Colostrum: The First Breast Milk

Definition, Information, and Helpful Tips

Answers to Your Questions About Colostrum: Definition, Information, Tips
Colostrum is the first breast milk and your bab's first meal.. Cristian Baitg/Getty Images

What Is Colostrum? 

Colostrum is the first breast milk that your baby receives Colostrum is also the first stage of breast milk production. It comes before transitional breast milk (the second stage of breast milk), and mature breast milk (the final stage of breast milk).

When Will You Start Making Colostrum?

Your body starts to make colostrum long before the birth of your baby. The production of colostrum begins as early as the beginning of your second trimester of pregnancy.

You may notice small drops of clear or yellow fluid leaking from your breasts or staining your bra while you're pregnant. That's colostrum.

How Long Does the Colostrum Phase Last?

The colostrum phase of breast milk lasts until the transitional stage begins between the 2nd and 5th day after your baby is born. The transitional phase of breast milk production begins when your milk comes in, and you begin to make more breast milk. But, the transitional phase is a time when there is a mixture of colostrum and mature breast milk. So, even though it's no longer called the colostrum phase, colostrum will still be present in your breast milk. Small traces of colostrum can still be found in your breast milk for about six weeks.

How Much Colostrum Will You Make?

You will only make a small amount of colostrum. In the first 24 hours after your baby is born, you will make, on average, a little over two tablespoons or one ounce (30 ml).

On the 2nd and 3rd day, you will make approximately 2 ounces (60 ml) of colostrum. Then, as your transitional breast milk begins to come in around the 3rd day, you will begin making much more breast milk.

What Does Colostrum Look Like?

Your colostrum may be clear, but it often looks golden yellow or orange because it has high levels of beta-carotene.

Colostrum also tends to be thicker than transitional and mature breast milk. 

Occasionally, blood from inside the milk ducts can make its way into the colostrum. Colostrum mixed with blood may look red, pink, brown, or rusty in color. A small amount of blood in your breast milk is typically nothing to be worried about, and it's often the result of rusty pipe syndrome. However, it's always best to consult your doctor if you notice bloody or discolored discharge from your nipples.

What Is in Colostrum?

Colostrum may only be available in small amounts, but it's packed full of concentrated nutrition. It's considered a superfood or "liquid gold", and it contains everything that your baby needs in the first few days of life. It's also made up of health properties that protect your baby and help him to fight off infection, illness, and disease.

  • Colostrum is higher in protein and lower in fat and sugar when compared to transitional and mature breast milk, so it's easier to digest.

  • Colostrum is so full of antibodies, white blood cells, and other immune properties that it's like your child's first immunization.

  • The high levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) found in colostrum protect your baby's GI tract and helps to kill off viruses and bacteria.

  • Colostrum is a natural laxative. It helps your baby move his bowels and clear the meconium from his body. Meconium is the tar-like poop that has collected in your baby's bowels from before your baby was born. Since meconium contains bilirubin, the laxative effect of colostrum helps to prevent newborn jaundice.

Breastfeeding During the Colostrum Stage

Even though you will only make a small amount of colostrum, you should still breastfeed your baby as often as possible during this stage. Your baby's stomach is tiny, and a little bit of colostrum is all he needs for the first few days. You do not have to – and shouldn't – wait until your breast milk begins to come in to start breastfeeding your baby.

Colostrum is the first breast milk, and it sets the foundation for your child's health and your future breast milk supply. By breastfeeding very often during the colostrum stage, you are preparing your body to produce a healthy supply of breast milk.

Should You Supplement with Formula During the Colostrum Stage?

You may not think your baby is getting enough breast milk during the first few days of life when you're only making 1 to 2 ounces of colostrum a day, and that's an understandable concern. However, your baby doesn't need any more than what you're making. If your baby is healthy and full-term, you don't have to supplement your baby with an infant formula during the colostrum stage.

However, if your baby is premature, you experience a delay in the production of breast milk, or if your child is having a health issue, your baby's doctor will advise you as to whether or not a supplement is necessary.  

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Cadwell, Karin, Turner-Maffei, Cynthia, O'Connor, Barbara, Cadwell Blair, Anna, Arnold, Lois D.W., and Blair Elyse M. Maternal and Infant Assessment for Breastfeeding and Human Lactation A Guide for the Practitioner Second Edition. Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 2006.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

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