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Expressing Colostrum: Your Guide On How To Express Colostrum Before And After Birth

You’re expecting a baby and are trying to be prepared for everything. You’ve noticed a puzzling thing appearing on more and more to do lists before birth. Expressing colostrum and having breast milk ready for your baby before they are born is growing more and more common. But why would you store milk for your baby before they are born? And how can you express colostrum if you haven’t even had your baby yet? Is it safe? Should everyone do it?

It is normal to have questions about expressing colostrum.

Colostrum is the first milk produced by mammals, including humans. It plays a crucial role in nourishing newborns with the necessary nutrients, antibodies, and growth factors to help them thrive. In this blog post, we will talk about how to express, colostrum, why it’s important and most importantly, how to do it and what to do with the milk you collected from start to finish.

What Is Colostrum?

a syringe full of hand expressed colostrum

Colostrum is a special milk that is produced during pregnancy and the first days after giving birth. In fact, a mom begins creating colostrum when she is 16 weeks pregnant!

Colostrum is often called ‘liquid gold’ because it has a high concentration of antibodies, growth factors and other nutrients that are vital for newborns. It also is much thicker than the milk you have later. It also has a yellow gold color that is much darker than the milk you produce as soon as a few days after giving birth.

Thick + Extra Nutritious + Produced For Only A Short Time has landed it a coveted spot as liquid gold.

Colostrum contains higher levels of protein, fat, and minerals. It also has less lactose (a type of sugar) and less water then your breastmilk will have later. It also has something called immunoglobulins, which are antibodies that help protect newborns from infections and diseases. In fact, one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it helps transfer some of your immune system to your baby. Breastfed babies typically have fewer sick days than formula fed babies. Isn’t that cool?

Why Is Expressing Colostrum Important?

Moms do not have to express colostrum to have a positive and successful breastfeeding journey. But, in some situations it can help quite a bit. In fact, there are benefits to both moms and babies when a mother expresses colostrum BEFORE her baby is born.

Expressing a small amount of colostrum can also help a newly born baby find the breast and become interested in feeding if they don’t latch right away.

It can also help provide a mother’s milk to a baby that has to be separated from their mother after birth.

What Are The Benefits Of Expressing Colostrum For Moms?

Many moms doubt their ability to produce enough milk for their baby. It can be a really encouraging moment when a mom sees that she is not just creating colostrum, but can get enough drops to fill up a syringe. A baby’s tummy is only about the size of a cherry when they are born. So it doesn’t take much to fill up a newborn.

When a mom sees she is producing enough milk to fill her baby’s tummy, a lot of the worries about breastfeeding go away.

Another great benefit of expressing colostrum before birth is that nipple stimulation can help the body prepare for labor.

How Does Nipple Stimulation Help The Body Prepare For Labor?

Your nipples have receptors that tell the brain to produce oxytocin. Oxytocin is one of the main hormones that encourages labor. It can cause the uterus to contract and the cervix to ripen. When the body is flowing with good, happy hormones like oxytocin, labor can begin and progress.

Studies confirm that mothers who perform breast massages have more oxytocin in their body after several days of massage. And the benefits don’t end there.

One study found that when mothers did a full breast massage every day for a week, their Bishop score changed significantly. This shows us that these moms bodies were ready for labor. So it is no surprise that the women in the study that did the breast massage had a lower c-section rate than the mothers that did not.

And while on average, moms in the breast massage group were more likely to have labor to start on it’s own, even if a mom had to be induced, she was more likely to have a successful induction and vaginal birth than the group that did not perform a daily breast massage leading up to birth.

What Are the Benefits Of Expressing Colostrum For Babies?

For babies, colostrum is essential to their growth and development. Colostrum is also important for establishing a healthy gut microbiome.

Most babies will latch on right away, even after a c-section. They will not need any extra milk than what they get directly from their mother. But, some babies will need a bit of help.

Although parents don’t usually expect it, 10-15% of babies are admitted to the NICU. Often, these babies will be separated from their mom. They may be given formula or donor milk unless a mom brought her own colostrum to the hospital or has someone to help her collect colostrum immediately after birth.

Also, some babies with jaundice will need extra food to help clear their system. And babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes may have trouble regulating their blood sugar which may result in needing more food.

In both these cases, formula is usually given. But, if you happen to have extra food prepared, they can have your colostrum!

Babies may also need extra food if they have low blood sugar levels, are losing more weight than expected, or are simply struggling feeding.

If you brought colostrum with you to the hospital, you have a tool to use if your baby needs a bit of extra nutritional support the first few days of life.

Formula is not a bad option, but there are some problems with some of the ingredients in formula.

When Should I Start Expressing Colostrum?

You can begin hand expressing colostrum at 37 weeks. Your baby is full term at 37 weeks . If your baby is born now, they are unlikely to need any extra assistance. As we talked about earlier, breast massage, which is part of expressing colostrum, can help get your body ready for labor. So you don’t want to do it too early.

One thing to note, is that you can have sex throughout your pregnancy. Unless sex, and breast massage during play is causing contractions, there’s no reason to avoid intimacy with your partner.

How Do I Express Colostrum?

Hand expression to collect colostrum is simple and effective. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water. Wash your storage container with hot soapy water as well.
  2. Find a comforting and relaxing position. Many people like to collect colostrum in the bathtub because the warmth helps the milk flow or after taking a shower.
  3. Gently massage the entire area of your breast for several minutes – this is your actual breast, not your nipple or areola (5-10 minutes)
  4. Gently stimulate your nipple until the skin or areola wrinkles up. You will see little white dots start to pop up. (About 30 seconds)
  5. Cup your breast in a big c-shape with your thumb and forefinger about an inch or two above and below the areola.
  6. Gently press your breast back in towards your chest.
  7. Gently bring your thumb and forefinger together dragging them across your breast towards your nipples.
  8. Repeat this for 10-15 minutes in a rhythmic way or until you have collected a few drops of colostrum.
  9. Label and date the colostrum container and place it in the freezer.

How Do You Save Colostrum?

Once you’ve expressed colostrum, it’s important to store it properly. Here’s what to do.

  1. Use clean containers: Use sterile containers or clean containers that have been washed with hot, soapy water and rinsed well. I really like the syringes for insulin or the ones made for breast milk from Haaka.
  2. Label the container: Label the container with the date and time that the colostrum was expressed. If you expressed colostrum multiple times in one day, you can keep it in the same container. Otherwise, use a new one each day.
  3. Store colostrum in the refrigerator or freezer; Colostrum can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours, 2 weeks in a freezer compartment inside fridge, 3 months in fridge freezer with a separate door or 6 months if it is in a deep freezer.
  4. Thaw colostrum safely: If you are using frozen colostrum, thaw it in the refrigerator or by placing the container in warm water.

Is It The Same To Collect Colostrum Before Birth And After Birth?

Yes, if you’ve already had your baby, collecting colostrum the first days after delivery is 100 percent possible. You follow the exact same method. Give it directly to your baby instead of storing for later.

Why Can’t I Express Colostrum And I’m 38 Weeks Pregnant?

If you can’t express colostrum the first attempt do not worry about it. There is no need to squeeze and squeeze or massage and massage until your breasts hurt. Your baby will be much more effective at removing milk from your breast than your hands or a pump.

Colostrum is also thick and sticky. Meaning it’s not going to move through your breasts as easily as milk will later on. The amount of colostrum should be very tiny. If you are only getting drops, that is plenty!

How Often Should I Express Colostrum

After 37 weeks you can express colostrum daily. As long as you consult with your care provider (your OB or midwife) before you begin.

Which Tools Should I Have On Hand For Expressing And Collecting Colostrum?

1. Haakaa Syringes

Haakaa syringes are a really simple way to collect breast milk. You can easily suck the little drops into the syringes as they come out. Label them and put them back in the case in the freezer for easy storage.

2. Mom Cozy Breast Massager

The mom cozy breast massager is a great little tool for breastfeeding and hand expressing. This little tool combines heating and vibration to help you get your milk flowing. Of course, you can just use your hands to massage your breast, but who doesn’t like a little warmth and vibration in a massage?

3. Cooler With Ice Pack For Transporting To The Hospital

You will want a little carrying case with ice so that you can keep the colostrum frozen when you bring it with you to the hospital or birth center. I like the ones made for insulin because they are small, compact and will fit in your bag easily. Make sure to move your carrying case to a freezer when you get to the hospital if possible.

How To Express Colostrum Conclusion

Was this guide on expressing colostrum enough to help you know clearly how to express colostrum before having your baby? I hope it helps you know exactly why it can be beneficial to you AND baby to collect colostrum and exactly how to do it well. If you have any questions, please reach out!

When breastfeeding gets off to a great start, you can spend those first days with baby bonding and focusing on your postpartum recovery.

Here’s to a simple and beautiful beginning for the entire family.