Collecting colostrum is sometimes termed colostrum harvesting. This is when you hand express colostrum before your baby is born. In a survey in 2016 (by Gestational Diabetes UK), a whooping 77% were not happy with the information and support giving around colostrum harvesting at their hospital. This is one of the reasons why I talked about it over on my Instagram and gave a Masterclass on it to my pregnancy yoga students.
So why would some women want to do this? Why do doctors and midwives support this or even encourage it? Read on to find out.
What is Colostrum?
Did you know that your body starts making colostrum from when you are around 16-20 weeks pregnant?! How amazing is that!
Colostrum is fantastic stuff and we refer to it as liquid gold – it is that valuable because it comes in small quantities but packs a punch in terms of goodness! It is high in vitamins, minerals and proteins. It is very much needed by your baby in his first few days of life outside the uterus. It helps to kickstart his immune system, among other benefits.
I started experimenting with hand expression when I was about 24 weeks pregnant. I managed to get a few drops which I found really cool. Then last weekend at 35 weeks, I tried again and managed to collect 0.4mls of colostrum!
Benefits of Colostrum for your newborn’s health?
This liquid gold is important for the optimal physiological adaption of your baby to the outside world. It helps by:
- aiding the passage of meconium through your baby’s gut – ie. works as a laxative
- has plenty of vitamins, minerals and salts to prevent dehydration
- getting rid of physiological jaundice faster
- developing your baby’s gastrointestinal system
- protecting your newborn’s gut from bacteria, viruses and other harmful organisms
- kickstarting your baby’s immune system
Why you want to collect it before giving birth?
Some women decide to collect colostrum before giving birth and healthcare professionals advocate for this especially if you have some special circumstances such as diabetes.
Collecting Colostrum when you have diabetes
When you have diabetes (gestational diabetes or diabetes mellitus), it means your body can’t regulate your blood sugar level as efficiently as it should. This can lead you to have high blood sugar level (hyperglycaemia). If you have gestational diabetes you are keeping the level regulated via your diet or perhaps some medication. Your baby will have been overproducing insulin to combat the high blood sugar levels experienced during pregnancy.
Once your baby is born and no longer attached to your blood circulation via the placenta, he may still overproduce insulin and therefore, is susceptible to suffer from neonatal hypoglycaemia.
By having some expressed colostrum at hand, you can easily remedy your baby suffering from a hypoglycaemia episode. Colostrum is the best way to increase your baby’s blood sugar levels. These babies need to be fed as frequently as possible. Even if you are breastfeeding, your baby may need a top up in between feeds. Having colostrum at hand minimises the pressure on you to feed, especially when you are tired and recovering from the birth, or if baby is having difficulty in latching.
So, can formula milk not do the same thing? Formula milk also raises blood sugar levels but research shows that colostrum has a better effect on raising blood sugar levels than formula.
Babies from diabetic mums can be very sleepy and may also struggle to wake for feeds or feed effectively. Some babies may feed well from the breast but still require additional feeds on top of regular breast feeds to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Other reasons why you may want to collect colostrum
- Planned C-section or Induction of Labour – in case you are separated from your baby for longer than expected. Sometimes you will feel nauseous or are very shaky from the c-section medicines, or you are just plain exhausted!
- Medical conditions which means that it is more difficult for you and your baby to establish feeding, perhaps difficulty in latching.
- if your baby goes to Special Care Baby Unit.
- It avoids the need to give formula
- Just in case you end up in an unplanned c-section and are not able to feed right away. Or in the rare case you may under general anaesthetic and take a while to come around. The baby’s father can feed your baby colostrum to tide it over until you feel better.
In the absence of the above special circumstances. Knowing how to hand express and collect colostrum means that you will be:
👉🏼 familiar with your breasts, and how they work will give you confidence for after the birth.
👉🏼know how to deal with engorgement and mastitis
Many women who are experienced breastfeeding mums do not understand the need for expressing colostrum before birth. Each and every baby can be very different. Each may have different complications such as issues with latching and/or tongue tie, preventing them from breastfeeding easily. Having some colostrum to hand may relieve some of the pressure to be able to breastfeed.
When to start collecting colostrum?
You can start collecting colostrum from 36 weeks onwards. You can try hand expressing technique earlier but only properly start to harvest from 36 weeks.
The main reason is you don’t want to induce early labour whilst your baby is still premature (below 37 weeks). So, if you start feeling any cramping sensations, you need to stop.
In saying that, I know some women who are leaking colostrum earlier than 36 weeks! So, in that case you have 2 options. Either, you can put on breast pads to protect your clothes and keep them dry. Or you can collect the colostrum using milk collection shells.
Equipment you will need to collect and store colostrum
- Sterile 1ml syringes (get a pack of 10 such as these from Amazon)
- ziplock bag (to store the syringes in your freezer)
To find out how to hand express to collect the colostrum – sign up to my newsletter and get access to my Facebook group to catch the replay of the Masterclass – All About Colostrum!