Colostrum and Nipple Discharge — When Do You Start Lactating?

Nipple discharge, or colostrum, is a normal part of pregnancy and motherhood. Colostrum is a form of milk that is secreted from your nipples, and it provides the first nutrients your baby will consume outside the womb, until your breasts begin making milk a few days after birth. Many women experience colostrum leakage throughout pregnancy, and even after giving birth.

As soon as you become pregnant, you’ll begin to experience changes in your breasts as your body begins to prepare for childbirth. Usually by the end of the first trimester or the beginning of the second trimester, an expectant mother will begin to experience leakage of colostrum. Many women experience this leakage throughout pregnancy, especially during sexual arousal and breast massages. Other women have said they experience leakage when they hear a baby cry.

What Does Colostrum Look Like?

Early in pregnancy, colostrum is thick and yellowish in color, and as childbirth approaches, it turns nearly colorless. During the later part of your pregnancy, you may see an increase in colostrum leakage. This is normal as your body prepares for delivery.

What is Colostrum For?

Newborn babies have very small digestive systems after exiting the womb. Colostrum provides key nutrients the baby needs in a very concentrated form. Colostrum also has a mild laxative effect, which allows the baby to have its first bowel movement. This first movement is called meconium, and it helps to clear from the baby’s system an excess of a waste product called bilirubin, thereby helping to prevent neonatal jaundice.

Colostrum is rich in proteins, Vitamin A, and sodium chloride, and contains lower amounts of carbohydrates, lipids, and potassium than normal milk does. Colostrum also contains immunoglobulins, which are antibodies passed from mother to baby in order to provide the baby with what is called passive immunity. This essentially means that the mother is passing on antibodies from her own system to protect the baby from various bacterial and viral illnesses, giving the baby’s immune system a developmental head start.

Colostrum and Nipple Discharge After Childbirth

After the baby is born, when you begin breastfeeding, the baby’s sucking helps to stimulate the body to begin producing milk. The sucking also stimulates a surge of the hormone oxytocin in your body, which helps shrink your uterus down to the size it was before you were pregnant. Within two to four days of childbirth, your body will stop producing colostrum and begin to produce transitional milk, which contains higher levels of fat and lactose, and is a precursor to mature milk. About two weeks after that you will begin to produce the mature milk that will nourish your baby until he or she is weaned.

It is recommended that breastfeeding begin within the first hour of the baby’s life, when the suckling instinct is strongest. The baby’s first feeding is an educational experience for mother and baby alike. Holding your baby close against your skin will enable him or her to smell the colostrum and encourage the feeding instinct. Some newborns do not show a great deal of interest in nursing, but fortunately their needs at this stage are not as great as they will soon become.

Other Causes of Nipple Discharge

Besides normal colostrum leakage, other possible causes of nipple discharge during pregnancy include the following:

When to See Your Doctor About Nipple Discharge

While nipple discharge during pregnancy is normal, there are signs to watch for that may indicate that something is wrong. Contact your doctor immediately if your nipple discharge has any of the following characteristics:

  • Discharge is coming from only one breast
  • Discharge is bloody
  • Discharge occurs spontaneously, without stimulation

Colostrum—Practical Considerations

Colostrum leakage can be embarrassing at times, but there are a few things you can do to prevent it from becoming a problem. Talk with your healthcare provider about the amount of colostrum you are secreting. Although there is nothing you can do to stop the leakage, you can purchase breast pads to control the problem. Some breast pads are disposable and some are washable. Wearing these pads inside a supportive bra can reduce discomfort you may be feeling due to your tender breasts and prevent embarrassing moments. Your doctor may also recommend that you allow time each day to air-dry your breasts. The air slows the secretion of colostrum.

Also, if you are leaking colostrum, try not to wear any of your favorite shirts or blouses. This can prevent them from being ruined, which will only upset you more while you’re in a fragile state of mind. Wear clothes purchased for your pregnancy, and invest in nursing pads.

This page was last updated on 06/2017

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