Breastfeeding 101: What Is Colostrum? (Plus, 5 Tips For Breastfeeding Your Newborn)

August is National Breastfeeding Month and here at Ready. Set. Food!, we support each and every parent’s decision on how to feed and nourish their families.That’s why we’re proud to join National Breastfeeding Month in helping build a landscape of breastfeeding support with our new Breastfeeding 101 series.

In today's article, we break down everything moms need to know about colostrum--- the first breastmilk you produce for your newborn. We also share 5 tips for breastfeeding your newborn.

Colostrum is the first breastmilk you produce for your newborn. It’s often called “liquid gold” because of all the concentrated nutrients it provides for baby. Here’s what moms need to know about colostrum, plus tips for breastfeeding your newborn.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first breastmilk that you produce for your newborn, and the type of breastmilk that they drink when they first nurse. It’s thicker and yellower than traditional breastmilk.

  • You start producing it during pregnancy, and produce it for several days after baby is born.
  • The first five days or so, baby will nurse on only colostrum.
  • Then, between five days and two weeks after baby’s birth, you’ll produce transitional milk for baby. That’s a combination of colostrum and mature (traditional) breastmilk.

Compared to traditional breastmilk, you produce smaller amounts of colostrum. But colostrum is packed with mighty amounts of protein and concentrated nutrients --- everything baby will need to thrive in their first few days.

How exactly does colostrum benefit baby?

Colostrum is tailored to give your baby’s immune system, and the rest of their body, a healthy start. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that help baby grow, and antibodies that help protect them from infections and illnesses.

Colostrum’s contents include:

  • White blood cells and antibodies: White blood cells make up two-thirds of colostrum. Along with antibodies, they help protect baby’s body against viruses, bacteria, and other infections, and strengthen your baby’s immune system so it can learn to defend against these threats in the future. So, colostrum is almost like baby’s first immunization!
  • SIgA (secretory immunoglobulin A) antibodies: SIgA is a special type of antibody that lines baby’s GI tract and helps protect them against viruses and bacteria that you (the mother) have fought off. The molecules that have helped defend you against diseases join to form SIgA, and then the SIgA antibodies get passed to your baby through colostrum.
  • Proteins: Colostrum is very high in protein and lower in fat and milk-sugar compared to mature breastmilk. So, not only is it nutrient-packed, it’s also easier to digest.
  • Probiotics: Colostrum (and all breastmilk) supplies babies with probiotics, or good bacteria that builds up in their GI tract. Babies aren’t born with all the “good bacteria” they need for a healthy gut. But probiotics help baby build up the good bacteria needed to fight colic, reflux, other GI conditions, and infections.
  • Prebiotics: Colostrum (and all breastmilk) also supplies prebiotics, which are the nutrients needed for important probiotics to survive and thrive.
  • Laxative properties: Colostrum helps baby empty their bowels frequently and clear them of meconium, the tar-like poop that collected in baby’s bowels while they were in the womb.
    • The laxative properties of colostrum also help prevent jaundice. Newborns have higher concentrations of red blood cells than adults, and these blood cells break down more quickly.
    • This leads to buildup of a by-product called bilirubin, which the liver normally helps process.
    • And bilirubin is also present in meconium (newborns’ tar-like poop).
    • But a newborn’s liver can’t process bilirubin as quickly, because it hasn’t developed yet.
    • And if too much bilirubin builds up in baby’s system, this can lead to jaundice.
    • The laxative properties of colostrum, though, help baby clear their system of bilirubin, by frequently helping them remove it via their poop.
  • Vitamins, including Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps support baby’s vision, immune system and skin. It’s particularly important because babies aren’t born with much Vitamin A in reserve.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium helps support baby’s heart and bone health.
  • Copper: Copper helps build up baby’s immune system.
  • Zinc: Zinc helps strengthen baby’s immune system, and assists in brain development. To support your newborn’s rapidly developing brain, there’s nearly four times more zinc in colostrum than in mature breastmilk.

6 Tips for breastfeeding newborns

The colostrum days are a crucial time for establishing breastfeeding, but getting the hang of feeding your newborn can be challenging. Still, the more you breastfeed, the easier breastfeeding will become.

These tips will help you establish a breastfeeding routine and lay the foundations.

Nurse as often as baby wants to

Even though you won’t produce much colostrum (just 1-2 ounces per day), you should still let baby nurse as often as they desire. The small amounts of colostrum are all they’ll need during this time. They can only take in so much at once due to their small stomachs, though, so they’ll need more frequent feedings to get all the benefits of the colostrum.

Breastfeeding often right after baby is born also helps you establish a routine and get acquainted with the right breastfeeding techniques. And the more you breastfeed during the colostrum stage, the faster (and more abundantly) your supply of traditional breastmilk will arrive.

So, nurse right away whenever baby shows signs of hunger:

  • Searching for the breast
  • Opening and closing the mouth
  • Turning the head to find the breast
  • Sticking out the tongue

Usually this will be every 2-3 hours, but may vary.

And once baby starts to nurse, give them full control of how long the feed lasts. Only end the feed when baby shows signs of fullness, like turning away from the breast. Remember: right now, baby knows their needs better than you do.

Find the right breastfeeding position and latch

The right positioning and latch are key to successful breastfeeding --- the earlier you establish them, the better.

Read our other Breastfeeding 101 guide for tips on how to find the breastfeeding position that works best for you and baby.

And for tips on establishing a successful latch, check out the linked article from our friends at The Pump Station & Nurtury.

Relax and get comfortable

Making sure you’re relaxed and in a comfortable environment will help baby relax and nurse successfully.

Breastfeed on a bed, couch, or comfortable chair that will support your back. Or, you can choose to breastfeed on your bed while lying on your side. And if needed, support your arms with pillows. After all, you’ll be in this position for a relatively long period.

Keeping yourself well-supported and comfortable will prevent pain and keep you still (and that way, baby won’t be disrupted during a feed).

Take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy this time of bonding with your little one. And remember that the more you breastfeed, the more straightforward breastfeeding will become.

For more tips on breastfeeding newborns, watch this video from First Cry Parenting:

Don’t supplement with formula

Even though the amounts of colostrum you produce may seem small, your body will produce all the milk your baby needs in the colostrum stage. So, if your baby is healthy and full-term, you won’t need to supplement breastfeeding with formula during the colostrum stage, as long as baby is nursing regularly. (Your doctor may recommend supplements for a baby born prematurely or a baby with certain health conditions, though.)

Seek help if needed

If you need help getting started with breastfeeding, you don’t have to go it alone. Talk to your doctor and nurses at the hospital, a lactation consultant, or other moms who have taken the breastfeeding journey. They’ll be glad to help!

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.