Pregnancy

What is colostrum? How this 'liquid gold' can benefit your baby

Reviewed by

Colostrum is the first fluid you produce when you're breastfeeding. It's yellow and is often referred to as 'liquid gold' by healthcare professionals.

Although, it's not just the colour that warrants its colloquial name. Colostrum can boost your baby's health and development with its powerful ingredients, and it is believed that these benefits can be carried on throughout your child's life with colostrum supplements such as nutriceutical bovine colostrum truncates.

There are many health benefits to colostrum as your baby's 'first milk', but what exactly is it? And, how does it differ from regular breast milk? Let's dive in.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first fluid produced by your body and it occurs before the production of breast milk. Colostrum promotes growth, helps build your baby's immune system and fights infection.

This liquid gold is also high in protein as well as vitamins and minerals and the health benefits of consuming the liquid are vast.

Colostrum is actually released by all mammals and in some cases, can be made into supplements for human consumption. The most common supplements are made from bovine colostrum aka cows.

Cow colostrum contains many more nutrients than regular cow's milk and is quite similar to human colostrum, allowing adults to benefit from the rich nutrition and disease-fighting proteins.

Humans can take bovine colostrum supplements to help fight harmful bacteria, improve gastrointestinal disorders and boost their gut health. Capturing cow colostrum in supplement form means you can reap the benefits of this 'first milk' long after birth.

What nutrients are in colostrum?

There are many incredible vitamins and minerals found in colostrum and this helps fill in any nutritional gaps your baby is born with.

As your baby's first milk (or when used as a health food supplement), colostrum has a bunch of health benefits. These include:

  • Disease-fighting proteins like lactoferrin help regulate how well iron is absorbed in the body and support the body's immune system, especially when it is faced with infections
  • Antibodies to fight bacteria
  • Hormones such as growth factors that help your baby's development
  • Antioxidants to protect against oxidative stress
  • Vitamins like vitamin A help to stimulate growth, and positively impact your baby's vision and immune system
  • Magnesium to support your baby's bones and heart
  • Copper for immunity
  • Zinc for immunity.

When does colostrum appear and how long does it last?

Before breast milk production begins, your nipples will express colostrum. You actually start producing colostrum anywhere from 16 weeks of pregnancy onwards and can express the fluid from 28 weeks onwards.

The production of breast milk is suppressed during pregnancy thanks to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, so colostrum will be the first fluid to come through your nipples.

While you may be able to express colostrum during the third trimester of pregnancy, once you've given birth, it generally only lasts for two to five days.

When does colostrum turn to breast milk?

After roughly five days, colostrum changes to a transitional milk supply. Then, at around two weeks after birth, your mature milk will come in.

In saying this, colostrum traces can still be found in your breast milk for over a month after your baby is born but the true liquid gold only sticks around for a few days after giving birth.

What does colostrum look like?

Colostrum is a liquid that can range in colour from clear to golden yellow or light orange.

The golden colour comes from the high levels of vitamin A and carotenoids (the pigment that gives pumpkin, carrots and corn their colour), which are both antioxidants.

Colostrum is often thicker in consistency than mature breast milk or transitional breast milk.

Colostrum is important for helping establish your baby's health in the long term.

What are the benefits of colostrum for your baby?

Colostrum offers a whole host of health benefits for newborn babies and is even designed to be helpful for premature infants who are in need of more growth proteins, which can be found in the liquid gold.

Colostrum can:

  • Strengthen your baby's immune system
  • Support a healthy gut through improving gut permeability caused by previous infections
  • Protect against harmful bacteria
  • Provide key nutrients for your baby
  • Have a laxative effect to help your baby's gut function and assist their first poo.

What's the difference between colostrum and breast milk?

Colostrum is higher in protein, antibodies, salts and other nutrients that protect against infections.

However, it is lower in fat, calories and sugar and therefore cannot facilitate growth as well as transitional milk or mature milk can.

While colostrum is the perfect fluid for your baby to consume in the first few days after birth, transitional milk and mature breast milk is designed to help your baby grow and put on weight.

Breastfeeding tips

If it's your first time breastfeeding, you might feel overwhelmed — especially if your baby doesn't latch on so easily the first few times.

In fact, around 92 per cent of people actually experience problems when it comes to breastfeeding. If this is you, here are a few tips for making this journey slightly easier:

  • Try to be patient — you and your baby will fall into the rhythm of breastfeeding eventually
  • Stay close to your baby after birth for a strong hormonal response and feeling of closeness
  • Focus on your position and attachment to avoid discomfort
  • Stay relaxed
  • Enjoy it where possible. These are moments that you'll remember forever, so take the time to appreciate the feeling of closeness between you and your baby.

Looking after your nipples is also very important. Women can experience sore nipples, mastitis or leaking milk while breastfeeding.

This is why Kin created the Breastfeeding Essentials kit, which is designed to look after both you and your baby and help you through some of the most common breastfeeding challenges.

The Nipple Balm by Kin is an all-natural formula that soothes and restores sore nipples. Starting to use the Nipple Balm before birth and during the breastfeeding journey will help to build skin elasticity, combat dryness and prevent nipple cracking.

The Breast Pads are lightweight and absorb moisture while easing discomfort from sensitive or sore nipples. The use of eco-friendly bamboo is soft on the skin and helps prevent nipple chafing.

From sore nipples to breast leaks, Kin's Breastfeeding Essentials are designed to help you tackle common breastfeeding challenges you might experience.

Does leaking colostrum mean labour is close?

Leaking colostrum is to be expected but it doesn't mean labour is close. It just means your body is ready to start feeding your baby.

It's important to keep in mind that not all women have leaking colostrum before birth so don't fret if you haven't started expressing colostrum just yet.

What happens if you don't produce colostrum?

It is unlikely that you won't produce colostrum but, if you notice that you don't produce enough colostrum then it's best to consult with your doctor or other healthcare professionals to find an alternative to ensure that your baby gets colostrum's vital nutrients into their body.

Before your milk supply comes in regularly, you can supplement with donor milk or infant formula.

Although some mothers may not want to do this, it can be a temporary solution that can positively impact your baby's immune system and growth.

Giving birth is a superhuman effort but there will always be questions. People and products can help make your breastfeeding journey more relaxed and comfortable so make sure you look after you as well as your baby.

Can everyone take bovine colostrum supplementation?

If you're wondering about a colostrum alternative, bovine colostrum powder or bovine colostrum supplements are taken from the milky fluid that comes from a cow's udder after giving birth before the production of its mature milk starts. It is the same process humans experience.

As the fluid contains antibodies that can fight infection, humans often take this as a supplement to support their immune system.

There are even cows who have received vaccinations against specific diseases and therefore have a certain type of antibodies. This is called hyperimmune bovine colostrum.

Bovine colostrum supplementation is most commonly used to treat diarrhoea or other issues with the digestive system.

As to whether human newborns can consume bovine colostrum, some research has found that supplementing infants with bovine colostrum is feasible and can help increase enteral protein intake in preterm babies.

Be sure to speak with your doctor before giving this to your baby or taking it yourself.

References

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21148400/

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13594-015-0258-x

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16936799/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30020628/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30020628/

https://www.sap.org.ar/docs/publicaciones/archivosarg/2018/v116n4a01e.pdf

https://health.ucdavis.edu/medicalcenter/features/2013-2014/12/20131212_breastfeeding.html