As many people know, breastfeeding boasts a host of astounding benefits for both mother and baby—from reducing a woman’s risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer to decreasing a baby’s chances of developing diabetes and obesity later in life.
As a lactation educator and counselor, a frequent question I get from women interested in breastfeeding and passing on these wonders to their newborn is "How long should I breastfeed?" The question arises from the concern that they won’t do it long enough for their baby to experience the benefits. But a piece of encouragement mamas should know about is that even if you breastfeed for only a few days, you’ve given your baby an amazing start to life thanks to a magical, often misunderstood substance called colostrum.
Why is colostrum so healthy for newborn babies?
Colostrum is referred to as "liquid gold" or "first milk." That’s because it is the first round of milk that a mother’s body produces after giving birth. It’s literally available on demand once the placenta has been delivered, and it contains a complex concentration of healing and strengthening ingredients.
Colostrum ranges from a clear to a yellow hue and is packed full of immunoglobulins to help boost a newborn’s immature immune system, fight off microorganisms, and provide nourishing fats as well as other nutrients specifically tailored to that newborn.
As research continues to come out and reveal the unique properties of breast milk, trends are pushing adult athletes, health enthusiasts, and beauty mavens to seek out colostrum—of the bovine kind, that is—for themselves. Some claim that colostrum powder, often sourced from cows or goats, provides immunity, boosts energy levels, and promotes growth.
If this piques your interest and you’re wondering whether you should spend the money to try out this new trend, read on.
Is bovine colostrum powder as effective as human colostrum?
1. Colostrum powder isn't tailor-made for you.
Human colostrum from a mother is uniquely formulated for her human baby. It's tailor-made for that particular newborn, at that stage of life, with that current state of health and well-being. For example, premature babies who are fed their mother’s milk actually grow faster, and as the baby grows over the days and weeks, that mother’s milk will change composition to meet the baby’s needs. Since the bottled colostrum you’ll find in the store comes from another being, those same tailored benefits just aren't there.
2. More research needs to be done before we can know for sure how beneficial it is.
The growth factors in a mother’s colostrum help a newborn to thrive and grow during the early days of life. So far, research hasn't shown that the benefits of increased body functioning or performance from human milk are as readily present in bovine colostrum powder.
3. The antibodies in colostrum powder may not protect us much.
Babies have immature immune systems and depend on their mother’s milk for immunity. These antibodies are produced from exposure to the surroundings and passed through to the colostrum.
Bovine antibodies present in colostrum powder, on the other hand, are shaped by that cow’s environment. These may or may not be effective for humans.
4. Colostrum powder's proteins aren't as readily available.
Human colostrum contains proteins that are more bioavailable and easily absorbed within the human gut. Bovine proteins in colostrum are comparable to whey or casein protein supplements, which may cause intestinal irritation or concerns for adults with certain sensitivities.
5. It won't have the same gut-healing properties.
A mother’s colostrum actually helps fill the openings of the gut lining that babies are born with. This helps prevent intestinal irritations and diarrheal illnesses during the first year of life.
Adults, on the other hand, have fully formed gut linings that produce enzymes that may break down some of colostrum’s key properties.
As you may have gathered, colostrum derived from a mother’s milk is quite magical at protecting newborns and setting a strong foundation for a healthy life. At first glance, it may appear as if adults can reap these same benefits by simply consuming colostrum powder through supplements, but current science suggests that it’s not that simple. The wonders of colostrum are uniquely designed for the first fragile days of a newborn’s life, and adults may find that other supplements provide more lucrative results for their investment.
Check out some incredible benefits of colostrum for newborns here.
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Anjelica Malone, CLEC is the author of Milk Boss 101: The Modern Breastfeeding Journal and Guide. She is a lactation educator counselor, birth and postpartum doula, and a childbirth educator serving women in the Seattle area, where she lives with her husband, two little women, and their mini-dachshund, Aoki. Visit www.AnjelicaMalone.com to book her services or read her writing, which focuses on encouraging women to embrace their passions and equipping them to navigate motherhood in the way that’s most natural to them.