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Colostrum: Your baby’s first vital food

As a mother you might be keen and enthused to breastfeed. But did you know colostrum, the pre-milk produced by your body is more important that breast milk.

Mother and babyWe all know the importance of breastfeeding. Mothers all over the globe try their best to breastfeed their babies soon after the birth - difficult labour, painful C-section, episiotomy notwithstanding. But did you know that despite all the wisdom about breastfeeding that you gained, its colostrum what actually your body prepares as your baby's first feed. Also known as pre-milk, colostrum is a yellowish, creamy substance that acts as your baby's first complete food before mature milk is produced by the body.

Though it doesn't exhibit the colour and character of mature milk and is less dense than breast milk, it has a host of health benefits and can do wonders to your baby's developing systems. To reap the benefits of colostrum it is important that the mother is allowed to breastfeed the baby right after the delivery. Know more about how to kick start breastfeeding successfully.

What is colostrum?

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Colostrum is the pre-milk your body starts to produce about three or four months into pregnancy. If you have leaky breasts during pregnancy, its colostrum that makes its presence felt that early and not breast milk. In some women the colostrum is a clear-fluid like liquid and in some it appears to be a deep-golden and thick creamy substance. The production of colostrum is very subjective and depends on your physiology and the needs of your baby.

During the initial days after birth your body produces enough colostrum for your baby's requirements. On an average it is believed that a woman produces 50 ml of colostrum in the first 48 to 72 hours after birth. This small quantity is ideal for your newborn for relatively smaller feeds, which is what your baby would need during the initial days.

Busting the myth

There is this myth surrounding the production of colostrum that since it's not milk it's not what the baby needs and so it should be expelled, especially in many sects of the society in India. Doctors and experts say it is a myth and actually consider colostrum as 'liquid gold', a powerhouse of essential nutrients and antibodies necessary for the baby's immature systems.

As the baby's appetite increases colostrum is replaced with an abundant supply of breast milk. Do not restrict your baby from these pre-milk feeds, as production of the breast milk depends a lot on the suckling your baby does at the breasts during those initial days. Also read how comfort suckling helps in the mother and baby bonding.

Apart from being heavily loaded with antibodies and essential nutrients colostrum is:

Low in fat content

High in proteins

High in carbohydrates

High in vitamin K

Easy to digest

How does colostrum benefit the baby?

It acts as a natural vaccination: Colostrumhas a lot of antibodies in it, higher in comparison to that of mature milk. These antibodies help your little one's body build immunity and fight against a host of infections. Colostrum is also high in leucocytes or white blood cells that help to protect the baby from bacterial and viral infections. It also protects your baby from respiratory infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, as well as stomach infections and ear infections, till your baby's own white blood cells are produced.

It acts as a storehouse of energy: The sugar present in the colostrum provides energy for the baby's developing needs.

It acts as a complete food: Being your baby's first feed colostrum is easy to digest and the perfect food for your newborn. Many experts believe that the protein content in the colostrum provides a full feeling to the baby enabling a longer sleep time.

It helps in better growth and development: Colostrum is rich in nutrients like zinc, calcium and vitamin A, B6, B12 and K, all these are essential for your baby's overall growth and development. Also the high cholesterol in colostrum helps in the growth and development of the nervous system of the baby.

It helps prepare the immature intestine: Being the baby's first feed colostrum prepares the baby's digestive system for the mature milk consumption that's about to begin, sensitizes the baby to foods taken by the mother, it seals the permeable holes of the gastrointestinal tract to prevent foreign bodies from entering the intestines.

It acts as a laxative: Colostrum feeds builds a newborn's immunity and helps to pass the first tarry stool called the meconium, also expelling bilirubin in the process and limiting the chances of your baby suffering from infantile jaundice.

How to make sure your baby gets the colostrum-feed

Though many mothers want to start breastfeeding right after the birth, but there can be a number of reasons that can put a halt to this natural process. If you are keen to give your baby the pre-milk feed of colostrum, make sure of these:

You talk to your doctor beforehand. Write it in your birth plan and demand for a breast crawl after the birth to give your baby the much needed benefits of this 'liquid gold.' Know the benefits of a breast crawl.

To work around your situations. In case of a premature delivery where your baby might be kept away from you in the care unit for good reasons, ask your doctor if you can express colostrum and feed your baby. This healthy pre-milk will boast your premature baby's health for sure.

You figure out what works best for you and the baby. If you are recovering from a painful C-section or episiotomy look for a position with help from the staff or a family member that is comfortable for you and your baby to feed. In case of a C-section you can try to feed your baby after six hours when the effects of anesthesia start to wade off. But to make sure your baby's first feed is your colostrum, express your milk before you are wheeled into the OT. Talk to your doctor about it beforehand.

References:

Importance of colostrum and your baby's developing GI tract. (http://www.publish.csiro.au/)

Immune globulin levels in colostrum and breast milk. (http://ebm.sagepub.com/content/122/4/1098.short)

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