Many expectant women are unaware that their breasts begin to make milk from around week 16 of pregnancy.
Some women may realise this later in pregnancy if their breasts start to leak.
The first milk that your breasts make is called colostrum, which is usually a thick, yellow coloured substance (although the colour can vary between women).
After the birth, it takes a few days or so for your milk to come in.
Until then, your baby receives colostrum.
The Importance Of Colostrum
Colostrum is important for your baby for many reasons. Here are 5 important ways it helps your baby.
#1: Colostrum Matches A Newborn’s Tummy Size
In the early days of life, a newborn’s tummy is tiny – about the size of a marble.
Colostrum is made in small amounts to match a newborn’s tummy size.
For example, in the first 24 hours a newborn consumes between 2-10mL of colostrum at a feed.
For most babies, colostrum is all that they need until their mother’s milk comes in.
#2: It Provides Immune Protection
A newborn’s immune system is far from being fully developed. Hence, they are vulnerable to illness and require protection from external sources. This is where colostrum (and later, breastmilk) is important.
In order to be able to match the size of a baby’s tummy while providing babies with all they need, colostrum is a concentrated source of immune protective factors.
These immune protective factors include antibodies, white blood cells, prebiotics and probiotics – all of which are not contained in formula. All of these factors help protect newborns from sickness. No wonder colostrum is often referred to as nature's vaccine for newborn babies!
Colostrum’s role in a newborn’s gut is especially important. This is because a newborn’s gut is leaky, meaning that potentially harmful substances can more easily sensitise or damage it.
Colostrum helps to provide a barrier in a newborn’s gut, helping protect it from these potentially harmful substances entering.
#3: Laxative Effect
Colostrum has a mild laxative effect, helping a baby pass his early stools.
This aids in the excretion of excess bilirubin and can help protect against jaundice.
#4: Removal In First Hour Helps Kick Start Your Supply
Research has shown that when colostrum is removed within the first hour after birth (even as compared to between hours 2-6), the more milk a mother will produce.
There are many other steps you can take to get breastfeeding off to the best start possible and help kick start your supply.
#5: Help Establish A Healthy Gut Microbiome
The bacteria in our gut is referred to as our gut microbiome.
Evidence continues to emerge about how a resilient gut microbiome is important for our health.
A resilient gut microbiome is one that is more diverse and less likely to shift towards unhealthy bacteria.
Exclusive breastfeeding (including newborns only consuming colostrum in the early days of life) leads to the normal healthy colonisation pattern of a newborn’s gut. There are significant differences in the bacteria that are in the guts of breastfed babies compared to formula fed babies.
Even small amounts of formula can result in changes to a baby’s gut microbiome which may increase the risk of various poorer health outcomes.
If you are struggling with breastfeeding, or are worried that you’re not producing enough colostrum, be sure to seek prompt help such as from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Seeking help quickly can help prevent things from feeling like they're spiralling out of control.