The first milk that your breasts produce is called colostrum. It can be yellow, white or clear in colour and is thicker than other fluids.
Learning to hand express and harvest colostrum can help you improve your breast milk supply. It can make breastfeeding easier after your baby's birth.
When compared with later or mature breast milk, colostrum has more:
It is lower in:
- some vitamins
Benefits of colostrum
Colostrum is sometimes called 'liquid gold' because of its importance and colour. It has a lot of antioxidants and antibodies which can help keep your baby healthy.
Colostrum lines your baby's stomach with good bacteria. It also contains compounds that feed the good bacteria and kill harmful bacteria and viruses. Colostrum's main benefit is to prevent infection. It also has a laxative effect to encourage your baby's first poo.
Even though it's normal to only have a small amount, every drop of your colostrum has great health benefits for your baby for the rest of their life.
Sick or premature babies
If your baby is born sick or premature, your colostrum is especially important. This is because it can protect their stomach and immune health which helps them to fight illness.
The smell of colostrum also has a calming effect on sick babies during painful hospital procedures.
Colostrum can be given to a premature baby using a cup or dropper. Your nurse or midwife will help you to hand express and collect your colostrum for your baby.
You will be encouraged to collect colostrum for your baby as soon as possible (within 1 hour) after delivery, or as soon as you are able.
How much colostrum you produce
The volume of colostrum you will produce varies. It is generally between 2ml and 20ml (millilitres) per breastfeed in the first 3 days. It also depends on the number of breastfeeds your baby has in the first 24 hours after birth.
If you have breastfed before, your milk may come in sooner and you'll likely have colostrum in larger amounts.
Mature breast milk
Around 72 hours after the birth, you will notice your breast milk changing. This is commonly described as your 'milk coming in.'
Your breast milk will become lighter in colour, thinner and more watery than colostrum. This is known as mature breast milk. You will also notice an increase in breast fullness (engorgement) and breast milk volume.
Breastfeeding works by supply and demand. Frequent feeding and milk removal mean your breasts will make more milk.
The amount of milk will continue to grow and increase in the first 10 to 14 days to meet your baby's needs.
Delayed milk supply
If you had a caesarean birth (C-section), it may take longer for your milk to come in. Especially if skin-to-skin contact or early feeds are delayed. There are also other conditions that can delay full milk supply such as gestational diabetes.
You will get support harvesting colostrum if you have a planned C-section, diabetes or any other conditions that may impact your milk supply. You may be referred to a breastfeeding specialist.
Blood in colostrum
Up to 1 in 4 mothers produce blood-stained colostrum. This can be normal, but it's important to see your GP or breastfeeding specialist if you notice your nipple discharge has blood in it.