Colostrum – The pre-milky food (gift and neonatal consumption of the colostrum): practices, representations and issues in public health

This project joins the vast field of interdisciplinary research on the practices of breast-feeding. It has two complementary parts, one anthropological, the other biological and psychobiological.

The anthropological part aims to document the practices and representations related to neonatal colostrum consumption - much less well known than those related to breastfeeding - in six different countries (Germany, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, France, Morocco), corresponding to contrasting social and cultural contexts. The research includes four phases. During the first phase two questionnaires (one for the mothers, the other for the nursing staff) (6 months) will be written and translated into local language to be used in the 8 maternity hospitals selected for the survey in each of 6 countries. In addition, a guide to investigation and interview specific to the consumption of colostrum will be translated (Arabic, English, German, Mooré, Portuguese, Spanish) for use by different fields covered by this research. The investigation itself constitutes the second phase of the research and is planned for a period of 18 months. It will be led according to two modalities: inquiries by questionnaires and ethnographic inquiries, by means of the documents which will have been elaborated during the first phase of the research. In a first round (2 months), questionnaires will be submitted in maternity units of Augsburg (Germany), Cochabamba (Bolivia), Fes (Morocco), Lyon, Nice (France), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and Pelotas (Brazil). The ethnographic inquiries (observation and interviews) will be led for 4 months in every country. Access to informants will be through the mothers who have been subjected to the questionnaire and to whom we have asked for their consent. The third phase (6 months) will be dedicated to data processing and to the analysis of the results. The fourth and ultimate phase of the project (6 months) will be dedicated to the return and to the development of the results.

The biological and psychobiological part of the project focuses on two particular aspects of the colostrum. On the one hand, the goal is to study its sensory and functional properties (for adults, parents or not, and for newborns), properties largely unknown to date. This part of the research is supported by the team of Ethology Sciences Center Taste and Food (UMR 6265).

On the other hand, in order to test the immunological potential of colostrum and its effect on allergies prevention, various experiments (effect of colostrum on the development of asthma and food allergy; effect of the the transfer of antibody anti-allergen by colostrum on the development of asthma and food allergy; effect of transferring allergen by colostrum on the development of asthma and food allergy) will be conducted on mice. This task will be carried out by the E.A. Immune Tolerance, Hospital L’Archet, Nice.

As a whole, the specificity of the project consists in:

  1. being completely dedicated to the very first phase of feeding: the consumption of colostrum
  2. looking for cultural variables susceptible to explain the consumption or non-consumption of colostrum in those countries considered by the study.
  3. bringing out anthropological and bio-cultural teachings about the perception of an organic substance such as the colostrum
  4. looking for the biological benefits of colostrum for the prevention of allergic diseases
  5. drawing out teaching which could be useful for public health policies and educational initiatives in the countries concerned by the research. Notably, expected results could increase the frequency of consumption of neonatal colostrum, the positive effects of which are widely known for the health of the child.


Projektdauer: 2013-2014.

Mitarbeiter: Dr. Jens Soentgen