Colostrum contains beta endorphin. You may recall that the body produces its own beta endorphin which is used as an analgesic in the body to numb or dull pains. The reason the pain dulls is because it binds to and activates opioid receptors. Beta-endorphin has approximately 80 times the analgesic potency of morphine. Not bad!
A paper published some years ago looked at the concentration of beta-endorphin in colostrum and had some very interesting findings. It was found in the colostrum of all mothers who gave birth vaginally, but not by caesarean section, and highest in the colostrum of mothers who had vaginal delivery of a preterm baby. It continued to be present in breastmilk for 10 days after birth. The authors hypothesized that elevated beta-endorphin concentrations in colostrum and breastmilk may contribute to postnatal fetal adaptation, to overcoming birth stress of natural labor and delivery, and at the same time to the postnatal development of several related biologic functions of breastfed infants. Zanardo V, et al. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2001 Aug;33(2):160-4.
You can read the full article here: Beta endorphin concentrations in human milk.
How could you use this information in your practice?
Perhaps it would be a good topic to introduce at prenatal classes. When the educator is talking about normal birthing, it could be just an extra snippet of information that causes those mothers who can’t see the point in going through a labor these days, to think about how it could benefit their new baby. And postnatally, letting a mother whose baby had an assisted delivery and may have a sore head know that she can do something to make her baby feel better, and it’s not only the comfort baby would receive from being cuddled during breastfeeding, but also that the milk has a very powerful analgesic in it.
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Last Updated: September 2018