As always, I feel compelled to preface this piece with a warning: this post is about breastfeeding. If reading about breastfeeding evokes unpleasant emotions for you, here is a post about french fries! If reading about french fries evokes unpleasant emotions for you, then we would not be good friends.
Some people call colostrum liquid gold. Those people are also known as moms. Who have anxiously and nervously fed their precious new babes in the first few days of life with those first few drops of milk wondering: Is my baby getting enough? Is it supposed to be yellow like that? When will my real milk “come in?”
So what exactly is colostrum? And why is it so important?
Well……adjusts glasses……spills coffee on lactation notes…..proceeds with nerdspeak
1. You Have to Have a Placenta to Have Colostrum
Almost anything with a nipple can make breastmilk. (There are some rare instances in which mammals are unable to produce milk….saving that for another post) Yes. That means men, men too can make breastmilk. In order to make milk, a mammal needs two things: stimulation & prolactin.
So if someone, such as an adoptive mother, wants to make breastmilk to feed her baby, she needs to stimulate (pump) and have adequate prolactin levels (prescription drugs). This is simply the coolest thing ever in my book! What an awesome way to nurture an adopted babe! But what those who induce lactation can’t make is colostrum. Colostrum can only be made in the presence of a placenta. Meaning that only a mother who carries and births a child can produce colostrum.
Once a mother delivers her placenta (the placenta is delivered after the baby) she will produce colostrum for the first 7-10 days of baby’s life followed by production of mature milk. Neat-o.
2. It’s Yellow, Like Bright Yellow. But Why?
Colostrum is high in protein and beta-carotene, which gives it its bright yellow color. Beta-carotene is very antioxidant rich = protection from dirty, disease infested hospitals! Hooray!
3. Gut Health 4 Lyfe
Newborns have open junctures in their GI tract. Because amniotic fluid freely flowed through these junctures during pregnancy allowing for electrolyte and other exchanges to take place.
When baby is born, colostrum perfectly coats the lining of the GI tract and closes those open junctures. Bovine and plant proteins are much larger than human proteins. So formula just can’t close that gut like colostrum does. Babies who don’t get colostrum are more likely to develop a host of GI issues both sooner and later in life. Here’s an interesting article about infant feeding practices and Crohn’s Disease.
4. Nature’s Laxative. More About Poop.
Colostrum has a laxative effect to clear out the meconium. Meconium is black, tarry poop that all new babies have. If you’re really curious and have a strong stomach, click on the link and then go to google images.
Clearing out meconium is good because it’s gross, but more importantly because when it hangs around….serious complications can arise….as in potentially fatal. This is especially important for preemies.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis is an ugly, ugly disease. Thank goodness for colostrum!
Some mommas don’t wish to breastfeed, but still want their babies to get all of the good stuff and protection that colostrum and human milk have to offer. Pumping for the first few weeks, months, or years of baby’s life is a great way to achieve this!