What Breastmilk Tastes Like, Part 2
“What Does a Boob Taste Like?”
This is the second in a series of posts inspired by a strange Google search: “What does a boob taste like?” I have interpreted that query to mean “what does breastmilk taste like,” because really, isn’t that much more interesting?
In the first post, I presented an overview of the four different types of breastmilk: colostrum, transitional milk, mature milk, and involutional milk. This post contains additional information on the composition of colostrum.
For those of you who wondered why I didn’t answer the question “what does breastmilk taste like” last time, you’ll have to keep waiting: I will answer that question with a more personal response in the last post of this series. If you have an opinion on what breastmilk tastes like, please leave a comment and I will post your thoughts (with a link to your site) in the last post as well. I am also looking for breastfeeding pictures to include with each post. If you have one for possible inclusion, please email me (click on the “contact” link at the top of this page).
Colostrum is the thick, yellowish milk that can start to appear during pregnancy. Before birth, your baby receives the nutrients it needs to grow and develop through the placenta; after birth, your colostrum and milk take over. (1)
“Colostrum is a living fluid, resembling blood in its composition. It contains over [sixty] components, [thirty] of which are exclusive to human milk. It is species-specific, designed for human babies.” (2) Among these sixty components are immunoglobulins, high amounts of lipids, milk fats, and protein, high levels of beta-carotene, and high concentrations of leukocytes. (3) Each component has a specific function to nourish and protect your newborn. Here are a few of the reasons your baby will benefit from colostrum.
1) Colostrum Is the Only 100% Safe Vaccine
As soon as your baby is born, bacteria begin to colonize on his skin and in his mucous membranes. Newborns are more susceptible to the negative effects of bacteria and viruses, but colostrum offers protective immunities. Colostrum is rich in immunoglobulins, which produce antibodies specific to the environment. These antibodies also continue to provide “the passive immunities that were provided in utero by the placenta, such as poliovirus and rubella.” (4) The high concentrations of leukocytes found in colostrum can actually “destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses.” (5)
2) Nature’s Finest Painter
Besides producing antibodies to protect newborns against infection, colostrum also protects by helping to “seal” a newborn’s intestines. A new baby’s intestines are very permeable. Immunoglobulins in colostrum “‘paint’ the lining of the infant’s stomach and intestines. These surfaces are then able to defend the baby against viruses and bacteria by not allowing pathogens to adhere to them. Some of these incredible immunoglobulins actually attack pathogens and kill them.” (6)
3) Because You Want to Get Past the Meconium Stage
When your baby is born, her stomach is the size of a marble. This is why she wants to nurse so often – not only does she not eat much at any one feeding, but colostrum is also easily digestible, so it passes quickly through her system. Colostrum has a laxative effect on a newborn, and it will help your baby pass meconium (baby’s first poo).
Passing meconium is important to rid your newborn’s body of excess bilirubin and prevent jaundice. When the meconium has passed, your baby’s stomach will then grow to the size of her fist, and she will start nursing (and ingesting) more milk. (7)
Interestingly, colostrum is not on a supply/demand schedule – the amount of colostrum your body produces is hormonally driven, it is not related to how much your newborn nurses. This is in direct contrast to mature milk: your body will make more the more your baby nurses. (8)
4) Colostrum Encourages Optimal Development of the Brain, Heart, and Central Nervous System
Colostrum is high in several nutrients that assist in the cell membrane production necessary for growth and development of the brain, heart, and central nervous system. These nutrients include sodium, potassium, milk fats, chloride, and cholesterol. (9)
One truly amazing fact about colostrum is that the amount of certain nutrients changes depending on whether the newborn is term or premature. For example, the amount of certain lipids and milk fats are significantly higher in the colostrum of mothers with preterm babies; these substances are vital in helping the underdeveloped newborn “catch up” in terms of growth and brain and retinal development. Some of these nutrients remain at higher levels for as many as six months after a premature birth – our bodies are phenomenally designed to give our babies the perfect nutrition. (10)
5) It’s the Perfect – and Only – Food Your Newborn Needs
“Colostrum is saturated with fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. It is often a yellow or orange color, reflecting the high levels of beta-carotene, one of the many antioxidants present. Antioxidants act as cell protectors in the infant’s body and enhance his immune system.” Colostrum is high in proteins for nutrition and to regulate blood sugar. (11)
Colostrum provides the ideal, easily digestible nutrition that your newborn needs. It protects your newborn from illness and helps develop her immune system. Colostrum is delivered in the perfect amount for your newborn’s tiny stomach – it is measured in teaspoons rather than ounces. (12)
Under normal circumstances, the vast majority of women can breasteed – there is rarely a need to supplement with formula. (13) “[E]ven one supplemental bottle of artificial infant milk can sensitize a newborn to cow’s milk protein. Formula changes the gut flora in breastfed babies by breaking down the mucosal barrier that colostrum provides them. This violation allows pathogens and allergens entry into the baby’s system.” (14)
If you are pregnant and want to give your newborn the best start by breastfeeding, I encourage you to educate yourself and to find support. Attend a La Leche League meeting (find groups in your area here), talk to a Lactation Consultant (most hospitals have certified LC’s), find a local attachment parenting group (try the “Finding Your Tribe” forum at Mothering). All of these resources were invaluable to me and other breastfeeding mothers. And you are always welcome to email me – I will try to give you resources and support or point you in the direction of someone who can.
In the remaining posts in this series, I will present more information on transitional milk, mature milk, and involutional milk and the special properties of each. I will also answer the question “what does breastmilk taste like” from a personal standpoint (mine and anyone who cares to share in the comments).
(1) Hamosh, Margit, PhD, “Breastfeeding: Unraveling the Mysteries of Mother’s Milk,” http://www.asklenore.info/breastfeeding/additional_reading/mysteries.html
(2) Penchuk, Ellen, “The Importance of Colostrum,” http://www.llli.org/llleaderweb/LV/LVDecJan05p123.html (citing Neville, M. and Neifert, M. Lactation, Physiology, Nutrition, and Breast-Feeding. New York, NY: Plenum Press, 1983)
(3) The Importance of Colostrum; Breastfeeding: Unraveling the Mysteries of Mother’s Milk; “What Is Colostrum?,” http://www.llli.org/FAQ/colostrum.html
(4) The Importance of Colostrum (citing Hanson, L.A. Immunobiology of Human Milk: How Breastfeeding Protects Babies. Amarillo, TX: Pharmasoft Publishing, 2004)
(5) What Is Colostrum?
(6) The Importance of Colostrum (citing Alm, J. et al. An anthroposophic lifestyle and intestinal microflora in infancy. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 2002; 13(6):402); What Is Colostrum?
(7) The Importance of Colostrum; What Is Colostrum?
(8) “How Does Milk Production Work,” http://www.kellymom.com/bf/supply/milkproduction.html
(9) Breastfeeding: Unraveling the Mysteries of Mother’s Milk; The Importance of Colostrum (citing Oddy, W. The impact of breastmilk on infant and child health. Breastfeeding Rev 2002; 10(3):5-18; Rivers, L. The long-term effects of early nutrition: the role of breastfeeding on cholesterol levels. J Hum Lact 2003; 19:(1))
(10) Of course premature infants may need to be supplemented to assist in their growth and development. Breastfeeding: Unraveling the Mysteries of Mother’s Milk
(11) The Importance of Colostrum (citing Hanson, L. and Korotkonva, M. Breast-feeding may boost baby’s own immune system. Pediatric Infectious Disease Jour 2002; 21:816-821)
(12) What Is Colostrum?
(13) “Still More Breastfeeding Myths,” http://www.kellymom.com/newman/13still_more_bf_myths.html
(14) The Importance of Colostrum (citing Kalliomaki, M. and Isolauri, E. Role of intestinal flora in the development of allergy. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol 2003; 3(1):15-20; Ogawa, K. et al. Volatile fatty acids, lactic acid, and pH in the stools of breast-fed and bottle-fed infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1992; 15(3):246-7); see also http://www.kellymom.com/newman/risks_of_formula_08-02.html for other risks of using formula instead of breastfeeding
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"What Breastmilk Tastes Like, Part 2"
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