Colostrum for newborns

Most mums-to-be start producing breast milk towards the end of their pregnancy or just after their baby is born, but did you know that not all breast milk is the same?

For the first few days after you give birth until your regular breast milk comes in, your body will be making colostrum — a nutrient-rich type of milk that’s so good for your baby it’s sometimes called ‘liquid gold’.

Whether you’ve noticed colostrum leak onto your bra during pregnancy or just after giving birth, or you’re considering breastfeeding and want to know more about what’s in store, it’s helpful to learn more about what colostrum is and how it can benefit your newborn baby.

What Is Colostrum?

Colostrum is a highly concentrated form of breast milk. If you breastfeed your little one, it’s what he or she will be getting to eat in the first few days after being born.

Even if you plan on feeding your baby with formula, you might want to consider giving him or her some expressed colostrum for the first few feeds, to make the most of the health benefits that it offers.

Because it’s so concentrated, colostrum often has a thick consistency, and a golden yellow colour. However, it varies a lot both in consistency and colour – from a greenish yellow, orange or brown to clear or white – so don’t worry if yours is thinner and lighter or darker than you were expecting.

Colostrum contains high concentrations of fat, protein and carbohydrates, so your baby will be able to get plenty of nutrition even from the small quantities that his or her tiny stomach is able to process in a single feed.

Besides all these nutrients, it’s also packed with antibodies that help fight germs and help protect your newborn against infection and allergies.

Colostrum Benefits

Colostrum offers a whole range of health benefits in addition to its nutritional value:

  • Immunisation. Colostrum not only contains a high level of antibodies (called immunoglobulins) that protect against infections, it also has more white blood cells in it than regular breast milk. These give your baby extra immunity to diseases that he or she might come into contact with after being born.

  • Allergy protection. The first few meals of colostrum coat your little one’s gut, protecting against germs that are swallowed, and helping prevent allergies from forming.

  • Helping organs develop. Colostrum is rich in what are called ‘growth factors’, which help your baby’s organs mature, especially the digestive system.

  • Laxative affect. Colostrum helps your little one’s first bowel movements along, making it easier to clear the gut of meconium (your baby’s first poo) This also helps reduce the chance of jaundice.

  • Blood sugar control. Colostrum helps your baby to achieve a stable blood sugar level. This could be particularly important if your own blood sugar levels rose during pregnancy. In this case, your little one may have been producing extra insulin in response, possibly causing a drop in his or her blood sugar after birth.

When Do You Start Making Colostrum?

When you’re pregnant, your breasts may start producing colostrum several weeks, or even months, before your due date.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean the colostrum will run out too soon. Your breast will keep on producing it after your little one is born.

Leaking colostrum isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re about to go into labour. In fact, it’s completely normal to leak a little breast milk during pregnancy.

Conversely, some mums-to-be don’t notice colostrum leaking during pregnancy, but this doesn’t mean that colostrum production isn’t happening. Behind the scenes, your breasts are gearing up for breastfeeding.

If you are leaking colostrum, you might want to buy some disposable or reusable breast pads to put in your bra. These help absorb the liquid and protect your clothing.

Those breast pads could also come in handy after the birth, so don’t forget to put some in your hospital bag as well.

Expressing Colostrum During Pregnancy

If you have gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy) or if you’re taking certain medication for high blood pressure in pregnancy, your doctor or midwife may advise you to express colostrum and store it while you’re still pregnant.

This is so it’s available to stabilise your little one’s blood sugar levels immediately after birth. If there isn’t any colostrum at hand, your baby may be given formula as a substitute.

Even mums-to-be who don’t have these complications sometimes express colostrum before giving birth, so they have more ‘liquid gold’ to give their little one.

If you want to, you can also give colostrum to your newborn if you choose to formula feed your little one, as experts believe it may lower the chance of your baby getting diabetes in later life.

Talk to your doctor or midwife first if you feel that expressing colostrum while pregnant is something you’d like to consider, as it isn’t advised in every case, especially if you’re at risk of premature birth or are pregnant with twins or more.

How Long Does Colostrum Last?

Your body will usually produce the colostrum until the production of mature breast milk kicks in, which happens once the hormones produced by your placenta have left your bloodstream. This usually takes between one and four days after your baby is born.

When this happens, a hormone called prolactin is released into your body, which tells your breasts to start making milk. You may notice your breasts getting firmer and warmer as they fill with milk, and the veins may be more visible.

This firming-up usually only lasts for a few days, and it’s your body’s way of telling you that everything is working fine, but do let your midwife, lactation consultant or doctor know if you experience any pain or discomfort.

Most causes of breast pain – such as engorgement or a blocked milk duct can be easily and quickly solved, but if left untreated might develop into to a painful inflammation of the breast known as mastitis.

How Much Colostrum Does a Newborn Baby Need?

Colostrum comes in small amounts, but don’t worry: In the first few days after birth your little one’s stomach is very small – on the first day it can only hold about five to seven millilitres at a time, so even a teaspoonful of this highly nutritious liquid is enough for a single feed.

As your breasts transition into producing more regular breast milk than colostrum, your baby’s stomach will also expand to accept more milk.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • Colostrum the first breast milk produced during pregnancy and for those first few days after your baby is born. It’s packed full of nutrients and other things your little one needs in the first few days, like fat, protein and carbohydrates, as well as antibodies that help protect your newborn against infection and allergies.
  • Colostrum may be a golden or greenish yellow, orange or brown, clear or white in colour. It can vary a lot both in consistency and colour, though, so don’t worry if yours is thinner and lighter or darker than you were expecting.
  • Colostrum is rich in nutrients, and also helps build your baby's immune system with antibodies that help protect him or her against germs and harmful microorganisms. Besides this, it can boost the development of your baby’s organs, help prevent certain allergies and ease your little one’s first bowel movements.

Colostrum is a great first meal for your baby in so many ways, and a little goes a long way, so every little bit counts.

Every last drop of this ‘liquid gold’ helps give your newborn the best possible start in life, and – like all the best things in life – it’s free!

Check out our video guides for more information on pregnancy, childbirth and caring for your baby.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.