Birth Terminology Explained: Colostrum

There are so many new terms and concepts to learn when you enter into the times of pregnancy, birth, infant care, postpartum, breastfeeding / body feeding, and parenthood. In the “Terminology Explained” series, we help you understand these unfamiliar words in order to help you better navigate these times.   

The term for today is colostrum.

What is Colostrum? 

Official Definition: Colostrum is a sticky white, yellow, or even clear fluid that comes out of the breasts late in pregnancy and in the first hours and few days after birth. Colostrum is characterized not only by its unique appearance (which differs from breast / human milk), but also by its contents, which are low in fat but rich in protein, vitamins and nutrients, as well as antibodies and leukocytes, both of which protect baby from harmful bacteria and disease. Only a small amount of colostrum is produced around the time of birth, but it contains all of the liquid and nutrition that newborns need! Colostrum is present in all mammals. 

When you will hear/see the term used? You will hear about colostrum when you learn/read about breastfeeding / body feeding. You may also learn about colostrum as an experience that happens in late pregnancy when breasts may leak small amounts of fluid. A lactation consultant or postpartum nurse may talk to you about the importance of feeding baby early and often after birth so that baby receives colostrum.  

Why is it important/beneficial? Colostrum provides baby’s first drinks/meals after birth. Though small in amount, it’s provides the perfect combination of nutrients and is the only food/fluid baby needs.

Colostrum is also responsible for providing critical protection to baby in the early days after birth. A significant portion of colostrum is composed of white blood cells, helping guard baby against infections. These white blood cells also produce antibodies which neutralize bacteria and viruses. One antibody in particular is responsible for lining baby’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which also protects against illnesses. When babies ingest colostrum, they are helping to establish beneficial bacteria into the digestive tract, which has lasting impact. Colostrum also causes a gentle laxative effect to effectively pass baby’s first stool (meconium) to clear out excess bilirubin, which helps prevent jaundice. 

Colostrum is particularly beneficial for premature babies. Mothers and parents of premature babies produce milk that is specially formulated to help them grow and remain healthy. Premature babies’ milk has higher amounts of protein and minerals, and contains different types of fat that is easier to digest. Colostrum also helps premature babies better prevent intestinal infections. 

Colostrum is so beneficial that even very small amounts are helpful to your baby. If you must be separated from your baby, as may be the case if your baby is ill or very premature, be sure to enlist the help of a lactation consultant to hand express or use a breast pump to collect colostrum for your baby. 

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