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Liquid Gold

Colostrum is the small volume of golden breast milk that women produce for their babies in those first few days before their milk ‘comes in’. It really is like liquid gold, only I would say it was worth MORE than its weight in gold!

It is not only giving all the nutrients that baby needs but a host of valuable extras that no infant formula can replicate.

The small volume suits a newborn baby’s little stomach, which is the size of a marble at birth! It is also intense, containing high concentrations of nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals, but little fat which might be harder to digest.

Colostrum has very high doses of immune factors – mum is literally giving her immunity to her baby. Her IgA antibodies coat the lining of baby’s throat, lungs and digestive system, helping form the baby’s first line of defence in invading microbes. Her other antibodies as well as white blood cells in colostrum also pass to baby to help fight any invading bacteria and viruses as the baby’s immune system develops.

Whether or not baby is breast or formula-fed in the early days has a big effect on which bacteria colonise the baby’s gut (its microbiome). The establishment of a healthy microbiome has great effects on the health of baby’s immune system and general health which are believed to last way into adulthood.

The first days of life are key for establishing these microbiomes. How does colostrum help? 1-2% of colostrum is made up of complex sugars called oligosaccharides which are completely undigestable by the baby. These are the sugars which are instead food for the beneficial microbes which thrive on them and reproduce to colonise the baby’s gut instead of some of the nastier varieties out there.

Other components of colostrum also help ensure the ‘good bacteria’ stay and not the ‘bad bacteria’. Lactoferrin is a protein which binds to iron and protects babies from certain ‘bad’ invading aerobic bacteria which need iron to reproduce – lactoferrin is 7 times higher in colostrum than in later milk. Certain sugars in colostrum bind to the lining of the gut preventing certain ‘bad bacteria’ from invading. Particular enzymes such as lysozyme make holes in the cell walls of bacteria. The list of how colostrum keeps those bad bacteria out goes on…

Concerns over enough breastmilk

Hand-expressing and storing your colostrum from 37 weeks can be really useful if you are concerned that your baby will need more than the usual colostrum your breasts will produce, for example if you have gestational diabetes, are expecting twins, expecting a small or large baby or had difficulties breastfeeding the last time - or even if you do not anticipate problems but want to be prepared! This is known as colostrum harvesting. You can then ‘top-up’ your baby with your own stored milk if any extra is required rather than needing to use formula milk. It is also thought that the process of hand-expressing in pregnancy can help your supply build up in those early days.

Please ask the midwives for help – that is what they are there for. Babies are learning as well as you, and even if you have breastfed before every baby is different. There is a lot of support out there – see Breastfeeding help and support - NHS (

So, whether in the months to come you plan to breastfeed, give expressed milk by bottle or combination or formula feed, concentrate on feeding your baby your ‘liquid gold’ in those first few days. Colostrum is the ideal food for baby during that time and it will help set baby up for life!

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