What is colostrum? Find out all the details of how this magic milk provides the ultimate nourishment for your newborn.
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.
In this article: 📝
- What is colostrum and its benefits?
- What does colostrum look like?
- What does colostrum taste like?
- How long will colostrum last?
- Is colostrum the same as breast milk?
- How do I know I’m producing colostrum?
- How to store colostrum
- Colostrum benefits
- Is colostrum good for adults?
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 breast milk—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 magnificently thick liquid, usually yellowish in color.
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.
What is the color of colostrum?
While colostrum is known as liquid gold, don’t stress if your colostrum color is more of a whiter hue, or even clear.
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.
Is colostrum sticky and clear?
Yes, colostrum can sometimes appear sticky and clear, along with yellowish, white, or even a peachy-orange color.
Why is colostrum called liquid gold?
Many people call colostrum “liquid gold” because it’s quite fleeting in your breastfeeding or pumping journey, but it’s packed full of nutrients.
Colostrum also has lots of antibodies in it that protect your baby from illness after birth.
Some peoples’ colostrum also has a yellow tinge to it, which can make it appear like liquid gold.
What does colostrum taste like?
Colostrum is less sweet, saltier, and generally thicker than mature breast milk.
Sometimes, the taste of your breast milk can also change with what you’re eating ‒ if you have particularly acidic or sweet foods, that can affect your breast milk.
Some of our Peanut mamas have likened their colostrum taste to breast milk during mastitis or when they have clogged milk ducts.
How long will colostrum last?
Colostrum can start in your last week or two of pregnancy, and usually lasts for about 2-4 days after baby’s been born.
After 2-4 days, it will start to become transitional breast milk, somewhere in-between colostrum and mature breast milk, for a few days.
Then, you’re working with mature breast milk.
Is colostrum the same as breast milk?
Colostrum is breast milk, just in its earliest form.
As time goes on, your breast milk will go through various stages:
Stage 1: Colostrum
The first stage of breast milk, and the first type of breast milk you will start to produce while you’re pregnant.
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, breast milk 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.
How do I know I’m producing colostrum?
You may first notice that you’re producing colostrum while you’re still pregnant.
Some pregnant people find their breasts start leaking colostrum in the second trimester, but for most, it’s in the third trimester.
If your breasts are leaking in pregnancy, that’s very likely to be colostrum.
When does colostrum come in?
Generally, colostrum will start to be produced at around 12 to 18 weeks of pregnancy, but you may not notice it at that point.
As your pregnancy progresses, your breasts will likely start to leak at some point in your third trimester.
Should I pump colostrum before baby is born?
Can you pump colostrum?
You can certainly try to ‒ it can be great practice for when baby’s around, plus, the more of that ‘liquid gold’ colostrum, the better!
But you may find that colostrum is too thick to pump ‒ so much so in fact, that if you’re pumping, it may get stuck in the tube.
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.
Can expressing colostrum bring on labor?
Well, we don’t actually know.
Some experts say that oxytocin, a hormone linked with both labor and lactation, could potentially induce labor.
Others suggest that there aren’t enough studies to link colostrum harvesting and premature labor or even inducing of labor, so the choice is yours, mama.
How long after producing colostrum do you give birth?
It could be months, it could be weeks.
Some pregnant people produce colostrum in their second trimester, and notice their nipples leaking the “liquid gold”.
But others may not see colostrum leaking until well into their third trimester.
And some, not at all.
So does leaking colostrum mean labor is close?
How can I produce more colostrum?
There’s no single way to produce more breast milk, let alone more colostrum.
It’s worth speaking with a breastfeeding or lactation specialist to see what they recommend for your pregnancy and motherhood journey.
However, some breastfeeding experts, like the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, recommend expressing (or harvesting) colostrum from about 36 weeks into your pregnancy to encourage more colostrum production.
You can also store colostrum for when your little one gets here.
How to store colostrum
If you’re keen to try harvesting colostrum but aren’t sure how to store it before baby gets here, here’s all you need to know, according to the UK NHS.
- Use a sterile container to “catch” the colostrum as you’re expressing or pumping it.
- Make a note on the container of the date and time you expressed your colostrum, and put it in the fridge for up to 48 hours, during which time, you can keep adding to it (48 hours from the first expression in that container).
- If you want to store colostrum for more than 48 hours, it’s best to freeze it.
- Then, when you come to using the frozen colostrum, you should wait 24 hours for it to thaw, while still keeping it chilled.
There are lots of benefits of colostrum for babies ‒ after all, it’s made just for them!
- 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.
How much colostrum does a newborn need?
Because colostrum is so nutrient-dense, baby only needs a little bit during each feed.
After all, this whole feeding thing is totally new to them, so they’ll be taking small steps.
Generally, most newborns tend to drink about a teaspoon’s worth of colostrum during each feed ‒ totaling about an ounce per day.
Is colostrum good for adults?
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.
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), there may be some interesting benefits of colostrum for 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.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that this is in regards to bovine colostrum, not human colostrum.
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.
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.
So that’s the full scoop on the liquid gold known as colostrum.
Still curious about when to start harvesting colostrum or wondering when you’ll start to produce it?
Feel free to ask our mamas on Peanut ‒ we think you’ll fit right in!