How much colostrum is enough for a newborn?

Colostrum is the first breastmilk that a mother produces after giving birth. It is a highly concentrated, thick, yellowish fluid that is rich in nutrients and antibodies. Colostrum gives newborns a nutritious boost at the start of life outside the womb. But how much colostrum is enough for a newborn in those critical first few days?

What is Colostrum?

Colostrum is the early breastmilk that women produce in the first few days after delivering a baby. It has a thick, sticky, yellowish appearance and is produced in lower volumes than mature breastmilk. Colostrum contains high concentrations of antibodies and nutrients that provide passive immunity and nutrition for newborns.

Some of the key components of colostrum include:

  • Immunoglobulins – antibodies that protect against pathogens and help establish the immune system
  • Leukocytes – white blood cells that defend against infection
  • Growth factors – substances that promote the growth and maturation of the intestinal lining
  • Vitamins A, E, K – fat-soluble vitamins important for vision, bone health, blood clotting
  • Protein – provides essential amino acids for growth and development
  • Carbohydrates – provides energy
  • Fats – supplies calories and aids the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins

Colostrum establishes gut and immune function in the newborn. It coats the intestinal lining to protect against pathogens and seals gaps in the intestinal wall. The immunoglobulins and leukocytes confer passive immunity until the newborn’s own immune system matures. The growth factors accelerate the growth and closure of the intestinal lining.

When Does Colostrum Production Occur?

Colostrum production begins during pregnancy as early as 16 weeks gestation. Levels increase substantially right after birth. Colostrum is present for the first 2-4 days postpartum before transitioning to mature breastmilk.

Colostrum volumes are highest in the first 24 hours after delivery at approximately 100 mL. Production then gradually decreases over the next few days. After about 4 days, transitional breastmilk takes over and volumes increase to around 400-900 mL per day.

Why is Colostrum Important for Newborns?

Colostrum provides essential nourishment and protection for the newborn at a critical time. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Passive immunity – Colostrum contains large amounts of immunoglobulins that provide temporary immunity while the infant’s immune system matures. This helps defend against pathogens.
  • Growth and repair – Growth factors promote intestinal maturation and healing of the gut lining after birth. This improves the absorption of nutrients.
  • Laxative effect – Colostrum has a mild laxative effect which helps clear the infant’s intestines of sticky meconium, the dark green first stool.
  • Establish healthy gut bacteria – Components in colostrum nourish the beneficial bacteria needed to colonize the newborn’s gastrointestinal tract.
  • Easy to digest – The proteins, fats, carbs, and vitamins are already in forms easy for the newborn to absorb and utilize.

Colostrum gives newborns the optimal nutrition and immune protection to transition out of the sterile womb into the bacteria-filled external environment.

How Much Colostrum Does a Newborn Need?

Newborns have very small stomach capacities, so they need only small volumes of colostrum to meet their nutritional needs in the first few days of life. Here are the recommended intake volumes:

  • First 24 hours: 10-100 mL
  • Day 2: 150-200 mL
  • Day 3: 200-300 mL

After the first 3 days, as the mature breastmilk supply increases, the baby will take in around 400-900 mL per day on average.

Since colostrum volumes are relatively low but packed with concentrated nutrition, newborns need only about 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 mL) of colostrum per feeding in the very beginning. They can then gradually increase intake as the milk supply increases.

Stomach Capacity of a Newborn

Newborns have tiny stomach capacities at birth. Here is how their stomach sizes increase over the first week of life:

Age Stomach Capacity
Birth 2-5 mL
Day 1 5-7 mL
Day 3 15-30 mL
Day 7 45-60 mL

As shown, the newborn stomach is only about the size of a marble at birth! It grows rapidly over the first week as the baby adapts to handling increasing volumes of breastmilk.

How Often Should a Newborn Feed?

Newborns should feed very frequently in the beginning – generally 8-12 times or more in a 24 hour period. This helps establish the milk supply and prevents newborn jaundice.

Since their stomach capacity is so small, newborns need to feed often to consume adequate volumes. Frequent feeding also stimulates mom’s breasts to produce more milk to match baby’s needs.

Ideally, newborns should nurse at least 8-12 times a day. Babies should feed whenever they show hunger cues like rooting, sucking, hands to mouth, etc. New moms should nurse on-demand to help establish the milk supply during these early days.

Newborn Feeding Schedule

While newborns should feed on-demand, a sample schedule may look like:

  • Early morning – Cluster feeding between 5-9am. Baby may nurse 4-5 times back-to-back.
  • 9am – 11am – Feed every 1-3 hours.
  • 11am – 11pm – Feed every 2-3 hours.
  • 11pm – 1am – Cluster feed again before longer sleep.

New moms should watch for baby’s hunger signals and nurse whenever the baby seems hungry. Especially in the early weeks, it’s best not to go longer than 2-3 hours without nursing.

How to Know if Baby is Getting Enough Colostrum

To make sure baby is getting enough colostrum in the early days, look for the following:

  • Wet diapers – After day 1, baby should have at least 1 wet diaper for each day of life. So at 3 days old, they should have at least 3 wet diapers.
  • Dirty diapers – Baby should have at least 2-3 yellow, seedy, transitional stools by day 3-4.
  • Weight – After the initial newborn weight loss, baby should regain birth weight by 10-14 days. Weight gain should be about 1/2 ounce (15 grams) per day.
  • Alertness – Baby should appear alert and active during feedings. Sleepiness could signal dehydration.
  • Strong suck – Baby should latch deeply and suck rhythmically. Shallow latch or weak suck could indicate inadequate milk transfer.

If baby shows signs of dehydration like excessive sleepiness, dry mouth, or sunken fontanel, contact your pediatrician immediately for guidance.

How to Increase Colostrum Production

To maximize colostrum volumes:

  • Nurse baby frequently, at least 8-12 times per day.
  • Ensure proper latch and feed for 10-15 minutes on each breast.
  • Pump after nursing to remove any leftover colostrum.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Get plenty of rest – take naps when baby sleeps.
  • Eat a balanced diet with protein sources like eggs, meat, beans.
  • Avoid mint, parsley, sage – these can decrease milk supply.

Frequent nursing signals to the body that more colostrum is needed. Draining the breasts regularly by nursing or pumping prevents engorgement and maintains production.

How Long Should You Provide Colostrum?

Colostrum is present for the first 2-4 days after giving birth. After this time, the milk transitions to become thinner and higher in volume.

Continue providing colostrum as long as it is available, even after the milk comes in. The concentrated immunoglobulins remain highly beneficial.

Ideally, provide colostrum for at least the first 3-5 days. After that, you can continue to mix it with transitional and mature milk, but volumes will be small.

Signs of Adequate Colostrum Intake

Here are some signs that baby is getting enough colostrum:

  • Wet and dirty diapers: At least 1 wet and 2-3 dirty diapers per day of life.
  • Good latch and sustained sucking.
  • Baby is alert and active during feedings.
  • Regains birth weight by 10-14 days.
  • Has appropriate number of feedings per day.
  • Shows signs of satiation after feeding like relaxing arms and hands.

If baby is fussy, sleepier than normal, or producing inadequate wet and dirty diapers, they may need additional colostrum. Seek lactation support to improve intake.

When to Supplement with Formula

Ideally, newborns should receive only breastmilk or colostrum for the first 6 months of life. But in some cases, supplementing with formula may be recommended:

  • Baby shows signs of dehydration – dry mouth, sunken fontanel, insufficient wet diapers.
  • Baby has jaundice and needs extra fluids.
  • Baby has a medical condition that interferes with intake like cleft palate.
  • Mother has delayed milk production due to factors like breast surgery.
  • Mother takes medications that may interfere with milk supply.

Work with your pediatrician and lactation consultant to determine if supplementation is needed. Use formula to bridge the gap until milk supply is well-established.

How to Supplement with Formula

If supplements are medically indicated:

  • Give no more than 30-60mL of formula after breastfeeding.
  • Use a spoon, cup, or syringe instead of a bottle to avoid nipple confusion.
  • Pump after supplementation to increase colostrum production.

The goal is to boost nutrition while ensuring mom continues producing ample colostrum and breastmilk.

Storing Colostrum

If baby cannot feed directly at the breast in the early days, fresh colostrum can be pumped and stored for later use. Here are some colostrum storage guidelines:

  • Store in breastmilk storage bags, sterilized bottles, or commercial storage containers.
  • Refrigerate for up to 4 days at 4°C (39°F).
  • Freeze for up to 6 months at -20°C (-4°F).
  • Label bags with date pumped. Use oldest colostrum first.
  • Thaw frozen colostrum in fridge or by swirling in warm water.
  • Do not re-freeze or microwave.
  • Discard any spoiled milk.

Properly stored colostrum maintains its nutritional and antibody quality. Fresh is best, but frozen colostrum provides the next best option.

Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact

In addition to feeding colostrum, skin-to-skin contact provides valuable benefits for newborns including:

  • Regulates baby’s temperature, breathing, and blood sugar.
  • Decreases crying and provides comfort.
  • Promotes bonding, attachment, and breastfeeding.
  • Colonizes baby’s skin with mom’s beneficial bacteria.
  • Helps stabilize infant’s heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation.

Aim for at least 1-2 hours of uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact shortly after birth. Continue daily skin contact as much as possible in the first weeks of life.

Common Concerns with Colostrum

Delayed Onset

It can take 2-4 days after delivery for mom’s colostrum to “come in”. This is normal. Keep nursing on demand and stay hydrated until volumes increase. Pumping can help stimulate production.

Perceived Low Supply

Since colostrum volumes are small, some moms worry their supply is inadequate. But the highly concentrated colostrum meets baby’s needs in these early days. Keep nursing frequently to increase production.


A small percentage of women experience an overabundance of colostrum, causing engorgement. Frequent nursing and pumping can help relieve discomfort until volumes regulate.

Difficulty Pumping

Some women have a hard time pumping colostrum. But this doesn’t mean supply is low. Baby is much more efficient at removing colostrum directly from the breast. Just keep nursing frequently.


Colostrum provides the ideal nutrition and immune factors for newborns in their first few days of life outside the womb. While colostrum volumes are small, the concentrated antibodies and nutrients meet babies’ needs until the mature milk supply comes in.

Aim to provide at least 10-100ml of colostrum in the first 24 hours, increasing to 150-300ml per day in the first 3 days. Nurse frequently, at least 8-12 times per day. This helps establish your supply while ensuring your baby gets enough.

With its passive immunity and growth factors, colostrum gives your newborn the best start on their breastfeeding journey. Nursing often and keeping baby skin-to-skin will help ensure they get all this liquid gold they need!

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