Colostrum, a thick, sticky substance, which can range in colour from clear to dark yellow, is the first milk you produce for your baby. Your body often starts making it about halfway through pregnancy, and you might even notice your breasts leak a bit of it before your baby is born—don’t worry, this is normal and just means your body is making sure all systems are a go.
While babies only get small amounts of colostrum at a time–about a teaspoon or two at each feed–it’s all they need. “Newborns have small stomachs and immature digestive systems,” says Pam Davey, a certified birth doula and registered lactation consultant in Edmonton. And although it may not seem like a lot, colostrum is highly concentrated and packed with beneficial properties, like antibodies, designed to protect your baby. “I like to think of it as a natural vaccine for a precious newborn,” says Davey.
The nutrients in colostrum are slightly different from those found in mature milk (which will start to come in when your baby is about three or four days old)—colostrum has less fat and more protein, which helps fight infection, assists with important physiologic functions and maintains the baby’s blood sugar, Davey says. “Colostrum even has a laxative effect to help babies pass all their meconium in the first few days after delivery. It’s pretty amazing stuff!”
Mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding at the outset often worry that their infants won’t get all the positive effects of colostrum, but Frances Jones, a lactation specialist and coordinator of the milk bank at BC Women’s Hospital, says even a little bit can make a big difference. “If you’re having trouble getting your newborn baby to latch, you can hand express a little colostrum for him,” she says. Try expressing a little every couple of hours and feeding your baby with a spoon or cup. “You may only get a few drops, but that’s OK—he’ll still get all the benefits.”
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