Colostrum, your baby's first meal, has earned the nickname "liquid gold." See why it's considered so amazing for newborns.
If you think about it, women's bodies are downright incredible. They can make babies, grow them, birth them, and then even continue to nourish them outside the womb. It doesn't always happen perfectly (or easily!), but the design of the whole thing is pretty breathtaking.
Think about how breastfeeding is set up to work: Even before your breasts start overflowing with milk (otherwise known as your milk "coming in," which usually happens two to five days after birth), your body produces colostrum, your baby's "first milk." People often call colostrum "liquid gold"—partly because of its yellow-orange color, but also because of the fact that it's chock-full of goodness for your newborn.
While many people know some basic stuff about colostrum, there are actually quite a number of amazing and fascinating things about colostrum that might surprise you.
1. You start producing colostrum even before your baby is born.
You usually don't think of breastfeeding as part of your pregnancy experience, but your breast are working on the whole thing pretty much as soon as you become pregnant (hence those maddeningly sore breasts!). Your body starts to produce colostrum in the second trimester of pregnancy. Some mothers even report leaking it! (Don't worry: if you don't leak it, it doesn't mean you aren't producing it.)
2. Some describe colostrum as your baby's "first vaccination."
La Leche League notes that colostrum contains "large amounts of living cells which will defend your baby against many harmful agents," adding that "the concentration of immune factors is much higher in colostrum than in mature milk." Pretty neat, huh? Colostrum is rich in leukocytes, which are white blood cells that attack viruses and bacteria. It also contains an antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA), which specifically protects your baby from germs that attack the mucous membranes of the throat, lungs, and digestive system.
3. Colostrum is a laxative and help clears out your baby's first poop.
According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, "Colostrum acts as a natural laxative helping to eliminate the retained pool of bilirubin contained in meconium." This is a fancy way of saying that colostrum helps your baby make her first poop (that black, tarry stool called meconium), which rids her body of excess bilirubin. Eliminating bilirubin is important because it helps prevent jaundice, as La Leche League points out.
4. Colostrum has a perfect nutritional balance and is easy to digest.
The Academy of American Pediatrics explains that colostrum is all your baby needs in those first few days of life in terms of nutrition and fluid intake. Colostrum is actually higher in protein, lower in sugar, and quite a bit lower in fat than mature milk (the creamy milk that your body starts to produce when your milk "comes in"). La Leche League describes colostrum as "extremely easy to digest" for your baby, making it the perfect first food for your little one.
5. Colostrum provides a protective coating to the lining of a baby's gut, guarding it against foreign substances.
Did you know that your baby's intestinal tract is porous at birth, and therefore more vulnerable? Well, colostrum is on the case. La Leche League explains it this way: "Colostrum seals the holes by 'painting' the gastrointestinal tract with a barrier which mostly prevents foreign substances from penetrating and possibly sensitizing a baby to foods the mother has eaten." Fascinating, huh?
It's important to remember that breastfeeding isn't "all or nothing." The benefits of colostrum are many, but keep in mind that your baby will benefit from it however much you colostrum you are able to provide. So mamas, take pride in the remarkable things your body is capable of doing—and making. You rock, and don't forget that for a minute.