Sunday, February 2, 2014

Colostrum: The Original Liquid Gold

Colostrum, or "first milk" or "foremilk" is a milky substance that female mammals (not just humans!) begin producing toward the end of the pregnancy. Some women will begin to notice it in the second trimester, others not til the third, and some mothers will not notice the colostrum until after they give birth. I do not "leak" colostrum as some women do (at least, I haven't yet) but I began noticing it early in the third trimester.

Colostrum is the original liquid gold - the first "milk" your baby gets that is yellowish in color with a myriad of beneficial properties.

It is usually a clear/translucent yellow to orange color and is thicker than breast milk and a little sticky. Small but mighty - it is low in volume but rich in protein, fat-soluble vitamins, antibodies, immune factors, enzymes, and it also has laxative properties which help your newborn expel meconium, their first poop. If you deliver prematurely, your colostrum will contain even more proteins and different fats that are important to premature babies. Colostrum even "seals" baby's intestines, protecting them from bacterial invasion.

Colostrum is what your baby will ingest (if breastfeeding) for the first 2-4 days after their birth before the actual breast milk comes in. Your milk will increase in volume, thin out, and change color to a more opaque white. Breast milk is lower in protein, higher in sugar, higher in lactose and fat and changes to meet your baby's every needs. The fat content of your milk changes during the course of a day - even during the course of a single feeding. To help produce enough quantities of milk, you should breastfeed your newborn 8-12 times every 24 hours for the first few days. Don't worry about whether the small teaspoon-measurable amounts of colostrum is enough for your baby. "Colostrum is the only food healthy, full-term babies need." (La Leche League International). A one-day old's stomach capacity is 5-7 ml, or about the size of a marble. And since the stomach walls of a newborn are firm, meaning they do not stretch and expand to hold more, once your baby's stomach is full, any excess milk will be spit up. So colostrum is the perfect food for your newborn both in quantity and properties! By day 7, your infant's stomach has grown to about the size of a ping pong ball. So continue frequent feedings to ensure that he gets enough all the milk he needs and to ensure your milk production meets his demands.

Since colostrum is all your infant needs for those first few days, there is no need for any supplements. Giving your baby sugar water can interfere with establishing breastfeeding by filling your baby's stomach and taking away his motivation to suckle. Then when your baby does suckle, he gets less colostrum and your breasts don't get enough stimulation to get milk production off to a strong start. Breastfeeding immediately after birth, in addition to the benefits your baby will get, will also spur uterine contractions which decrease the chance of excessive bleeding after birth.

In a way, colostrum serves more of a medicinal purpose than a nutritional one. Even if you plan to bottle-feed formula, it is recommended that you feed your baby your colostrum for the first three days. There are "significant correlations between increased asthma, urinary-tract and respiratory infections, gastrointestinal disease, later obesity, and juvenile-onset insulin-dependent diabetes when artificial formula is given to babies soon after birth." (Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding. Gaskin, Ina May).

"Colostrum actually works as a natural and 100% safe vaccine. It contains large quantities of an antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) which is a new substance to the newborn. Before your baby was born, he received the benefit of another antibody, called IgG, through your placenta. IgG worked through the baby's circulatory system, but IgA protects the baby in the places most likely to come under attack from germs, namely the mucous membranes in the throat, lungs, and intestines." (La Leche League International)

One good recommendation I read is to express several teaspoons when you are 34-36 weeks pregnant and freeze it in a sterilized container. This way, if you give birth before you are 39 or 40 weeks, then this can help keep your premature or preterm baby from developing jaundice. Do the same if you are diabetic, as your baby will have an even greater need for your colostrum (as they are at risk for hypoglycemia - low blood sugar). If you are diabetic, you should start collecting and freezing your colostrum even earlier - around 32 weeks.

After writing this post, I decided to try expressing some colostrum to freeze. This is the amount I got after a few minutes - that is my pinky finger for size comparison.

Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Garten
The Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins
American Academy of Pediatrics New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding by Joan Younger Meek
La Leche League International
Science Direct
American Pregnancy Association

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