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9 Tips for Explaining Colostrum to New Mothers

Explaining colostrum to new mothers is important.

What can you say when the mother insists she “has nothing” to feed her baby? Caught off-guard by the small quantities of colostrum her body makes, she’s sure it’s not enough to meet her baby’s needs. How can you convince her otherwise by explaining colostrum?

Start talking about colostrum in the prenatal period

Give short, simple, positive messages multiple times. Studies suggest that prenatal counseling about breastfeeding improves breastfeeding rates, but be sure to include messages about colostrum, specifically.

Show mothers they have “something”

As the saying goes, “Seeing is believing.” Encourage the mother to hand-express a little colostrum. This may work even if the mother’s cultural kinfolk say otherwise. (Sometimes, it doesn’t work. It’s always worth trying.)

Extol the wonders of colostrum

Colostrum looks different than milk because it is different than the mother’s later milk will be. Present it as a “superfood.”

If talking about “immunoglobulins” seems too complicated, just explain that colostrum is the perfect nutrition for a newborn,  and it’s rich in protective powers or “germ fighters” that help him stay healthy. While his own immune system develops, he is most vulnerable to infections, but this superfood paints and seals the gut, so that infections can’t invade. This protection isn’t just for the moment — it has a long-term effect. Consider it the baby’s first immunization.

Dispel the unspoken myths

New mothers often assume that if their breasts aren’t full and leaking, they don’t have enough milk.

Would we expect our bladders to be overfull and leaking? Or tears to be dripping from our eyes all day long? Other bodily fluids aren’t full to overflowing, so why should our milk be?

Reframe the concerns about volume

Even if mothers agree that they have “something” they might quickly counter that they don’t have “much” or “enough.” In our culture where the fast food industry has made “supersize me” so common, we’ve come to accept that less volume of food is somehow inferior or abnormal.

Mothers may have seen other newborns guzzle a couple of ounces of formula in one feeding, and they may think that’s normal or desirable. It’s not.

Here, Mary Foley RN IBCLC points out that the small volume of colostrum is actually a good thing! She emphasizes that the baby needs to learn to coordinate suck, swallow, and breathe. That is most easily accomplished when he doesn’t have to cope with a big volume of milk. (Have you told your clients that?)

Explain what colostrum’s primary job is — and isn’t

Colostrum’s job is not to promote weight gain. Rather, the job of this small volume of sticky superfood is to paint and seal the gut against invaders.

Consider this: An immunization doesn’t have much volume, and no one would expect it to have much volume in order to be effective. Present colostrum as the “first immunization,” a phrase I originally learned from Dr. Ruth Lawrence. It doesn’t need to be “big” in quantity to do this “big” job for the immune system.

Give realistic information about observable characteristics

If her baby cannot suckle — for whatever reason — you can bet the mother will be watching and counting the amount of colostrum she has expressed.

Just say it: Mothers make about 10-100 ml of colostrum in a 24-hour period. Most mothers make about 30 ml (1 ounce) in a 24-hour period. Do the math: That’s a little less than 4 ml every 3 hours. That’s less than a teaspoon. Make sure the mother knows — before she starts expressing milk — that this is normal. (And heaven knows, if she gets more than 4 ml, that’s a welcome surprise!)

Anticipate ups and downs

Sometimes, newly-delivered mothers get a few milliliters on their first try. Sometimes, they get nothing on the next attempt. They shouldn’t worry. I like to tell them they are simply “phoning in their order” and this stimulation  will lead to a greater supply a little later.

Praise the mother for giving her baby this superfood!

Whether the mother is suckling her baby or expressing colostrum for him, when she hears what a great job she is doing, it will be easier for her to continuing doing that great job. Whether you’ve been a mother for three minutes, three years, or three decades, hearing that you’re doing a brilliant job of mothering is inspiring!

Don’t expect that every mother will immediately come around and believe what you’re saying. But by starting early and giving a more visual or more relatable words or numbers, some of them will.

What have you tried to explain colostrum to new mothers? Tell me in the comments below!

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