There are many myths that need to be differentiated from facts for expectant mothers especially with regard to newborn care. Breastfeeding is most important for the newborn upto 2 years of life. But one of the key concerns that is often not addressed is the pivotal issue of ‘colostrum feeding.’ It is the first breast milk produced and secreted by the mother after delivery of the baby. Colostrum continues to be secreted upto 2-4 days post-partum and is thick, yellowish in colour and sticky in nature.
Colostrum – A wholesome nutritious meal for the baby packed with nutrients.
It contains high amounts of protein, antibodies, white blood cells, sodium, chloride and magnesium. Infact, colostrum is termed to be the first vaccine that the neonate receives from the mother.
Colostrum – a Nutritional Powerhouse
- Colostrum contains components (immunoglobulin A, lactoferrin, leukocytes and developmental factors) which enhance the immune system of the baby by developing passive (short term) immunity and helps protect and fight against infections, especially diarrhoea.
- Vitamin A in Colostrum helps the baby fight infections and reduce their severity.
- It contains growth factors that help in developing the intestines of the baby, which otherwise are immaturely developed at birth. This also helps in preventing the onset of allergies and food intolerance in the baby.
- Colostrum helps clear the meconium (first dark green stools) from the baby’s gut that helps prevent and reduce the severity of neonatal jaundice.
The new mothers need to keep in mind that colostrum is usually produced in low quantities. However, it is not worrisome as whatever little amount colostrum is produced, it is all that the baby needs at that point.
Mothers are often encouraged to give pre-lacteals even before colostrum feeding is initiated. Pre-lacteals are feeds given to the new born before breastfeeding is initiated, replacing colostrum as the first feed. Unfortunately, these feeds only have a traditional and cultural backing with no scientific merit. It only creates problems as the new born baby can develop allergies, protein intolerance, infections or even diarrhoea, if fed pre-lacteals.
Myths about colostrum
Colostrum is considered to be dirty and indigestible by mothers and family members probably because of its color and texture. Elders’ or relative’s advice to shun colostrum based on cultural norms has a tremendous influence if at all the child will be fed colostrum or not. The lower educational status of the mother, ignorance about the importance of colostrum feeding, gross misperception that the baby would not be able to digest colostrum and C-section delivery have been attributed to poor colostrum feeding practices and pre-lacteal feeding in India.
Imagine the beautiful window of opportunity to thrive healthy that the new borns lost on when only 41.5% of the new borns were breastfed within an hour of birth. India ranks a poor 56th when it comes to early initiation of breastfeeding.
Right time to initiate Colostrum Feeding
The new born baby can be breastfed immediately after birth. The sucking reflex is very active during the first half an hour of life. Early and timely initiation of breastfeeding (within one hour of birth) comes with several advantages other than colostrum feeding included.
- It helps establish successful lactation and long-term breastfeeding as sucking leads to the release of prolactin, a hormone associated with the stimulation of milk breast milk production that helps ensure continuous breast milk supply.
- The skin-to-skin contact between the new born child and the mother helps regulate the baby’s body temperature and transmit good bacteria from the mother to the baby that eventually helps to build the new born’s immunity against infections.
- The skin-to-skin contact after birth upto the end of the first breastfeed is associated with extended duration of breastfeeding and may also lead to an increase in overall exclusive breastfeeding.
- The mother also benefits if she initiates timely breastfeeding as it lowers the risk of heavy post-partum bleeding.
It is insisted that the new born babies be breastfed within an hour of birth as it reduces the likelihood of baby falling ill and increases their chances of survival. For example, new born babies who are breastfed within an hour of birth have a 1.3 times lower risk of developing health problems as compared to babies who are breastfed 2-23 hours after delivery. For the mother, delaying breastfeeding may lead to engorgement of breasts and other complications, making successful breastfeeding a challenge. This often leads to pre-lacteal feeding for the baby, early stopping of breastfeeds and the likelihood of being exclusively breastfed for first six months of life also declines.
In a nutshell, it is most appropriate that the new born baby be fed colostrum by initiating timely breastfeeding within an hour of birth and ensuring to shun pre-lacteals so that the new born baby gets all that it needs to thrive in a healthy way. It is about time that the mothers and the family members be educated and empowered about the importance of colostrum feeding. The new lactating mother requires an active support from the family and the health system.
So don’t miss giving your newborn baby the very first nutritious meal – colostrum feed. It undoubtedly is the first food for your baby and the best known superfood for a healthy start.