What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first milk your breasts produce. It’s known as liquid gold as it’s thick and yellow in colour and very rich in nutrients. You will produce colostrum before your baby is born and for the first few days after birth.

Colostrum is packed with nutrients and antibodies that nourish your baby and protect from illness. Breastfeeding soon after birth gives your baby all the colostrum they need.

It’s full of nutrients as well as molecules that support your baby’s developing immune response. A newborn’s tummy is tiny so your baby will tend to feed little and often in their first few days.

Colostrum also helps your baby to poo frequently and get rid of all the meconium, the thick black poo, in your baby’s gut that has built up during their time in the womb.

Should I collect colostrum before my baby is born?

If you’re having a healthy, straightforward pregnancy, there’s no reason to start expressing colostrum before you give birth unless you want to. Expressing colostrum before birth, also known as harvesting, means it can be stored as a back-up, in case your newborn baby needs it.

Your midwife or doctor may recommend you antenatally express colostrum if your baby:

  • has a cleft lip or palate that makes breastfeeding difficult
  • has a congenital condition such as a heart condition or Down’s syndrome
  • is small for their gestational age.

It may also be recommended if you:

  • have gestational diabetes or a history of diabetes before pregnancy
  • take beta blockers
  • have had breast surgery in the past
  • are having twins or triplets as they are more likely to be born early and have a low birth weight.

Colostrum is usually collected and stored in labelled small syringes and frozen until it’s needed. Make sure any caps are removed before giving your baby the colostrum from the syringe due to the risk of choking.

If your pregnancy is straightforward, you can start expressing colostrum from around 36 weeks, provided you get the ok from your midwife or consultant first. Keep in mind that when you express, it stimulates your nipples. Nipple stimulation encourages your body to produce oxytocin, the hormone that helps to kick start labour. In late pregnancy, there’s a very small chance that nipple stimulation could cause contractions. If you feel any tweaks, stop expressing.

Collecting colostrum gives you experience of hand expressing and help increase your confidence about breastfeeding before your baby is born. That’s why some hospital trusts may encourage you to try collecting colostrum even if none of the reasons listed above are relevant to you or your pregnancy.

If you don’t manage to collect much or any colostrum, there’s no need to worry. Not being able to express colostrum doesn’t mean there’s an issue with your milk supply. Keep trying, speak to your midwife and visit LLL’s page for more information and tips on how to hand express colostrum.

This short film created by the Infant Feeding Midwives at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital has information and a practical demonstration for colostrum collection in pregnancy.

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