In many cultures throughout the world infants are not given the first milk known as colostrum because it is believed to be immature and unclean. In an article I was recently reading, a Latino woman expressed how her mother urged her not to breastfeed her newborn in the first few days because “pus” would come out her breasts. This nutrient dense milk is commonly squeezed out the breasts and discarded, as was illustrated by a West African mother during a Spero News interview, “It [colostrum] was dirty and I needed to get rid of it in order to be able to feed my daughter correctly.” This myth is also widespread in parts of Asia, where baby’s are given tea and sugar-water in the first few days after birth. Also, in India infants are not commonly given colostrum because it is considered dirty and stale (checkout the commercial below encouraging women to give their babies colostrum ). Some cultures even go as far as to call it “witch’s milk” and claim that it can cause any disease.
In reality, colostrum, known as “liquid gold”, is very beneficial and is specially formulated to give newborns a healthy start in life. After birth, this thick, yellow milk helps to seal holes in the intestinal tract, protecting the gut from any harmful substances. It is low in fat, high in proteins and carbohydrates, and very easy to digest. Consequently, it has a laxative effect which helps a baby to pass the black, tarry stool known as meconium. This is very important because excess bilirubin is excreted, preventing jaundice. Colostrum is also known as the “first vaccine” because it is high in white blood cells and antibodies which help fight infections.
Over a period of two weeks after birth, the infant’s suckling stimulates the production and transition of colostrum to white, thin “mature” milk. This provides the child’s nutrition for the remainder of time that he is breastfed.