Giving Your Baby a Great Start With Colostrum Harvesting

Some women find that their breasts start leaking milk during pregnancy; others never notice a drop. Those first drops of colostrum can be put to good use: Harvesting, or collecting, colostrum during pregnancy is a great way to help your baby off to a fantastic start, and you can do it even if you never leak a single drop.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first milk that your body produces, starting while pregnant. It’s very concentrated, can even look more like sticky egg yolk than milk, and is the ideal nourishment for a newborn. Colostrum is packed with everything a baby needs, not just nutrients but also antibodies, boosting the baby’s immune system. It also helps to establish a healthy gut and to pass meconium (the first poo), reducing the risk of jaundice.

All in all, it really is “liquid gold” for newborns.

Why express colostrum while pregnant?

It might seem strange to express milk when you’re still pregnant, especially as you might only get a few drops. Surely you’ll have plenty of milk once your baby arrives? But sometimes a baby struggles to feed well or needs a little extra support in the first few hours and days. It’s also possible that mum might need medical treatment, unable to breastfeed for a few hours. 

In those circumstances, you can give babies donor human milk or formula, but you might prefer having colostrum available to use instead. It also gives you some practice at hand expressing, which might be a valuable skill later on!

Any baby might benefit from extra colostrum, but it is especially worth considering if your baby:

  • Is large or small for their gestational age
  • Has a cleft lip or palate
  • Has Down syndrome
  • Has a heart condition
  • Are twins, triplets, or more

Or if you:

  • Have diabetes (type 1, type 2, or gestational)
  • Are taking beta blockers
  • Have pre-eclampsia
  • Have PCOS
  • Have breast hypoplasia
  • Have had breast surgery in the past
  • Have a high BMI
  • Plan to give birth by c-section

How to express and store colostrum

It is always a good idea to check with your medical professionals before starting to collect colostrum since they know your history. It is generally considered safe for most women to start at around 36 weeks, but you might be advised not to express if you are at risk of early labor.

Your midwife or doctor may be able to give you a pack with everything you need, like collecting syringes and printed labels. If not, it is pretty easy to buy supplies online. You need 1ml syringes, and perhaps even 5ml as well. If you have a lot of colostrum, you might want to use an eggcup or similar to gather it in, but you may only produce one or two drops at a time. You will also need stickers to label the syringes and something clean and resealable to store in the freezer – a plastic box or food bag is ideal.
You can express a few drops, suck them into a syringe, and put it in the fridge. Continue adding to that syringe for up to 24 hours before labeling it and putting it in the freezer. You will need to place your name and the date on every syringe. Check with your hospital as they may want your hospital number as well.

A good way to learn the technique of hand expressing is to see it demonstrated since it’s so much easier to understand than written instruction! This video has lots of helpful hints and tips, along with two different techniques to try. (The “how to” section starts at about 4 minutes in.)

How to use colostrum

Once you go to the hospital for labor, put the colostrum in a cool bag with a freezer block or a bag of ice. As soon as you arrive, let staff know that you have brought colostrum so they can store it in the hospital freezer. 

If your baby struggles to feed or has low blood sugar, take a syringe of colostrum. Defrost and warm it by holding it next to your skin, or put it in a sealed food bag in a cup of warm water. You can then ask a midwife or nurse to show you how to feed the colostrum to your baby, either directly from the syringe or with a tiny cup.
Even 1ml of colostrum will raise your baby’s blood sugar and give them more energy. That energy boost is often enough to get them feeding well by themselves too.

Expressing colostrum antenatally can be a great way to give your baby the best possible start in life. 

Martina The Maternity Nurse

Credits: Video Source: My Expert Midwife – How To Harvest Colostrum: