In today’s day and age, it is impossible to overlook the importance of breastfeeding. The topmost international health organizations are moving together in order to focus on why and how breastfeeding is essential for newborn babies, especially when it comes to early initiation of breastfeeding. The first feed of a baby should be colostrum and offered within an hour of birth.
The baby should be fed on demand (usually at least eight times in 24 hours), and mother’s milk is critical as it contains all the energy and nutrients needed for the baby. It has health benefits such as being anti-infective, anti-allergic and it also acts as a contraceptive for the mother. Breast milk is what the baby needs for healthy growth, development and protection against infections.
Early Initiation Of Breastfeeding
It is estimated that about 1 million newborn deaths could be averted globally if breastfeeding is initiated within the first hour of birth. There is also published evidence that, under five years, the mortality rate could be reduced by 13% through exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months.
Furthermore, 6% of deaths can be prevented, by the timely start of complementary feeding with the continuation of breastfeeding up to 2 years of age. Moreover, ample evidence exists which supports the fact that exclusively breastfed babies have less diarrhoea, less respiratory and other infections, than formula-fed babies.
The first milk expressed after birth by the mother is known as colostrum. It is a sticky white or yellow fluid secreted by the breast during pregnancy and the first few days (2-5 days) following delivery. In order to provide this to her child, it is imperative that the process of breastfeeding begins in earnest, immediately after birth.
Composition and Benefits of Colostrum
It is a deep yellow serous fluid, alkaline in nature with a higher specific gravity (than milk); It has a high protein, Vitamin A, sodium and chloride content, but has got lower carbohydrate, fat, and potassium than breast milk. Colostrum has a variety of immunologic components such as immunoglobulin A, complements, macrophages, lymphocytes, lactoferrin, and other enzymes (lactoperoxidase).
Anti-infective Components of Colostrum
Breastfeeding in the first hour of life with colostrum provides the first immunity to the newborn infants. Better protection against infections can be easily ensured only by appropriate feeding practices. Regarding this fact, colostrum is considered as the superior feed for babies because of its exclusive anti-infective components which are:
- Immunoglobulin (g. Secretory IgA, IgG, IgM).
- Cellular elements (e.g. White blood cells).
- Lysozyme, Lactoferrin, and Transferrin.
- Complement system (Opsonic and chemotactic activities of C3 & C4).
- Oligosaccharides (Prevent bacteria from attaching to mucosal surfaces).
- Bifidus factor (Help special bacteria to grow in the intestine and prevent the growth of other harmful bacteria).
Differences from Mature Breast Milk
Mother’s breast milk is the best milk because of its nutritional, anti-infective, anti-allergic, and economic significance. However, colostrum must be considered as a resource priority in the national health development. Medical personnel have emphasized the early initiation of breastfeeding within half an hour of birth because colostrum has these distinguishing features compared with mature human milk:
- Rich in protein (nearly 10%).
- Much more immunoglobulin, lactoferrin, and white blood cells.
- Lass fat and lactose.
- A higher level of vitamin A.
- More sodium and zinc.
Percentage Composition Of Colostrum And Breast Milk
Advantages/Importance of Colostrum
There are several areas of biological superiority of colostrum to be the very first food for a newborn infant including the following:
- Colostrum is the first perfect food for babies, with more protein and vitamins than mature breast milk.
- It is more nutritious and provides protection against infection due to the presence of antibodies (IgA, IgG, and IgM).
- It is the baby’s first immunization against many bacteria and viruses. It lessens the chances of gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infection.
- Besides, several humoral factors including lactoferrin provide an immunological defense to the newborn.
- Lymphocytes and macrophages are living cells which fight against diseases.
- On the contrary, dozens of other anti-inflammatory agents reduce the harm caused by inflammation.
- Further, it has laxative action on the baby because of large fat globules.
- Therefore, it helps the baby to pass meconium (the dark green substance forming the first faeces of a newborn infant). This also helps to prevent neonatal jaundice.
- Its carbohydrates, mainly lactose, stimulate the growth of intestinal flora and produces organic acids needed for synthesis of Vitamin B.
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are present in an adequate amount which is essential for neurological development.
- Above all, it helps better intelligence, psychomotor, and health promotion.
- Last but not least, its different composition with higher calories meets the need for a preterm baby.
Advice Regarding Breastfeeding
A mother should know the importance of breastfeeding, especially colostrum. She may experience a small amount of breast milk initially, but that small amount is the most important feed for a newborn. Therefore, all mothers are encouraged to practice breastfeeding following these guidelines:
- Babies should be exclusively breastfed for up to 6 months. Exclusive breastfeeding means giving the baby only breast milk, not even a drop of water or other food till 6 months of age.
- Babies should receive no infant formula or animal milk. The composition of animal milk (e.g. cow milk) or infant formula is not suitable for a newborn baby because of its higher calcium, phosphate, and sodium content and/or osmolality.
- Babies should continue to breastfeed for up to 2 years with increasing of complementary foods and cup feed liquids.
Colostrum is essential for a newborn baby. Do not deny a baby the mother’s first milk as it is undoubtedly the most important food, energy and immunization that the baby can get. This initially concentrated milk actually contains just what a newborn baby needs. In fact, it is so special that its importance cannot be ignored at all.