When to start collecting colostrum: To express before birth or after?
First studied in 1917, the practice of humans eating their own placentas has gained a bit of momentum following some recent-ish celeb partakers (hello, Kim Kardashian). So what’s the go with adding placenta to As part of our Motherhood’s hard questions series, we spoke to Lactation Consultant, Mia Grant, about the pros and cons of expressing colostrum while pregnant, so you have a bank of it for your baby’s first days after birth. Here’s a look at weighing up whether you should express colostrum and how to do so.
What is colostrum?
Colostrum, the first form of breastmilk produced, is often referred to as ‘liquid gold’ as it’s enriched with nutrients and antibodies for your baby. If you’re planning to breastfeed, your baby will receive this as their first ‘meal’ following birth, but there’s a growing number of mothers choosing to take part in antenatal colostrum expression to ensure their babies are getting as much of the goodness as possible.
What is colostrum good for?
Colostrum essentially acts as a baby’s first immunization, according to Mia. Up to two-thirds of colostrum is white blood cells, which will help defend your baby against illness and infections. It can also have a laxative effect, helping to pass the movement of meconium, which is important for reducing levels of jaundice among other valuable health benefits.
As colostrum is a living substance, its makeup is completely unique to every mother and baby pair – your colostrum will be tailored to the specific needs of your baby (incredible!).
Some other nutrients that feature include:
- Immunoglobulin, an antibody that fights off infections, and illnesses and protects your baby against eczema, allergies and wheezing
- Lactoferrin, a protein that wards off infections
- Epidermal growth factor-protein stimulating cell growth
- Carotenoids, an antioxidant
- Vitamins A, B12 and K
Colostrum also seals the gastrointestinal tract with a barrier from most foreign proteins, which will help prevent gut leaks and can even help a baby from getting allergies. This is especially important for premature babies. Having this liquid gold on hand can be very enticing, particularly if you know you’re delivering early.
How is colostrum different from breastmilk?
While they’re both sources of nutrients for newborns, colostrum has two times more protein than breastmilk and is rich in vitamin A, E and K. It’s also much thicker and is often a yellow tone (which is why it’s referred to as gold).
At a glance, when compared to breastmilk, colostrum:
- Has two times more protein
- Has four times more zinc
- Is lower in sugar and fat for ease of digestion
- Contains immunoglobulins to support your baby’s immune system and gut health
How long does colostrum last?
Colostrum will only be available for a few days after birth. If you’re familiar with the concept of your milk ‘coming in’, this is when colostrum transitions to breastmilk. In the first two to five days of postpartum, you’ll be producing colostrum, but once your breasts become engorged heavy and, sometimes, hot to the touch, this is when you’ve moved into breastmilk production.
When to start collecting colostrum – can expressing colostrum induce labor?
If you are thinking about expressing as much colostrum as possible while pregnant, it’s really important to know that you should not attempt this before week 36 of pregnancy as nipple stimulation has been known to bring on labor. Always consult your doctor before you begin and, if you plan to do it, know that you may only achieve a few drops.
How to express colostrum before birth
If you want to express colostrum, it’s really important to have clean hands, so be sure to wash them well with soap and water. Similarly, you’ll want to express your colostrum into sterilized syringes or colostrum-collection containers. Once you’ve ticked those steps off, using your thumb at the top of your breast and your forefinger at the bottom, gently press your fingers towards your nipple. Gently compress the breast tissue, without pinching the nipple. Release and repeat. Do so twice on each breast. If you feel any contractions or experience any vaginal bleeding you should stop expressing.
How often should I hand express colostrum before birth?
You can aim to express colostrum two to three times per day from week 36 of pregnancy onwards.
Can I pump colostrum while pregnant?
From week 36 onwards you should only focus on expressing colostrum by hand, rather than using a breast pump.
How to store colostrum
Store expressed colostrum in sterilized syringes, and freeze it with the date and time of the collection on the syringe. You can take the frozen syringes to the hospital to be given to your baby once they’re born.
How to thaw colostrum
Use a water bath to thaw the colostrum with water between 104˚F and 140˚F. The water temperature shouldn’t go any higher as you may affect the immunoglobulins. Place the syringe of colostrum (with cap on) into a plastic bag and allow to thaw completely before you offer it to your baby.
If you express colostrum before birth, will you run out?
In great news, expressing colostrum before birth won’t increase or decrease your milk supply once the baby is born. That’s why it’s an excellent resource to have on hand to supplement your postpartum colostrum.
So…should you collect colostrum before birth?
Yes, colostrum is incredible but is it necessary to express it ahead of birth? No. Don’t feel that you need to do this. If you’re planning to breastfeed, your baby will receive colostrum from you. Expressed colostrum is a nice-to-have and, if it’s necessary, your doctor will let you know.
Also worth remembering
Antenatal colostrum expression is recommended for babies who may need a little help postpartum so, if you know you’re delivering ahead of their due date or your baby may be growth restricted, colostrum could be a fantastic helper for them. And there’s no reason to hold back if you’re delivering on time. Just weigh it up with your doctor or midwife.