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What is Colostrum?

colostrum benefits

Colostrum is the yellowish or creamy milk that you secrete in the first couple of days after birth. It’s often called “baby’s first milk” or “pre-milk.” Colostrum is much thicker than your mature breast milk, and full of immunoglobulins and antibodies that will help protect your baby from the millions of germs and bacteria that exist in our world.

Although you may not realize it, but your breasts have been producing colostrum since the beginning of your second trimester. If you experienced any breast leakage in pregnancy, that was colostrum.

Some lactation specialists call colostrum “high octane milk” of the amazing benefits that it offers your baby. Other researchers also refer to colostrum as “biological soup,” because its 60 ingredients work together as a perfect balance of growth factors, nutrients, antibodies, and other substances to help a newborn baby survive and grow healthy.

Colostrum is much easier to digest, and it’s gentler on a baby’s tummy than formula. For this reason, breastfed babies have less constipation, fewer tummy aches, and they don’t spit up as much as formula fed infants.

Compared to mature milk, colostrum is higher in protein, white blood cells, antibodies, minerals, vitamin A, salt, and nitrogen. It is also lower in fat and sugar. Although colostrum doesn’t have the same volume as mature milk, each drop goes a long way to giving your baby everything he or she needs to grow healthy and strong in that first week.

Human Colostrum Benefits

If you are formula-feeding your baby, you are missing out on the many benefits of colostrum. Colostrum is low in fat (because newborns don’t have the ability to digest fat easily), high in protein, carbohydrates, and antibodies to help strengthen your newborn’s immune system.

  • Easily Digested – As baby’s perfect first food, this special pre-milk is extremely easy for your newborn to digest. Colostrum has a mild laxative effect, and it helps your newborn pass meconium – his or her first bowel movement. Meconium is the dark green, thick and sticky poop that you’ll find in your baby’s diaper in the first few days after birth.
  • High in Antibodies – A baby’s immune system is weak and not yet mature enough to fight off the common diseases and infections that exist in our world. Colostrum is highly concentrated with immunoglobulins (which are antibodies that pass from mother to baby. They protect the baby from the illnesses and viruses that exist in the mother’s unique environment.) The immune-boosting factors in colostrum are much higher than it is in mature milk.
  • Nature’s First “Vaccination” – When a baby is fed colostrum in the first few days of life, you are strengthening your baby’s immune system (due to the immunoglobulins and antibodies) and protecting him from many of the illnesses and bacteria that grow in your world (and unique living environment) that it’s similar to giving your child his or her first vaccination. A scientist once theorized that if human colostrum could be commercial packaged and manufactured with all of the same immunoglobulins and antibodies, it would cost $80 an ounce to buy.
  • Encourages Brain Development – The unique components in colostrum are believed to encourage the optimal development of your newborn’s brain, heart, and central nervous system. This is because colostrum has high levels of potassium, sodium, cholesterol, and chloride.
  • Protects Your Baby’s Gastrointestinal Tract – A newborn baby’s intestines are immature and “leaky” (permeable). This allows pathogens and foreign substances to be able to sink through the holes and have access to other areas of the body. Colostrum helps seal the holes, and it heals your newborn’s leaky gut. In addition, it restores the GI tract to optimal functioning. The 60 unique components found in colostrum also help heal any injuries to the gastrointestinal lining.
  • Promotes Beneficial Bacteria in the Digestive Tract – Colostrum promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. It also stops the growth of harmful bacteria, which can cause gastric and tummy problems.
  • Kills Disease-Causing Bacteria – Colostrum has a high concentration of leukocytes, which are white blood cells that destroy illness-causing bacteria and viruses. These white blood cells defend your baby’s body from infection and foreign substances. For this reason, colostrum-fed babies have more of an immune system advantage, compared to formula-fed babies.
  • Prevents Jaundice – Colostrum helps get rid of excess bilirubin (which is a waste product of red blood cells) in your newborn’s body. Too much bilirubin leads to jaundice, a common condition that causes your baby’s skin to turn yellow.

Two to four days after birth, colostrum turns into mature milk. During this transition, you will continue to secret colostrum, but the concentration of antibodies decreases as milk volume increases. Keep in mind that the immune boosting and disease-fight properties of breast milk do not disappear once you stop producing colostrum. Breast milk still offers plenty of immunological protection against viruses and bacteria.

Human Breast Milk Adapts to Baby’s Needs

You should always remember that human breast milk is a complex biological fluid that no commercial formula can reproduce. It changes as your baby grows to accommodate his or her nutritional needs.

After colostrum turns into mature milk, your baby will still be getting plenty of white blood cells and immunoglobulins. As the weeks pass, your breast milk will contain fewer white blood cells and more of an antibacterial enzyme called lysozyme, which protects the baby’s immune system and prevents microbial (microorganisms) infections.

Breast milk also changes during the course of each nursing session. At first, your baby will drink foremilk – which is high in water and lactose. Foremilk quenches your baby’s thirst. As feeding continues, foremilk will turn into hindmilk, which is high in calories and fat and it helps promote your baby’s growth and development.

Human breast milk contains at least 100 ingredients that you cannot find in formula. It contains live cells called macrophages, which kill off viruses, bacteria, and fungi to protect your baby’s health. In addition, it’s packed with vitamins and minerals, water, fat, amino acids, white blood cells, carbohydrates, enzymes, and immunoglobulins.

Currently, researchers believe that human breast milk contains over 200 known beneficial ingredients, and more ingredients are being discovered every day. For example, it was only in the last decade that researchers discovered that there is a special fatty acid in breast milk that promotes baby’s brain and cognitive development.

Although manufacturers of infant formula have tried to replicate the unique ingredients in breast milk, they have not come close to creating a formula that will give the same special nutritional power as human breast milk. Plus, it’s impossible to manufacturer infection-fighting antibodies and white blood cells that are available in breast milk.

Advantages of Breast Milk Extend into Adulthood

Colostrum and breast milk last well into adulthood. Current research suggests that the immunoglobulins, antibodies, and other immune-boosting ingredients protect your child through adulthood.

Research suggests that breast milk’s protective qualities extend into adulthood. Adults who were breastfed as babies are at lower risk for:

  • Breast cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Obesity
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Multiple Sclerosis

With all the advantages and benefits of colostrum and breast milk, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other healthcare providers recommend that all women exclusively breastfeed their babies until at least six months of age.

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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