How To Express Colostrum During Pregnancy (and why you should do it)

How To Express Colostrum During Pregnancy (and why you should do it)

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.

So what is this miraculous substance, why is collecting colostrum important and how is it used by your baby? We're answering all your questions!

The Colostrum FAQs

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. Your breasts will begin producing colostrum during pregnancy, around the 16 week mark. 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!

The stages of breastmilk

Colostrum versus breast milk

Both incredibly important, colostrum and breast milk are similar but different in a number of key ways. Thick, sticky and more yellow than white, colostrum has higher levels of protein and Vitamins A, E and K. It also helps protect babies gut and works as a laxative to push through bubs first poo! You'll notice relatively small amounts of colostrum immediately after birth and for the first couple of days before it begins to transition to mature milk.

How will I know that my milk has changed?

You may hear other mums or your caregiver talk about your 'milk coming in'. This refers to your body switching from producing colostrum to breast milk, generally 2-5 days after birth. The majority of women will feel this happening as their breasts will become heavy, hot, tender to touch and sometimes engorged or even painful. The colour and consistency of the milk will change from thick and orange/yellow to slightly thinner and more 'milk like.' Your milk will stay like this for the next few weeks as you establish breastfeeding and your body and baby work together to sort out your supply.

Expressing colostrum before birth

Many women are advised by their Midwife or Obstetrician to express colostrum during the later weeks of pregnancy to store for use after birth. Expressing colostrum during pregnancy means that you'll have some saved and on hand for after birth, should your baby need it.

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. This is due to the benefits of having a stash of colostrum on hand for the period immediately after birth. Women who have access to colostrum are able to use this in the interim period between birth and when their milk comes in fully. Perfect for those cluster feeding nights when baby just wants to be on the boob! It can also be handy for mums who may need to be separated from their bubs after birth, for example, in the case of an emergency c-section.

Who can express colostrum during pregnancy?

Any mum who has had a healthy pregnancy and has been given the go-ahead by their caregiver can start expressing colostrum before birth, usually from the 37/38 week mark. 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.

While the majority of women will be given the go-ahead to express colostrum before birth, there may be some cases where it's not advised, for example if there were any risks with pre-term labour or other pregnancy complications. We always advise discussing with your caregiver so that you're able to ascertain the best advice for your own personal situation.

Milk ducts
Milk ducts

When to start expressing colostrum?

Your caregiver can advise on when you can start expressing colostrum during pregnancy but it's generally thought that towards the end is ideal. "With a healthy normal pregnancy, because nipple stimulation can trigger uterine contractions, I would say from 37 weeks onwards," says Kathy.

How to hand express colostrum

If you've never expressed milk before then the process might seem a LITTLE bit dauniting. 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.

Here's what we recommed:

  1. Collect the equipment you need - 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.
  3. Start gently hand expressing using the guidelines above. Some mamas may find warmth from a heat pack and / or gentle massage helps.
  4. 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 it will lay the groundwork for future expressing sessions.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 Tuppaware container and into the freezer.

Watch our 'How to collect Colostrum' video below!

How to collect colostrum
How to collect colostrum

How do I store my collected colostrum?

The best way to store your colostrum is in small colostrum collectors. Kathy advises using and then freezing. "Collect the colostrum and simply freeze the filled colostrum syringes." It's a good idea to pop the filled colostrum syringes in a sandwich or other ziplock bag with a date on the front, just to keep track of when you expressed.

We love the Haakaa Silicone Colostrum Collection Set for collecting your liquid gold. Made from 100% medical grade silicone, the colostrum collection kit comes with 6 x 4ml Colostrum Collectors which are portable, leakproof and reusable with clear, easy to read measurements as well as being BPA, PVC and phthalate-free.

Can you use a Haakaa to collect colostrum ?

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 colostrum 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.

Good Luck!

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