Colostrum. They call it liquid gold for good reason. This amazing liquid contains everything your newborn baby needs to thrive in their first hours and days after birth.
In fact, colostrum is sometimes referred to as your babies first vaccination, due to the high percentage of protective antibodies and white blood cells that it contains. It's also packed full of 'good bacteria' to help colonise the gut and give baby the best possible start to life. A living substance, colostrum is completely unique to each mother and baby pair.
Image source: Mama Natural
Your breasts will begin producing colostrum around the 16 week mark of pregnancy. Some women may notice small amounts of leakage while others won't notice anything different. Don't fret either way! Leaking both colostrum and breastmilk is not the only indicator of the ability to successfully breastfeed!
Regardless of whether you're leaking colostrum of not, you can still give expressing a go. Many women are advised by their Midwife or Obstetrician to collect some colostrum during the later weeks of pregnancy to store for use after birth.
This is common practice for mums with gestational diabetes to help baby to regulate their blood sugar but increasingly, women with uncomplicated pregnancies are jumping onboard the colostrum expression train to build up a stash.
Expressing during pregnancy means that you'll have some colostrum saved and on hand for after birth, should your baby need it.
Senior Midwife, author, and international maternity consultant Kathy Fray has found that collecting colostrum can be super helpful, especially for bubs who may need a little extra help after birth.
"With babes we know could likely be low-birth-weight or babes known to be growth-restricted or at risk of hypoglycaemia, it can be fantastic to already have some frozen colostrum to supplement the vulnerable newborn in their first days of life," says Kathy. "However, there is certainly no reason that a healthy mother with a healthy newborn can't also hoard some colostrum antenatally. It's a brilliant idea!"
Having colostrum on hand is also useful for those early, cluster feeding days when your milk is still coming in or if, for some reason, you needed to be separated from your baby after birth.
Your caregiver can advise on when you can start expressing during pregnancy but it's generally thought that towards the end of pregnancy is ideal. "With a healthy normal pregnancy, because nipple stimulation can trigger uterine contractions, I would say from 37 weeks onwards," says Kathy.
If you've never expressed milk before then the process might seem a LITTLE bit daunting. First things first, don't even consider your electric pump, at least initially.
You'll be producing and collecting tiny little amounts and the stimulation of an electric pump can be a bit much. Gentle hand expression is the way to go.
Image source: Born and fed
The best way to store your colostrum is in small sterile syringes. Kathy advises using the smallest size (1ml - 2.5ml) and then freezing. "Collect the milk with a 1ml sterile syringe (that has no needle) and simply freeze the filled syringes." It's a good idea to pop the filled syringes in a sandwich or other ziplock bag with a date on the front, just to keep track of when you expressed.
1.Collect the equipment you need - A spoon or small collection container and your syringes (ensure the plunger is pushed fully into place). Make sure everything is freshly washed/sterilised and that your hands are clean.
2. Sit comfortably (as comfortably as you can during late pregnancy) and try to relax as it'll make the whole process easier.
2. Start gently hand expressing using the guidelines above. Some mamas may find warmth from a heat pack and/or gentle massage helps.
3. As you continue to express, you may notice beads of colostrum forming on your nipple. If you DON'T notice any forming, don't panic! It can take time and a couple of days worth of stimulation to get things going. Continue to massage for a few minutes or as long as comfortable, even if nothing is appearing, as this will lay the groundwork for future expressing sessions.
4. If you DO notice beads forming, you have two options; you can either use your syringe to gently suck each bead up directly from the nipple, or you can collect the beads in a spoon or container and then draw them into the syringe from there.
5. Whichever method you choose, make sure that the plunger is fully pushed into place before trying to collect anything and work slowly. If you notice a bubble forming in the syringe, flick it carefully and it should disperse. Keep filling until you've collected what you can and then place syringes into your labelled sandwich bag or Tupperware container and into the freezer.
Image source: Mum's Grapevine
A lot of our Milkbar community have found that the Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump works really well to express colostrum. Simply suction it on and use the gentle suction to help the colostrum move out of the breast. Then transfer to your syringes.
As with almost everything breastfeeding (and motherhood!) related, it can take some time to get your head around expressing. Be gentle with yourself, keep trying and seek support and guidance from your midwife or a lactation consultant.
Featured image by Josephine Neubert Fotographie
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