When a baby is born and placed skin-to-skin on his mother, his natural reflexes will help him find the breast and take his first drink of milk. This milk is called colostrum and is full of immune factors. Pregnant women start producing colostrum around 16 weeks of pregnancy. Every week the milk changes a little bit, adapting to the age of the fetus inside, so if your baby is born a little earlier or a little later, the milk will have the right balance of nutrients, immune and growth factors for your baby. Your baby has been receiving care and nutrients when in the womb, and colostrum is part of the way your baby’s body adapts to the outside world.
Babies need to learn to suck, swallow and breathe and to coordinate all of these activities to breastfeed well. In the first days, the smaller volume of milk is all your baby needs. This way the baby can learn to suckle well, before needing to deal with a lot of milk. The first day, on average, your baby will take in about 37ml (one and a half tablespoons) for the whole 24 hours. Some feedings the baby will only take drops of milk, other feedings he will get a larger volume. You may have heard people refer to colostrum as liquid gold, partly due to its yellowish colour, but mostly because of how precious it is.
Colostrum has strong anti-infectious properties; some people even call it baby’s first vaccine. Any other substance given in these early days, even water, can interfere with the early development of immune system. Babies given water in the first days also have an increased risk of jaundice.
As your baby wakes up more in his process of adapting to the world, on the second day of life, many babies demand to feed often. Frequent feedings don’t mean the baby isn’t getting enough. Baby’s small stomach can only accept a little at a time in the early days. Colostrum is all your baby needs.
Breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth and very often in the first few days helps to ensure an adequate milk supply. Having your baby’s suckling and latched assessed by a nurse, CHR, Elder or other knowledgeable person will help you feel confident that your baby is drinking well. Newborn babies need that important colostrum for their digestive systems, for the growth factors, immune factors and so much more.
Exclusive breastfeeding, right from birth, is the way to build your baby’s health and start him off with everything he needs. You can be confident that colostrum is enough for your baby.