You may already know about the amazing benefits of colostrum collection for your newborn, but have you heard that in some cases, you can collect a little extra before you give birth? This way you have it ready to use when your little one arrives!
Even if you don’t want to collect and store colostrum, learning how to hand express colostrum at the end of pregnancy is so valuable. It is much easier to learn a skill when you’re well rested and have some privacy than when it’s an immediate or urgent need just after giving birth.
Your body starts to produce colostrum as early as 20 weeks. Some people find they leak small amounts of it or that their bra is stuck to their nipples at the end of the day. If you’re interested in collecting and saving colostrum during pregnancy, experts generally recommend waiting until 37 weeks. Your OB provider can help you create a timeline that works for you!
Hand expression can take some practice to master, and you may find that each breast needs a slightly different touch or technique. We love this short video that shows some different ways to express those precious drops. The best way to save colostrum is in very small syringes that are about 1-3 mLs in size. You can label and freeze the syringes until you’re ready to thaw and use them.
Who does it help?
Colostrum collection can benefit many parents. Those who have experienced low supply or who have risk factors for low supply may want extra colostrum on hand to avoid excessive newborn weight loss or reduce the risk of jaundice.
Those with gestational diabetes or who take beta blockers may want to collect colostrum to use in case of low or unstable blood sugar instead of using formula.
Parents of multiples, babies who have IUGR, and babies with diagnosed genetic or physical differences may also benefit from having extra colostrum saved. There are a variety of reasons why it can come in handy. Talk to your provider or a lactation professional about the pros and cons.
For some people, hand expression causes temporary but uncomfortable cramping, so it’s always a good idea to check in with your OB provider beforehand to see if there are any activities you should avoid that may cause contractions. Again, it’s generally recommended to wait until 37 weeks to try hand expression or colostrum collection.
The best time to practice hand expression or collect colostrum is when you’re relaxed and not in a rush. Often people find that being warm and post shower/bath is a great time. Some gentle breast massage can help warm things up as you get started. Once a day is generally enough for practice until you get the hang of it. You may consider expressing more than once a day if you are actively collecting and storing. Keep in mind that at first, you may see just a hint of clear wetness or nothing at all.
If you’re collecting colostrum you’ll want to:
- Wash hands and have clean spoons, container/syringe ready
- Express for few minutes on each side collecting drops (aim for 10 drops and measure how much this is to make future collection easier, for example 10-15 drops might equal 1 mL)
- Date and store your colostrum in the freezer
Now that you have a little bit more information about hand expression and colostrum harvesting, you can make an informed decision about what is right for you!