The Importance of Breastfeeding in the First Few Days

Okay, here is my second mini-rant of the day:  Colostrum and its benefits!

For those of you who are not as familiar with the early days of breastfeeding, this is what happens within the breasts:  Lactogenesis I occurs midway through pregnancy as estrogen causes the ductal system to grow and progesterone increases the size of lobes, lobules, and alveoli of the breast.  Most women have colostrum during pregnancy.  Lactogenesis II occurs with the sudden drop in progesterone after birth and the  mature human milk comes in within three to five days after giving birth.  There may be a mix of  colostrum/mature milk for up to two weeks post partum

Colostrum has many advantages.  At birth, the infant’s stomach is the size of a marble.  Colostrum is readily available in small amounts to match this.  Colostrum has a laxative effect and promotes the passage of meconium in the early days after birth.

Colostrum contains 60 components, 30 of which are exclusive to human milk.  Some of the most important components for the early days include:

  • Secretory IgA (sIgA), which paints the lining of the stomach and intestines.  This important immunoglobin protects the mucosal membranes in the body from germs, foreign proteins, and harmful invaders. Even as colostrum decreases and the volume of mature milk increases, there is still plenty of sIgA. A woman produces about 2.5 grams of IgA daily for her own use; a baby, who is less than 1/10th of the mother’s  size, receives .5 gram to one full gram while nursing.  Even past the first birthday, there are significant amounts of IgA in the milk and the concentrations of this immunoglobin increase during weaning. The presence of IgA stimulates the infant’s own gastrointestinal production of IgA.
  • High amounts of sodium, potassium, chloride and cholesterol
  • High in protein –three times higher than mature milk
  • Live cells in colostrum, which  survive in the baby’s GI tract and secrete growth factors, hormones and immune regulators.
  • White cells – there are as many live white cells in colostrum as there are in blood in the early weeks
  • Lactoferrin, the main protein in human milk.  Lactoferrin kills certain kinds of bacteria, viruses, fungi and tumor cells.
  • Oligosaccharides, which prevent bacteria from binding itself to surfaces in the respiratory tract.

Do keep in mind these benefits of exclusively breastfeeding your infant within the early days of life:

  • Helps mature milk come in earlier
  • Decreases severity of engorgement
  • Enhances milk supply
  • Helps uterus to involute
  • Bolsters mother’s confidence that she can be the sole provider for her infant
  • Gives mother plenty of practice
  • Prevents nipple confusion
  • Baby can practice at breast on small amounts of fluid before mature milk comes in
  • Colostrum’s supply of IgA coats the mucous membranes of the linings of the digestive tract, keeping harmful pathogens out and helping to activate the infant’s own immune system
  • Colostrum is high in protein, concentrated in volume,  and is easily digestible
  • Colostrum acts as a laxative and minimizes risk of jaundice
  • Assists with bonding and attachment

There are times when supplementation is necessary after birth but please do understand the risks of supplementing with artificial infant milk.  Even one bottle of artificial infant milk can sensitize a newborn to cow’s milk protein.  Formula changes the gut flora by breaking down the mucosal barrier colostrum provides and allows pathogens and allergens to enter. 

So, please have an open dialogue with your health care team if they are advocating supplementation for your healthy, full-term newborn.   Know what levels of bilirubin and blood glucose your baby has, and how breastfeeding can help.  Understand how to nurse your baby with a good latch, and how nursing your baby at least nine to 12  times within a 24- hour period is more likely to lead to breastfeeding success and satisfactory outcomes.  Talk to your pediatrician before you give birth as to what scenarios they would advocate supplementation for and why.  If you are giving birth in a hospital, know your hospital’s policies regarding supplementation of term infants.

Hope this will help some of you out there.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

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One thought on “The Importance of Breastfeeding in the First Few Days

  1. Carrie, I love all this information about breastfeeding.

    I weaned my first when I got pregnant with my third, and my second weaned herself at about the same time. I KNOW that without nursing, my first could not have survived the period of time before we figured out that she had celiac disease- it was the only thing going in that was nourishing her.

    The only thing I would add is to make sure that everything is going well, that you have proper latch, etc- even if it is your third or fourth or fifth child! Every baby deserves to have the best, and just because you’ve done it before doesn’t mean that it will be smooth sailing the next time- I know from experience! :)

    xo, K

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