What Is Colostrum? An Overview of the First Breast Milk

Definition, Information, and Helpful Tips

Mother breastfeeding newborn in the hospital
Colostrum is the first breast milk and your baby's first meal. Cristian Baitg/Getty Images

Colostrum is the first breast milk that your breasts or mammary glands make during pregnancy and in the first few days after the birth of a child. It is the first stage of breast milk production. Your body makes colostrum before transitional breast milk (the second stage of breast milk), and mature breast milk (the final stage of breast milk). Those first drops of colostrum are what your baby receives the first time you put your baby to the breast to breastfeed.

What Does Colostrum Look Like?

Your colostrum may look clear, but it's often a golden yellow or orange color because it contains 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.

When Will You Start to Make Colostrum?

Your body starts to make breast milk 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 second and fifth day after the birth of your baby. The transitional phase of breast milk production starts when your milk comes in, and you begin to see a big increase the amount of breast milk that you're making.

But, the transitional stage 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 continue to 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 second and third 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 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 newborn 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 child move his bowels and get rid of the meconium from his body. Meconium is the tar-like poop that collects in the bowels before your baby is 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 newborn'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 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. But, your baby doesn't need any more than what you're making. If your child is healthy and full-term, there is no reason to supplement 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.

Castellote C, Casillas R, Ramírez-Santana C, Pérez-Cano FJ, Castell M, Moretones MG, López-Sabater MC, Franch À. Premature delivery influences the immunological composition of colostrum and transitional and mature human milk. The Journal of nutrition. 2011 Jun 1;141(6):1181-7.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition  Mosby. 2015.

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

Walker A. Breast milk as the gold standard for protective nutrients. The Journal of pediatrics. 2010 Feb 28;156(2):S3-7.

Continue Reading