What is Colostrum?Breastfeeding
There’s gold in them breasts!
Colostrum is milk. It’s pretty much a simple as that. Although it’s not the milk that people think when they picture breastmilk.
When you become pregnant you will often experience some strange changes in your breasts. Often they’re bigger, and a lot more tender, because this is your body preparing to create milk! As the pregnancy progresses; around 16 to 20 weeks; your breasts will start producing milk! At this point we hope not to see a baby for quite a bit longer, so your body produces colostrum instead. Since it’s not used it gets re-absorbed and then your breasts produce some more! That precious milk is ready and waiting in case baby decides to make an early entrance.
As pregnancy progresses the quality of colostrum will change as baby’s needs change and some women will find leakage or even dried milk inside their bra. This is completely normal and whether you leak during pregnancy, or not, has nothing to do with your eventual milk supply.
Colostrum should be thought of as concentrated milk, but it is in fact milk! When a baby is firstborn it’s tummy is teeny-tiny and cannot handle much quantity, so colostrum is nutrient dense to make sure that baby gets what they need in very small quantities. As well it prepares baby’s gut and digestive system to do the work of full meals soon.
Colostrum sustains babies, but it doesn’t grow babies, which is why around days 3 to 5 (time may vary) your breasts will transition from liquid gold colostrum to what we think of as mature milk; white, creamy, and delicious. Many referred to this as ‘milk coming in,’ but be sure to remember that colostrum is milk! So your milk doesn’t come in, it just changes.
We still don’t fully understand the components of colostrum or what entirely it does, but we do know that it’s pretty amazing stuff! While breastfeeding may not be right for each mother and baby, if possible, any amount of colostrum given to baby, via breast, spoon, syringe, or even bottle, is beneficial.
It’s important to note that because colostrum is so nutrient dense and comes in small quantities if you begin pumping to bottle feed, or to help establish milk supply, you should not expect to see much, if anything, in the pump bottle. This is completely normal! Many women are shocked, in the first few days, as to how little milk comes out with pumping and can become quite disheartened. This is normal.
Colostrum is beginner milk, it helps baby get ready to do the job of digestion, and helps them focus on transitioning to the outside world.
We encourage you to learn more about our "What in the World" series. Please see our A to Z index for a whole host of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting information and terminology.
Heather Crossan is a certified DONA birth and postpartum doula certified Lamaze childbirth educator, certified breastfeeding educator, as well as a certified Henna artist. She has been an active doula in Calgary for the past eight years, is the past-president of the Calgary Doula Association, and was the former provincial representative of Alberta (SPAR) for DONA International. She is also the only DONA Advanced doula in Alberta. Heather is also a birth doula trainer and the owner of Doula Essentials. She is well-known within the international doula community and greatly respected by the medical providers in the city of Calgary and surrounding areas. She takes great pride supporting her clients through the entire journey.