Colostrum and the Stages of Breast Milk

Smiling patient with newborn baby in bed
Mother smiling and breast feeding baby after childbirth. (Image: Sean Prior/Hemera/Getty Images)

Breast milk is one of the best things that a new mother can offer her newborn. It provides your newborn with basic nutrition during the first months of life, which will set the pace for optimum health throughout life. Breast milk is produced by the woman after childbirth and has three different stages: colostrum, transitional milk and mature milk.

Colostrum

The first stage of breast-feeding is the colostrum stage. Colostrum is high in protein, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and antibodies that protect the baby from bacterial and viral illnesses. It is a thick, yellowish substance that occurs during pregnancy and will last for two to four days after childbirth. Colostrum is very low in volume, so the newborn may nurse every two to three hours.

Transitional Milk

Transitional milk replaces colostrum within fours days after childbirth. The creamy transitional milk contains high levels of fat, lactose, vitamins and more calories than the colostrum. The transition milk stage lasts about two weeks and during this time your breasts will become larger, firmer and can be uncomfortable or even painful. Regular feedings and helping your baby latch on properly will ease discomfort in your breasts during this stage.

Mature Milk

Mature milk follows the transitional milk and begins to appear near the end of the second week after childbirth. Mature milk is thinner and contains more water than transitional milk. It consists of 90 percent water and 10 percent of carbohydrates, proteins and fats necessary for both growth and energy, according to the American Pregnancy Association. There are also two types of mature milk: foremilk and hindmilk. Foremilk occurs at the beginning of the feeding and contains water, vitamins and protein. Hindmilk comes at the end of the feeding when the breast is nearly empty and contains higher levels of fat. The mature milk stage will last until you wean your baby from the breast. However, as your child grows older and begins to eat solids and other liquids, the nutritional content and amount of breast milk you produce will change.

Breast-feeding Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life. The longer a mother breastfeeds her child, the greater health and developmental benefits for both the child and mother. Mothers can breastfeed their child for as long as they choose, even into the toddler years. However, if you wean your infant before 12 months of age, replace the breast milk with iron-fortified infant formula and avoid giving your child cow’s milk until she is 1 year old.

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