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Collecting Colostrum Before Your Birth

Have You Heard About Collecting Colostrum Before Birth?

First, what is colostrum anyway? Colostrum is the first form of milk that the body makes for a new baby. Production happens throughout the second half of pregnancy, ready to rock when baby arrives. It’s full of sugar, antibodies, protein….the optimal first food. Stable blood sugar levels are vital in the hours and days after birth, which is one of the reasons newborns feed so frequently.

Collecting colostrum before birth isn’t necessary for most babies. It can be helpful, though, if there are any anticipated reasons why baby might have some trouble feeding and/or regulating their blood sugars in the critical first few days. Here are some examples:

✨Maternal conditions: endocrine disorders such as diabetes or PCOS *can* (but do not always) affect the development of breast tissue and the hormone that influence milk supply. Another example is if there is a known issue of flat or inverted nipples (again, this isn’t always a challenge but it can be)

✨In baby: known anatomy issues such as cleft lip/palate, some genetic conditions, or another anticipated reason why baby will need to be in special care/NICU and away from the breast

✨Especially small and especially large babies have a harder time regulating their sugars, so if you know your baby will be born pre-term or that they’re estimated to be small/large-for-dates, this isn’t a bad idea.

*Please do talk with your health care provider before collecting colostrum. There is a chance that stimulating the breasts this way could cause uterine contractions, so typically this is left to the last couple weeks before birth and there are some cases when harvesting colostrum is not recommended.*

How to Collect Colostrum

It’s usually best to hand express colostrum into a spoon or medicine cup, then draw it into a syringe. A pump is not appropriate here, as the colostrum comes out in such small quantities and it’s thick and sticky. I purchased syringes from Origins Pharmacy in the Oakville Hospital (their other locations would probably have them too), and I’ve seen lots online. 1 mL, 3 mL or 5 mL syringes are good (these are 3 mL). Have ready a sterilized spoon/cup, and of course wash your hands.

Start by applying a warm compress (see my rice bag-in-bra technique 😃), then some gentle massage (first video). This helps to get things flowing.

A warm compress on the chest before collecting colostrum can stimulate flow

To hand express, use a C-shaped hand on the breast tissue (not the nipple/areola). Gently press back into the chest, compress a little, then release forward. Repeat several times, emphasis on gentle until you figure out how much pressure you need. Since there are multiple ducts all around the breast, you can change the angle throughout.

The colostrum will likely come out in drops, but once you get your bearings and after a few sessions, it might increase to a slow flow. Try a few minutes on each side, maybe a couple times on each side in one sitting, once a day. Even if it takes you a couple days to fill a syringe, this is okay!

3 mL of liquid gold, ready to freeze

Once you’ve filled a syringe, you can store it in the freezer in a sealed bag or container. Bring this to the hospital when you’re in labour (it should be kept frozen until used), and if/when it’s needed you can thaw under warm running water and use within several hours.