Colostrum or the First Breast Milk Stage

Mother breastfeeding newborn in the hospital
Colostrum is the first breast milk and your baby's first meal. Cristian Baitg/Getty Images

Colostrum is the first breast milk that your mammary glands make during pregnancy and in the first few days after the birth of your baby. It is the first stage of breast milk production.

Your body makes colostrum before it starts producing transitional breast milk (the second stage of breast milk), and mature breast milk (the final stage of breast milk). The initial drops of colostrum are what your baby gets the first time you put them to your breast to feed.

What Does Colostrum Look Like?

Colostrum might look clear, but it's often a golden-yellow or orange color because it contains high levels of beta-carotene. Colostrum also tends to be thicker than transitional and mature breast milk. 

Occasionally, blood from inside the milk ducts can make its way into the colostrum. Colostrum mixed with blood can look red, pink, brown, or rust-colored.

A small amount of blood in your breast milk is usually nothing to worry about. It's commonly caused by rusty pipe syndrome.

However, it's always best to talk to your doctor if you notice a bloody or discolored discharge from your nipples.

When Will You Start to Make Colostrum?

Your body begins to make breast milk long before your baby is born. Colostrum production can start as early as the beginning of the second trimester of pregnancy.

If you notice small drops of clear or yellow fluid leaking from your breasts or staining your bra while you're pregnant, that's colostrum.

How Long It Lasts

The colostrum phase of breast milk production lasts until the transitional stage begins (between the second and fifth days after birth). The transitional phase of breast milk production starts when your milk comes in. During this time, you'll see a big increase in the amount of breast milk that you're making.

The transitional stage is a time when there is a mixture of colostrum and mature breast milk. Even though it's no longer called the colostrum phase, colostrum will continue to be present in your breast milk. Small traces of colostrum can still be found in your breast milk for about six weeks.

How Much You Will Make

You will only make a small amount of colostrum. In the first 24 hours after your baby is born, you will make—on average—a little over two tablespoons or one ounce (30 ml). On the second and third day, you will make approximately 2 ounces (60 ml) of colostrum.

Your transitional breast milk will begin to come in around the third day, at which time you will begin making much more breast milk.

What Is in Colostrum?

Colostrum may only come in small amounts, but it's packed full of concentrated nutrition. It's sometimes called "liquid gold" because it contains everything that your baby needs in the first few days of life.

Your colostrum is also made up of health properties that protect your newborn and help them fight off infection, illness, and disease.

Other key facts about colostrum nutrition include:

  • Colostrum is higher in protein and lower in fat and sugar compared to transitional and mature breast milk, making it easier to digest.
  • Colostrum is full of antibodies, white blood cells, and other immune properties—it's like your child's first immunization.
  • The high levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) found in colostrum protect your baby's GI tract and helps to kill off viruses and bacteria.
  • Colostrum is a natural laxative. It helps your infant move their bowels and get rid of the meconium—the tar-like poop that collects in the bowels before your baby is born. Since meconium contains bilirubin, the laxative effect of colostrum helps to prevent newborn jaundice.

Breastfeeding During the Colostrum Stage

Even though you will only make a small amount of colostrum, you should still breastfeed your baby as often as possible during this stage. Your newborn's stomach is tiny, and a little bit of colostrum is all they need for the first few days.

You do not have to wait until your breast milk comes in to start breastfeeding.

As the first breast milk, colostrum sets the foundation for your child's health and your future breast milk supply. By breastfeeding frequently during the colostrum stage, you are preparing your body to produce a healthy supply of breast milk.

Should You Supplement with Formula?

If you're only making 1 to 2 ounces of colostrum a day, you might be concerned that your baby is not getting enough breast milk during the first few days. Remember—your baby doesn't need any more than what you're making.

If your baby is born healthy and full-term, you don't need to supplement with an infant formula during the colostrum stage. However, supplementation might be recommended if your baby is premature or has certain health issues, or if you experience a delay in the production of breast milk.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition Mosby. 2015.

  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

  • Walker A. Breast milk as the gold standard for protective nutrients. The Journal of pediatrics. 2010 Feb 28;156(2):S3-7.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.