​You may have heard colostrum called “liquid gold” and it is! Here a baby nurse weighs in on the benefits, what it is, and all about colostrum harvesting. Plus, how long does it take until colostrum works?

Colostrum is the first milk that our bodies make for our babies. We make this milk throughout pregnancy so it’s ready to go when our baby is born. It is different than mature breast milk. Colostrum doesn’t have as much volume as mature breast milk will have, but if your baby latches well, they will have all that they need! Keep reading to see how long it will take until colostrum works, as well as all about colostrum harvesting and the first feeding.

Colostrum plays an important role in preparing your baby’s digestive system for mature breast milk. It coats the intestines and “leads the way” for a greater volume of milk. Colostrum has essential nutrients for your baby and is the perfect first milk.

What does colostrum do?

Colostrum is sometimes called your baby’s first vaccine. The benefits of colostrum can not be overestimated. It boosts baby’s immune system, increases immune function, coats the digestive tract which decreases intestinal permeability, has immunoglobulin G (immune factors), and plays a vital role in continuing to create a healthy digestive system.

Even a small amount of colostrum mimics white blood cells which helps with immune response, has a laxative effect to make the first poops pass easily, and has potential benefits to prevent allergies. The immune cells defend your baby against illness, and colostrum prevents leaky gut leading to overall gut health.

Colostrum is your baby’s very first superfood!

what does colostrum do?

First Feeding

The first feeding is very important for your baby. Ideally, it should be done within the first hour of birth. Usually, your baby will be alert and ready to feed during this time. Eliminate distractions and visitors during this time and make nursing your priority.

Ask for skin-to-skin immediately following birth. This increases breastfeeding success by 80%! An undressed baby on a mother’s bare chest will help a baby transition better. The baby’s blood sugar and temperature will stabilize, baby will recognize the smell and sound of their mother and will search for her breast to begin feeding. Pretty cool!

Even a small amount of colostrum gets your baby on the right track to mature breast milk. Though newborns may rather sleep than eat in the first few days of life, it’s important to wake them up every 2-3 hours and feed them for at least ten minutes. Feed for longer if they are willing! Every bit of nursing they do now is establishing your milk supply for later.

Colostrum intake can be tougher for a baby than taking in mature breast milk. The colostrum is thick and takes more work to get from the breast, but hang in there. It’s worth the effort. Even a teaspoon of colostrum fills your baby’s tummy (their tummy is only the size of a marble) and offers immune protection. If your baby is latching on well, they are getting enough colostrum.

Remember, a ten-minute feeding every two to three hours in the first few days of your baby’s life is a good feeding!

How long does it take until colostrum works? 

Colostrum works right away! Your baby is digesting every bit you give them within 2-3 hours of taking it in. They are putting it to work as calories, energy, and fuel for all of their systems. You may notice a poop soon after feeding your baby. This is colostrum doing its laxative work.

What to expect with colostrum

Your body has colostrum for the first several days after birth. When your milk comes in varies from woman to woman, but a first-time mother with a vaginal birth can expect her mature milk to be in around day 4-5.

In the meantime, your milk supply is first colostrum. After a couple of days, your milk production changes to transitional milk. Though you may not be able to “notice” a change at this point, watch your baby’s poop. If it’s no longer black and tar-like, but greenish or orange in color, you are experiencing your transitional milk supply.

Milk production continues to change until your mature milk is “in.” You usually are well aware when this happens because you experience engorgement. Engorgement causes your breasts to feel hot, heavy, and like rocks. Your baby’s poop will change again to a yellow color and may look like it has seeds in it. This is mature breast milk baby poop.

Here are 8 nurse-approved ways to help with the discomfort of engorgement. I’m so thankful engorgement only lasts a couple of days!

Should I colostrum harvest before my baby is born? 

Colostrum harvesting is a fairly new concept that has come about in recent years. It is when you hand express colostrum and save it to give your baby after birth.

It’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before deciding to do this, but many lactation consultants are on board. If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, or anything that could affect your baby’s blood sugar, colostrum harvesting is a great way to create an increased supply so you don’t have to supplement your baby with formula.

Colostrum harvesting is usually begun at 38 weeks of pregnancy. For best results, a mom washes and warms her hands, and then hand expresses by gently starting at the top of her breast and pressing her thumb down as she moves towards her nipple. The fresh colostrum she expresses is usually placed into a syringe and frozen. Most women only get a few drops each time they hand express. Don’t forget to bring it to the hospital so your baby can use it!

how to colostrum harvest

There are supplemental products and colostrum products if your baby needs a potentially beneficial supplement. Many hospitals now offer donor breast milk as an option instead of formula. This is a great resource for new babies who need a little extra as they wait for mom’s milk to come in. It’s especially a high quality option for babies in the NICU and has many potential health benefits.

You may have heard of bovine colostrum supplements. Hyperimmune bovine colostrum is what cows produce the first few days after birth. They have an immune function similar to a human mom’s colostrum. Currently, there is no evidence that bovine colostrum powder is beneficial in humans. It is not an adequate colostrum replacer at this time.

It’s a good idea to colostrum harvest or ask for donor breast milk from your birth center instead of seeking out bovine colostrum supplements. The research simply doesn’t prove benefits.

How long does it take until colostrum works? 

Colostrum works right away. Though it has a smaller volume than your mature breast milk will have, it is packed with nutrients. As long as your baby latches well, they will get what they need when they nurse. Their tummy is only the size of a marble! Truly, there is nothing like colostrum. It is the perfect first food for your baby!

Breast milk is a supply and demand system. The more diligent a mom is with nursing or pumping for her baby, the better chance she will have an established milk supply. The best way to ensure adequate milk supply is diligent nursing and good hydration!

For more ways to increase your milk supply, visit 12 nurse-approved ways to increase your milk supply. Best wishes to you!


Rachel is a Postpartum Nurse of 15+ years. She is also a Spinning Babies® CPE, Childbirth Educator, Published Author, and Recipe Creator. Rachel's passion is to encourage and empower women in all things related to motherhood.

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