hours in a 24 hour period. It is perfectly normal for a newborn baby to lose a little weight after he is born; on average a baby will lose 7 -10% of his weight during the first week of life and will, in general, be back up to birth weight on or before two weeks of age. Click here to find out if your baby is getting enough breastmilk.

Typical hunger signs include:

  • Crying
  • Licking lips
  • Fussiness
  • Opening their mouth in search of breasts
  • Sucking on anything that comes their way
  • Constantly putting their hand into their mouth

Can I feed my baby straight after birth?

If you and your baby are well, you will be encouraged to breastfeed as soon as possible, as his sucking reflex is strongest soon after birth and they can make the most of the colostrum nutrients.

If you put your baby straight to the breast after birth, it will help your uterus to contract and speed up delivery of the placenta. But don’t worry if your baby does not latch on immediately – the skin-to-skin contact will help him to regulate his body temperature and breathing and stimulate your milk.

When will my mature milk come in?

The delivery of the placenta triggers a rise in prolactin, the hormone responsible for producing breast milk. Following birth, there is a gradual change from colostrum (days 1-5), to transitional milk (days 6-14) to mature milk (day 14 onward).  Your baby’s tummy will grow to accommodate the greater amounts, and so will need to feed often at first: about 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. Feeds become more spread out as your baby grows older.

We hope this blogpost has cleared up any questions you had about your baby’s first feed and colostrum. You can read more about breastfeeding on our blog or get in touch with your doctor or midwife for any specific questions.

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