There is a misconception in some cultures that colostrum, also known as beestings or first milk, is bad for children. People with this belief squeeze the milk out and discard it because they have been made to believe that it gives children diarrhoea.
Colostrum is a form of milk produced by the mammary glands in late pregnancy and the few days after giving birth. It is thick, sticky and yellowish. Contrary to the common beliefs, Joshua Rukundo, a nutrition expert from Kyambogo University, says newborns essentially need this milk because it contains high concentrations of nutrients and antibodies.
He says it helps babies in building body immunity for the first phase in their growth. Rukundo adds that colostrum is high in carbohydrates, protein, antibodies, and is low in fat. Newborns may find fat difficult to digest.
He explains that colostrum is, especially rich in immunoglobulin, which coats the lining of babies' intestines, preventing germs from infecting them. By coating the intestinal lining like a protective paint, colostrum prevents molecules of foreign
foods from getting into the bloodstream, which can trigger allergy, he adds.
Colostrum also contains higher amounts of white blood cells and infection fighting substances than mature milk. They add that newborns have very small digestive systems, and colostrum delivers its nutrients in the volume and concentration that babies need.
Mercy Laker, a nutritionist with World Vision, says nutritionists recommend that mothers should breastfeed the child within the first hour after birth. She adds that this is called first immunization for the baby because it builds the baby's immunity.
Laker discloses that a research carried out in South Africa about the value of colostrum in strengthening a child's body immunity, found that discarding of colostrum by mothers instead of giving it to the newborns is one of the major causes of child mortality as result of malnutrition.
"Failure to breastfeed the child on colostrum makes the child highly susceptible to illnesses. When they get sick, the diseases become severe because of the low immunity," she explains.
Laker notes that colostrum cleans the digestive system and rids the baby of the thick meconium (baby's first bowel movements), thus preventing the baby from getting jaundice. Jaundice is yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes caused by an accumulation of bile pigment (bilirubin) in the blood.
She adds that for mothers who give birth to preterm babies, they tend to fare better on human colostrum than commercial infant formula. Laker explains that human milk contains special components called growth modulators, that help the premature baby's digestive system adjust to oral feedings.
"Some mothers put their babies on formula instead of breastfeeding exclusively for the fi rst six months which makes children prone to diseases such as pneumonia, and diarrhoea, among others," Laker says.
She explains that for child malnutrition to be kicked out of Uganda, mothers need to take the initiative by breastfeeding from the start and watching how the baby eats since they have contact with the baby more than any other person.
Laker adds that there is need to strengthen community level nutrition programming through village teams so that mothers can be taught the proper child nutrition practices at the grass root levels.