Milking liquid gold

THIS AUGUST, a breastfeeding report card was released based on the information published by the National Family Health Survey-4, conducted under the ministry of health and family welfare. The report card revealed that only 41.5 per cent of children were breastfed within one hour of birth.

Initiation is often put off to spot a star, conduct a puja or ritual or to allow a mother to recuperate while more ‘nutritional and fattening’ milk is provided to the child.

Why is this bad news? Because it tells us that fewer number of our babies are receiving mother’s milk within the first hour, the importance of which was mentioned in the previous column.

While breastfeeding within the first hour is important to initiate contraction of uterus and set the lactation cycle, it is even more important for the valuable liquid gold—colostrum—that it delivers from mother to child. Colostrum is a sticky, yellowish secretion from the mother’s nipples. It is the first vaccine that a baby receives. It transfers important antibodies and lymphocytes, and coats the baby’s gut to protect it against intestinal colonising bacteria and helps push out the baby’s first stool—meconium. It is also capable of satisfying the baby’s hunger until milk as we know it ‘comes in’, due to its high protein and carbohydrate content.

Milk—the white, runny liquid—comes in after a period of transition. First comes the yellow (due to beta carotene), sticky colostrum. Typically, secretion of colostrum lasts for three to four days after delivery. Then the transitional milk comes in, lasting three days or more. Then comes mature milk, roughly 10 or 14 days post delivery. This period of transition is marked by specific changes in the constituents that make up breast milk.

The time taken for milk to make the transition from one stage into another is different in different women. For instance, colostrum can begin to appear towards the fag end of the final trimester in some women and even last up to a week post birthing. Irrespective of the time each stage lasts, the composition of milk is constantly changing.

When there is delay in the initiation of breastfeeding, the milk that is drawn by the baby or a breast pump no longer contains the original properties of colostrum. The original concentrations of colostrum, with its high protein, sodium, chloride, fat soluble vitamins, minerals, lactoferrin and immunoglobulins, get altered so as to make way for transition milk and then mature milk.

Yes, some amount of colostrum will still remain in breast milk after three days. However, the potency and concentration are altered. If you want your baby to receive the maximum benefits of colostrum, make sure that no time is lost and take baby to breast immediately after birth.

Next issue: Is fatty diet mandatory for producing fatty milk?