The first few days after your baby is born are full of joy but can also be overwhelming. Figuring out your new little one takes time and patience. If you are breastfeeding, these first few days can be difficult, especially if you feel like you aren’t making enough milk to feed your baby.
Colostrum is a special type of milk that begins producing in your last trimester of pregnancy and continuing into the early days of breastfeeding. It’s quite different from the breast milk that you will start producing after the first few weeks. Colostrum is a thick, yellowish substance that is low in fat but high in protein and carbohydrates. It also contains specialized white blood cells and antibodies that are passed on to your baby to help prevent infection while your baby’s immune system is rapidly developing.
It’s common for breastfeeding mothers to feel like they aren’t producing enough milk these first few days of feeding exclusively colostrum. There’s a good reason for that: you may only produce 5-10 ml of colostrum at each feeding. But don’t worry, this is the perfect amount. A baby’s stomach can only hold about 5 ml per feeding in the first day after birth.
Unfortunately, sometimes mothers who are worried about low milk supply are told by a well-meaning nurse to give formula until their milk supply comes in. While formula will not hurt your baby, this advice often leads to difficulties later on. Babies who are given bottles immediately may become used to the free-flowing bottle nipple and lose interest in learning how to breastfeed. Also, if your baby is not nursing every couple of hours in those first critical days, your body may think you don’t need the milk, which can potentially reduce your milk supply.
It’s also not uncommon in these first few days for your baby to lose weight. Don’t be alarmed! In fact, it is normal for babies to lose up to 7 to 10 percent of their body weight in the first few days of life, but they should return to their birth weight by 2 weeks of age. The colostrum your body makes will be enough to sustain your baby until your milk supply comes in around day 4-5 (or even earlier if this is your second time around). Your pediatrician will look for signs your baby is losing too much weight and will let you know if you need to feed your baby anything other than the colostrum you are already producing.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018
- Breasts begin to produce mature milk around 4-5 days after birth, until then colostrum gives the baby important nutrients.
- Colostrum starts to produce in your last trimester through the first few days of breastfeeding.
- Colostrum is low in fat but high in protein, carbohydrates, and antibodies that help your baby’s developing immune system.
- If you feel you are in short supply, ask for help from a lactation specialist, who can help make sure breastfeeding is on track for success.