The Awesomeness Of Colostrum
It is extremely common for me to be asked in my breast/body feeding classes, "What does baby eat before my milk comes in?" And I say brightly, "Well colostrum of course."
And with confused looks on their faces I explain the awesomeness of colostrum.
Between 12 and 18 weeks of pregnancy, your body will begin to create colostrum. This is particularly important for babies that are born prematurely because the colostrum from the birthing parent can help nourish a baby that has come too soon and where artificial milk may be too harsh or insufficient for them. For some people, this may mean they can begin leaking colostrum in the final weeks of pregnancy. However, not everyone leaks so if you are concerned that you won’t have any for your baby, try to hand express a little out and see that it's there.
Colostrum is a highly concentrated superfood for baby consisting of high levels of protein, white blood cells, antibodies and all the nutrients that baby will need until the mature milk appears in 2-3 days. And because it is so highly concentrated baby doesn't need a lot of it. And with baby's tummy being so tiny, only holding 5-7mls on day one, they don’t need a lot of it.
These nutrients and white blood cells within the colostrum help protect baby by boosting their immune system. Remember they are going from a very protective state being on the inside to a world that is foreign to them with viruses and bacteria. Colostrum also plays a role in baby's vision and skin which is important, especially as baby's world has been very dark and wet and both their eye sight and skin will need help adjusting to the outside world.
Colostrum is also thick and very sticky and acts like a laxative that will push all the meconium out of baby's system. Meconium is baby's first poops and it consists of amniotic fluid, vernix and lanugo (fine baby hair), that baby will have ingested while they were in utero. The passage of meconium is important as it will also cleanse baby's body of the bilirubin that can build up in baby's body as their liver starts to function, if this doesn't happen jaundice can occur requiring baby to need special treatment after birth.
Finally, colostrum is easily digestible for baby and will be beneficial to maintain baby's blood sugar levels after birth. Also, given that baby is still just learning how to feed this way, with the colostrum being very thick, it will be slow to flow and make it easier for baby to feed without choking.
Colostrum is baby's first milk and will sustain baby for several days but in order to get these amazing benefits, we have to get it into baby. I recommend getting baby latched in the first hour, if possible, and then attempting to feed baby every 2.5 hours until your mature milk comes in which will often be around day 2-3. Even as the mature milk becomes more abundant, colostrum will still be found in the mature milk for several weeks, so the benefits keep coming even after we think the colostrum is finished.
What if you are having trouble latching baby? Then it is recommended that you hand express the colostrum to feed to baby with a syringe into their mouth while you are getting help and support for feeding. Also, if you are aware beforehand that you will need to be induced early or if you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes you can harvest the colostrum in the final weeks of your pregnancy and store it in small vials until after the birth to ensure baby is getting what they need while you are both learning how to feed from baby from your body.
So fear not, baby will be fed, your body will make what they need, and if you are concerned at any time, seek out an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant for advice and support as you begin your feeding journey.