Forget Dom Pérignon and Chateau Margaux: colostrum—also known as “liquid gold”—is the ultimate luxury beverage.  Like fine wines, it’s produced only in extremely limited quantities and lasts just a few days after birth.  You can’t buy it in a store or stock up on the Internet.  There’s only one source for this miraculous elixir: you.

That’s right—no technology can come close to replicating the nutrition and immunological properties of colostrum, which has some seriously mind-blowing benefits. It’s one of the first and greatest gifts that a mother can give her baby. So if breastfeeding is the only thing you accomplish during your infant’s first week of life, then you rock. This small-batch substance you’re churning out is truly lifesaving.

So why exactly is colostrum so incredible?  Let me count the ways.  

First, colostrum, which is thicker and yellower than mature milk, contains everything a baby needs to thrive in her first few days outside the womb.  But it’s much more than a food.  Like an immunization, colostrum helps protect babies—who are born sterile and extremely vulnerable—from viruses, infections, and environmental toxins.

That’s because colostrum is bursting with essential antibodies and immunoglobins customized just for your baby, including secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), an anti-infective agent that coats the intestinal lining, and pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor (PSTI), which both protects and repairs your infant’s delicate intestines.  Mature breastmilk contains these immunological powerhouses, too, but colostrum has them in far greater concentrations (up to seven times more, in the case of PSTI).  The reason?  Researchers believe sIgA and PTSI “paint” your newborn’s stomach and intestinal walls, insulating them from viruses, germs, and bacteria in those dicey early days.

Colostrum is also packed with prostaglandins, which have a laxative-like effect, encouraging the passing of the baby’s first stool, known as meconium.  Colostrum is also rich in fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, and cell-protecting, immune system-enhancing antioxidants like the beta-carotene that gives it its yellow color.

Need more convincing?  All right then: colostrum is about three times higher in protein than mature milk, which also helps the baby fight infections, develop her organs, and maintain healthy blood-sugar levels.  (This latter advantage is an especially big deal if you’re diabetic or had gestational diabetes in pregnancy).

The reasons to give your baby colostrum go on and on.  Colostrum is saturated with sodium, potassium, chloride, and cholesterol, all of which boost your newborn’s developing heart, brain, and central nervous system.  Some researchers think this might explain why mothers of preemies produce colostrum longer than mothers who deliver at full term: the more colostrum they get, the better chance preemies have at fully developing their fragile organs.

No advances in science or medicine can come close to the benefits that colostrum offers.  It’s the most effective preventive care out there, period.  So whatever your breastfeeding goals—whether you’re planning to go for the full year, or just make it through the first month—consider sharing the protections of this truly amazing substance with your little one.  Colostrum is worth its weight in gold, and nothing your child will drink for the rest of her life will ever taste half so delicious.