Even if you decide not to breastfeed, many mothers cannot and many choose not to because of work commitments and other reasons, providing your newborn access to your breastmilk for the first few days of their life is a gift that your child will carry for life. That gift is wrapped in colostrum, a sticky yellowish-colored substance occasionally called beestings or first milk.
What is Colostrum?
Colostrum is a form of milk produced by the mammary glands in late pregnancy and the few days after giving birth.
Human and bovine (cows)colostrums are thick, sticky, and yellowish. In humans, it has high concentrations of nutrients and antibodies, but it is small in quantity. Colostrum is high in carbohydrates, high in protein, high in antibodies, and low in fat (as human newborns may find fat difficult to digest).
Newborns have very small digestive systems, and colostrum delivers its nutrients in very concentrated low-volume doses.
It has a mild laxative effect, encouraging the passing of the baby’s first stool, which is called meconium. This clears excess bilirubin, a waste product of dead red blood cells which is produced in large quantities at birth due to blood volume reduction, from the infant’s body and helps prevent jaundice.
Colostrum contains large numbers of antibodies called “secretory immunoglobulin” (IgA) that help protect the mucous membranes in the throat, lungs, and intestines of the infant. Leukocytes are also present in large numbers; these begin protecting the infant from harmful viruses and bacteria.
Ingesting colostrum establishes beneficial bacteria in the infant’s digestive tract. Premature babies tend to fare better on human colostrum than commercial infant formulas. Human milk contains special components, called growth modulators, that help the premature baby’s digestive system adjust to oral feedings.
Research indicates that premature babies fed formula tend to vomit more and continue tube feeding longer than babies fed human colostrum and breast milk.
Breastmilk’s magical ingredient
Colostrum is packed into your first few day’s supply of breastmilk. It’s like nature’s version of baby “vaccine” specifically designed to boost your baby’s immunity.
One of the major immune boosters in colostrum is called secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA), which coats the internal organs and lining of the digestive, respiratory and reproductive tracts. SIgA doesn’t let bacteria and pathogens get in through the gut, so it protects your baby from the inside out. Colostrum is lower in some nutrients (such as lactose and fat) than mature breastmilk and higher in others (such as protein and potassium) and is designed to suit your newborn’s growing body.