One thing they don’t tell you about mamahood is how many things there are to know about mamahood. (They also don’t tell you how many of those things are in some way fluid-related.) Guess what? We’re about to throw another one at you: colostrum. So what is colostrum? Let’s take a look.
Colostrum is some serious miracle juice. With the power it packs, it’s often referred to as liquid gold, both for its spectacular color and its extreme worth.
What is colostrum and its benefits?
To kick start the conversation, a colostrum definition:
Colostrum is the first milk you produce to feed your baby. Think of it as Episode 1 of breastmilk—and what an opener it is. Packed with the perfect portion of protein, fat, white blood cells, and antibodies, colostrum is cleverly concocted to provide all the nutrients your baby needs to kick start their career as a human being. With a similar composition to the amniotic fluid that has been keeping your baby healthy in your womb, colostrum is truly the gold standard in newborn nourishment.
What does colostrum look like?
Colostrum is a magnificent thick, yellow (or “gold”) liquid. And wow is colostrum thick—so much so in fact, that if you’re pumping, it may get stuck in the tube.
Pro tip: if you’re struggling to pump colostrum, you may want to try the manual version called hand expression—essentially using your hand rather than the pump to get the milk out of your boob and into the bottle. After hand expressing the colostrum, you can use the pump to stimulate milk flow.
Colostrum’s yellow color is due to the presence of beta-carotene, the same substance that is found in carrots. Your body is very artfully able to turn beta-carotene into vitamin A, an essential nutrient for various elements of body function.
While colostrum is known as liquid gold, don’t stress if it’s more of a whiter hue. This is completely normal and doesn’t mean that it is deficient in any way. Some women also produce a more orangey-colored liquid, while for others it is clear. Different mamas, different bodies, different magic juice.
How is colostrum different than breast milk?
Colostrum is breast milk, just in its earliest form. As time goes on, your breastmilk will go through various stages:
- Stage 1: Colostrum
- Stage 2: Transitional breast milk. With its combination of colostrum and mature breast milk, the transitional breast milk phase usually kicks into gear a few days after you’ve given birth.
- Stage 3: Mature breast milk. A whole two weeks into your life as a feeder of newborns, you’ll start producing mature breast milk rather than colostrum. This liquid has a slightly different makeup. While it does not contain as much of the protein punch as colostrum does, it does have a whole bunch of fat and carbohydrates to make sure that little person gets busy growing. Mature breast milk is also not as thick as colostrum. This more liquid consistency helps your little one meet their hydration needs.
It’s important to note that not all women are able to breastfeed. There are a variety of reasons for this, including taking certain medications and/or having particular medical conditions. While not being able to breastfeed can be disappointing for a new mama, breastmilk is not the only way to nourish your baby. Your doctor can help you figure out what your options are. You will still have a happy baby in your arms, whether you breastfeed or not.
The benefits of colostrum are vast. Here’s what you can expect:
- Boosts your baby’s immune system with high vitamin and mineral content, defending your baby against disease.
- Defends against infection. White blood cells to the rescue! The high content of these miracle workers in colostrum gives your little one protection against that big wide world around them.
- Helps prevent jaundice. Because it acts as a mild laxative, colostrum helps empty out your baby’s bowels. This is important because it helps prevent the build-up of a product called bilirubin that can cause jaundice if that little liver can’t process it all.
- Aids your baby’s eyesight. It’s Vitamin A that takes the prize here.
- Keeps skin healthy. Again, thanks Vitamin A!
- Supports a healthy heart. That’s because colostrum contains minerals like magnesium that support the heart that’s stolen yours.
- Assists with brain development. Thank you, added Zinc!
- Gets your baby growing.
And now for a plot twist: breastfeeding may not be the only sphere of your life where the question What is colostrum? is asked. In fact, there is a growing interest in harnessing the power of the colostrum produced by other animals.
What is bovine colostrum?
It’s not only humans who produce colostrum but also other mammals. As it turns out, colostrum from cows (bovine colostrum) also packs a punch. Rich in antibodies and nutrients, it is now used as a dietary supplement for humans of all ages.
What does Colostrum do for adults?
In recent years, the use of a colostrum supplement for adults has become increasingly popular. While the research is still in its infancy (no pun intended), bovine colostrum may help adults:
- Improve athletic performance. All those vitamins and minerals may help the development of lean muscle and help you get your exercise game on.
- Fight infection. That’s because it contains a protein called lactoferrin, which aids your body’s immune response.
- Treat diarrhea. The jury is still out on this one, but research has been done to see if bovine colostrum can be used to treat gastrointestinal issues like chronic diarrhea in HIV-infected patients.
If you’re curious, there are various bovine colostrum powder options on the market. Regulation of these products is still quite loose, so it’s probably best to make sure that you choose one that has been certified by an independent body like U.S. Pharmacopeia. And again, we’re talking about this for adults. If you’re curious about bovine colostrum (or other breast milk supplementation) for your baby, that is a question that is best to ask your pediatrician.