Whats so important about colostrum?


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A woman holding and kissing her baby close

Colostrum’s up! The first food that many newborns digest is a perfect brew for babies, helping to set them up for life in the open. But what is it? And what makes it so special?

Is colostrum the same as breast milk?

There are so many things we wish we’d known before pregnancy. And this is one of the big ones. Before your breast milk comes in, there’s colostrum.

What is colostrum? Sometimes called liquid gold, colostrum is the first milk you produce. It’s a highly-concentrated elixir, rich in essential proteins and nutrients, and it helps your baby get to grips with the Big Wide World. Colostrum helps to prepare your bubba’s digestive system for the milk that follows, boosting gut health and providing antibodies to fight against infections.

Thicker than the milk you make later, colostrum is a distinctive yellowy colour and it’s easy for tiny tummies to digest. Simply put, it’s specially formulated to provide everything your newborn needs in the first few days.

Why is colostrum so good for newborns?

Colostrum is the perfect food for newborns for so many reasons:

It’s helps them grow

In the womb, your baby swallows and poops amniotic fluid (some diet!). Colostrum has a similar consistency to this to help them transition to life in the open. And it’s full of goodness, to give them everything they need during a period of rapid development.

It’s full of vitamins and minerals

Vitamin A and carotenoids give colostrum its yellow colour and help to keep your baby's eyes and skin in tip-top condition. Other ingredients include copper and zinc, which are great for their immune system and brain, and magnesium for that little heart and bones.

It boosts their immune system and helps to prevent infections

Colostrum boosts babies’ immunity, preventing them from disease and infection. Breastfed babies are at a lower risk of diabetes, respiratory illnesses, diarrhoea and allergies, all thanks to this amazing magic potion.

It prepares their gut for the milk that comes next

Colostrum lines your baby’s stomach, strengthening their gut wall, stimulating the intestine and boosting their digestive system. It helps them to transition from the womb to the world.

Colostrum harvesting before birth

Joy of joys: you’ll start producing colostrum before you give birth. The exact timing varies for everyone, but your breasts will start to make milk well before your baby shows up, to ensure your body is making food for them. 

Midwives recommend harvesting colostrum during the last few weeks of your pregnancy and freezing what you collect to feed to your baby at a later date. 

Once you get the knack, you’ll be able to hand express your colostrum. Some people are advised to freeze it in syringes, so that it’s easier to defrost and feed to their newborn. You can even pack it in ice and take it along to the hospital when you go to give birth, if you like! Or you could use one of our Wren milk storage bags to capture this liquid gold.

How long will I produce colostrum for?

Every woman is different, but most produce colostrum for 2-4 days after giving birth. Then your milk will ‘come in’ and you’ll start feeding your baby a whole other mix, one that’s whiter and creamier. 

If you can establish breastfeeding while you’re still producing colostrum, amazing! If not, there’s still time and there are other ways to make sure your baby benefits from this liquid gold.

Premature babies, tongue tie and colostrum

Not all mothers can breastfeed their newborns and there are lots of reasons why. But that doesn’t mean they have to miss out on your super colostrum.

If your baby is premature and too small to be breastfed or is struggling to latch because of a tongue tie, you can feed them colostrum you’ve expressed and frozen ahead of the birth. Your midwife will help you to offer it to them using a colostrum syringe. Newborn babies stomachs are tiny - just the size of a marble - so they won’t need much to fill them up at first.

Alternatively, you can express colostrum at the hospital and feed your baby with a fresh supply. This will help to keep your milk supply coming and will make it easier to breastfeed your baby later on.

Alternatives to colostrum

For mothers who can’t breastfeed at all, there are alternatives to colostrum that will set your baby up for a good start. The most common supplements are made from cow’s colostrum. Bovine colostrum often comes in a powdered form, that can be mixed up and bottle-fed so your tiny bubba is fighting fit for the life ahead of them.

Head to our Wren Nest to find out more about breastfeeding, mum stories and much more!