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Colostrum Harvesting Before Birth

I’ve wanted to write a post on antenatal colostrum harvesting for months! I can’t believe I’m only just sitting down to write about it and…

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I’ve wanted to write a post on antenatal colostrum harvesting for months! I can’t believe I’m only just sitting down to write about it and share my experience of colostrum harvesting. I did touch on it a little bit in my successful breastfeeding story. But colostrum harvesting deserves a post of its own.

If you are curious about finding out what colostrum harvesting is and how you can collect your colostrum, this post is for you.

If you don’t have children and aren’t planning on having children, I really hope you stick around for the first few paragraphs to find out a bit more about colostrum collection and its benefits. I had no idea colostrum was even a thing before I became pregnant!

There is such a large gap in knowledge when it comes to breastfeeding in the UK and I hope to help spread awareness of breastfeeding to others. The UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the UK, with only about 1% of babies being exclusively breastfed at six months (according to the last UK-wide infant feeding survey in 2010). Although I do believe if an updated survey was done, these numbers may be a bit higher. I couldn’t find any up to date stat around exclusively breastfeeding, but according to this Breastfeeding in the UK – position statement which was done in 2017, in the UK only 34% of babies are receiving some breast milk at 6 months.

When I talk about thinking the rates should be higher, I am not talking about those who choose to use formula. Breastfeeding is a choice, but sadly many women do want to breastfeed but are unable to due to not knowing enough about breastfeeding, a lack of support around breastfeeding (tongue ties/cluster feeding/pain) and breastfeeding myths.

Colostrum Harvesting Before Birth

Right, anyway, back to colostrum harvesting.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first milk you produce when your first have your baby. It’s the perfect food for a newborn. Colostrum is highly concentrated. It’s rich in nutrients, high in protein and has lots of antibodies. It’s easy to digest and is perfectly tailored for your newborn’s needs.

Colostrum is high in white blood cells which guard your baby against infection. It protects your baby against diseases and illnesses the mother has already experienced. It also helps reduce the risk of jaundice. It’s pretty amazing stuff, which is why it’s also known as liquid gold!

What is colostrum harvesting

Colostrum harvesting or colostrum collecting is the process of collecting colostrum before the birth of your baby. This is usually done with a syringe around 37 weeks of pregnancy by hand expressing.

Why should you collect colostrum?

You don’t have to collect colostrum. If you don’t harvest any colostrum, it will not mean you can’t breastfeed.

There are times when your midwife or doctor may recommend do you harvest colostrum such as:

  • have gestational diabetes in pregnancy
  • have a history of diabetes.
  • your large or small for their gestational age
  • you are having twins or triplets
  • your baby has a cleft lip or palate
  • your baby has Down’s syndrome or a heart complication
  • you are taking beta blockers to control high blood pressure
  • you’ve developed pre-eclampsia during pregnancy
  • you have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • you have breast hypoplasia
  • you have had breast surgery
  • you have a raised body mass index (BMI)
  • you plan to give birth by Caesarean section

You may still want to collect colostrum if the above does not apply to you. It can be useful in the event of emergencies. For example, if you are unable to feed your baby right away (if they need to go to NICU, or you have to have an emergency operation, or if they don’t latch). If this happens, it’s likely the hospital will ask you to hand express or pump colostrum to feed your baby. Having the stores already will take the pressure off you in a stressful situation and means you already know how to do it to continue collecting more.

It’s also useful for other reasons. It can be stored for 6 months and as it’s packed full of goodness, you can give it to your baby when they are ill or after their 8, 12 and 16-week vaccines.

Benefits of colostrum harvesting:

  • Your baby can be fed if you can’t feed them right after birth.
  • It may help milk production.
  • Teaches you how to hand express.
  • Can be used if your baby has janduce to help.
  • You can use it any time your baby is ill during the first 6 months for an boost of nutrition
  • It may induce labour
Colostrum Harvesting Before Birth

Where to get syringes for colostrum harvesting

In the UK, many midwives have packs to give pregnant women around 36 or 37 weeks for colostrum harvesting. You can also buy some syringes here.

Colostrum harvesting storage

You can store your milk in the fridge ( temperature of 2-4°C) and keep adding to it for up to 48 hours. After 48 hours, you should place the syringe in a clean zip-lock bag and place it in your freezer at a temperature of -18°C for up to 6 months.

You should also write your name, DOB and the date and time you collected the colostrum.

Can colostrum harvesting bring on labour?

When you express colostrum a hormone called oxytocin is released. This sometimes triggers labour as oxytocin is what helps the uterus contract. This is why it’s important to make sure you are around 37 weeks before you start collecting colostrum.

I started harvesting my colostrum from 37 weeks, but I went had my baby naturally at 41 weeks. I guess it’s one of those things you won’t know if it triggers labour or not as you will never know if you would have gone into labour either way! But to be safe, you must wait until your baby is to term.

Colostrum harvesting with pump

You should collect colostrum antenatally by hand expressing, not by using a pump. This is because colostrum is collected in small quantities and it’s thick, so can get stuck in the pump parts. Using a pump may also be uncomfortable.

How to collect colostrum

Right, to the good stuff. How to collect colostrum,

Find somewhere private where you can relax. Warmth helps, so after a warm shower is a good idea or you can even do it in the bath.

Make sure your hands are clean and start with a warm compress or massaging your breasts from the base, to towards the nipple to encourage colostrum flow

Put your thumb above your nipple and your fingers below so you are cupping your nipple in a c shape. Your finger needs to be a few fingers back from the nipple, then press back towards your chest and squeeze.

After a few squeezes, you should start to see a few drops of yellow thick liquid appear on your nipple.

Use your syringe to collect this

This video will give you a better idea of how to collect colostrum – it does contain a video of a women doing it on herself.

Colostrum Harvesting Before Birth

How long should I spend collecting colostrum?

Try expressing colostrum a few minutes a couple of times a day.

How many ml of colostrum should I collect?

This will vary from person to person. Some women can’t get any, others may fill two syringes on their first session.

I used to get anything from 0.2ml – 0.8ml.

Don’t get disheartened if you can’t collect any! Just stop and try again later,

I can’t collect any, will this affect my breastfeeding journey?

Not at all! When you have your baby, your body will send singles to start milk production. I hardly collected any colostrum and I’ve had a great breastfeeding journey.

Do I have to collect colostrum?

NO! It is a personal choice. I believe it’s important to know about colostrum collecting and then once you have the facts, decide if it’s something that you want to do!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

10 comments

  1. This was such an interesting and informative post, Corinne. I totally agree with what you said about breastfeeding rates likely to be down due to lack of knowledge, education and support. It’s a shame because it’s such a natural and normal thing. I had absolutely NO idea about colostrum harvesting – I’d heard of the “liquid gold” thing briefly before but knew nothing more than that. It sounds like such a beneficial thing to do, if you can!

  2. I am sooo interested in this – I’m still only 24 weeks so I’m a way away but this is something I will 100% be trying! I’ve bookmarked this to come back to it in a few weeks!
    Rosie

  3. Thank you for this post! I was about to look up exactly this information because I want to try harvesting the colostrum once I get to 37 weeks. I am glad that it doesn’t seem to much of a hassle.

  4. I totally agree there is a lack of information and support when it comes to breastfeeding and also this subject.

    I wish all of the contact I had with health professionals whilst pregnant, meant they could take time to explain things, but it just isn’t like that these days.

    Thank you for raising awareness about something many people know nothing about.

  5. I love that you are helping spread awareness and advice on the topic of breastfeeding and the many ways women can use colostrum and breastmilk to further their breastfeeding journey! The collecting of it via syringe sounds like a long process, but one worth it because having it on hand later down the road can be a huge benefit to a sick baby.
    Thanks for sharing!

  6. I definitely agree the breastfeeding rates are not great due to lack of knowledge. I had my daughter at 36 weeks gestation and up until then my midwife didn’t have that talk about feeding with me yet. Although I managed to feed her for 33 months it wasn’t without a lot of struggle and tears. And neither I was informed about colostrum harvesting. I ended up doing a breastfeeding supper worker course to help other mums like me and I honestly felt that everything I was taught then should be taught to pregnant mums who intend to breastfeed. Thank you so much for sharing such a valuable and informative post!

  7. I didn’t even know about this until after I had my first boy! The midwives helped me hand express some colostrum for both boys as my eldest had a really bad latch and my youngest was a bit sleepy so they tried to sneaky feed him while he slept, haha! It’s good knowledge to have, great idea of yours to share it!

    Hope that you are having a wonderful weekend 🙂 We are enjoying our long weekend. A beach day, playdate, carnival and a lot of time in the playground!

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