As a new breastfeeding mom, there is so much information being thrown your way. Today, we’re covering colostrum, a superfood for your baby during their first 2-5 days of life. We’ve also outlined health habits to incorporate into your own diet.
Colostrum is a big word, but don’t let that intimidate you. Just think of it as a highly concentrated form of breast milk that feeds your baby during their precious first days of life.
Often coined a ‘superfood’ for your baby, colostrum is the exact nutritional boost your baby needs to survive and thrive. This nutrient-rich ‘pre-milk’ is filled with immune-boosting properties to help fight infection.
This nutrient-rich ‘pre-milk’ is filled with immune-boosting properties to help fight infection.
While we’ll be focusing on colostrum in relation to newborn babies, it’s worth noting that many adults take bovine (from cows) colostrum supplements throughout their life. Research shows that this supplement can promote the immune system, help fight off infections and improve overall gut health.
What exactly is in Colostrum?
Colostrum is a lot like regular breast milk, except more concentrated. It is packed with protein, salts, antibodies and other protective properties that you baby needs at such a vulnerable part of life.
Compared to regular breast milk, colostrum contains more protein but less sugar, fat and calories. We’ll dive into this in a bit but for now, know that a higher protein composition helps fight infection, assists in physiologic functions and maintains your baby’s blood sugar levels.
It also looks a bit different than regular breastmilk, making it easy to spot. Because of its concentrated makeup, colostrum is thick and sticky. It may even appear orange, yellow, clear or white in color.
How is colostrum different from breastmilk?
Colostrum gets its golden/yellow-ish color because of all that beta-carotene. If you’re wondering, yes, that’s the same reason why carrots have the same tint. This, plus how nutritious it is for your newborn, is why it has earned the nickname ‘liquid gold.’
It’s important to remember that colostrum looks a little different for every mom, so don’t worry if yours is thinner and more watery than you expect. The same goes for the specific coloring. As we mentioned, colostrum for some moms will be more golden and for others, more transparent.
Why is it so important?
When you think about how sensitive and small your baby’s stomach is after birth, the role colostrum plays in their overall health becomes that much more important.
- On day 1, your baby’s tummy is about the size of a pea or marble.
- By day 3, their stomach has grown to the size of a walnut more or less. This is usually just big enough to allow for 0.5 to 1 ounce of liquids.
- By day 10 (as a reference, colostrum usually ends 2-5 days after birth) their stomachs can handle 1.5 to 2 ounces of liquids per feeding.
A big reason why colostrum is so highly concentrated is because your baby cannot consume much within the first few days of life.
What are the biggest benefits?
So many! Here are a few of the biggest benefits your baby gets from this superfood:
- It helps to immunize your little one against harmful germs. It does this by coating the intestines, which acts as a shield to the immune system against any germs that could cause illness or discomfort.
- It kills harmful microorganisms and provides protection from inflammation.
- Colostrum gives your baby a nutritional boost—this is extra important for babies who are born prematurely, as they really benefit from the extra nutrition.
- It helps prevent low blood sugar levels (remember, it’s lower in sugar than regular breastmilk).
- Colostrum has a laxative effect that helps newborns pass the meconium in their system within a few days after delivery.
When should I expect to start producing colostrum?
Colostrum may only last for the first 2-5 days of your baby’s life, but it’s actually been brewing in your system for much longer. Your body usually starts making it around the half-way mark of your pregnancy, and as early as 16 weeks in. We encourage you to not put too much emphasis on the exact timing here. Instead, see it as a sign that all systems are a go.
If you notice leaking colostrum before it’s time to give birth, don’t worry. It is totally normal and nothing to worry about. On the flip side, it’s also normal to not see signs of colostrum leaking. Of course, if you are concerned, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor.
After the first 2-5 days after birth—again, it varies among moms—you’ll know that your breasts are gearing up to release regular breast milk because they will increase in size and feel firmer. This is because regular breast milk is less concentrated, so you need more of it to fill up your baby’s tummy, hence the increase in size and firmness. You might notice fluctuations for a couple of weeks. This is just your body adjusting to your ‘new normal.’
How much colostrum is enough? How much is too much?
It’s a common worry among moms that their baby might not be getting enough food, and we completely understand that concern. In terms of colostrum volume, you may produce anywhere from 10-100 milliliters of colostrum daily. We know, that’s a huge range! On average, though, it’s going to be somewhere around the 30 milliliters mark, or around 1 ounce per day.
As we touched on earlier, newborns have such small stomachs and immature digestive systems and that by day 3, their stomach is about the size of a walnut and can take between 0.5 to 1 ounce of liquids.
A newborn's stomach is about the size of a walnut.
It might not seem like your baby is getting enough colostrum, when really, one of two teaspoons worth is liquid at each feeding is sufficient. Another way of thinking of colostrum is as a natural vaccine for your baby’s delicate immune system. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s full of everything your baby needs to thrive in that very moment. In the initial days, some babies even get colostrum fed with little syringes to feed a ml or 2 at a time!
What if I struggle to feed my baby?
We know this is a reality for many moms and we’re sending virtual hugs your way. The good news is that you are not alone and that there are many tips and tools to help.
If you’re having trouble getting your baby to latch, some lactation specialists recommend expressing a bit of colostrum for them every few hours and try feeding them with a small spoon. Even a few drops is okay, and your baby will reap the many benefits of this superfood.
Post-Colostrum, what foods can I eat to aid in breastfeeding?
Great question! If you’re no stranger to breastfeeding, you know how tiring it can feel. And no, it’s not all in your head; breastfeeding can burn around 400-500 calories every day.
Pumping is real work and it’s no wonder moms may feel hungry frequently. We know it’s easier said than done, but try to snack when you can because your body needs nourishment, too.
To offer a baseline, the average woman follows a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet. When you account that breastfeeding burns between 400-500 calories, you’ll want to recoup those calories in other ways.
So, what does 500 calories look like? Here are a few examples:
- 5 apples or bananas
- 4 pieces of bacon
- a 5oz lean steak
- 6 eggs
- 3oz of salmon (plus a cup of veggies and grains)
- a plain bagel with cream cheese (yum!)
Macronutrients vs. micronutrients
Without getting too granular, eating foods containing both macronutrients and/or micronutrients is important when maintaining a balanced diet for breastmilk. As their names suggest, macronutrients are needed in the body in fairly large amounts, while micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts.
The concept of macronutrients might feel daunting, but our guess is that you’re way more familiar with them than you think. For example, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, cholesterol, fiber and water are all macronutrients.
Jennifer Jolorte Doro, Nutritionist and Postpartum Chef, suggests focusing on more macronutrient dense meals during the postpartum period, as these foods have what it takes to provide optimal breast milk composition for the baby.
So, instead of consuming that extra 500 calories in mindless snacks, try to recoup those calories with smaller meals made up of lean proteins, healthy fats, phytonutrient dense fruits and vegetables (more on this later), and a variety of grains.
Unfamiliar with healthy fats? Here’s a breakdown:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: walnuts, soybeans, flax seeds and fatty fish like salmon and tuna)
- Omega-6 fatty acids: acids found in vegetable oils and seeds. The Institute of Medicine suggests 13 grams per day as enough (that’s about 1 tablespoon’s worth).
- Monounsaturated fats: poultry, avocados, nuts, seeds and oils such as olive, peanut and canola.
Fruits, veggies, grains and more
Phytonutrients is a term for compounds produced by plants, and found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and other plants.
Chances are, you already have several phytonutrients in your cupboard. Here are the big ones:
- red, orange and yellow vegetables: carrots, tomatoes, mangoes, and carrots
- dark-green leafy vegetables that you’d toss into a salad: kale, spinach, Swiss chard and boy chow
- nuts: walnuts, almonds, sunflower and sesame
- whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, barley, whole grain cereal and/or bread
- legumes: beans, lentils and peas
- cooking staples—think garlic, chives, onions and leeks
- dark chocolate (hallelujah)!
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About Lilu: Lilu is a Women’s Health company building tech-enabled devices to empower new moms. Their first product, the Lilu Massage Bra, mimics breast compression and "hands-on-pumping" techniques. The bra is an FDA Class I device that works with most standard breast pumps and uses Lilu’s patented pneumatic massage technology to gently and efficiently massage your breasts while pumping. For many moms, this massage can help increase milk output and reduce associated pain. Think of it as your pump’s sidekick.
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