Colostrum harvesting: Your guide to expressing your milk before baby arrives


by Bryony Firth-Bernard |

Colostrum is the milk your body first produces during pregnancy. “It’s a thick, sticky substance, affectionately referred to as ‘liquid gold’ due to its golden yellow colour,” says Leila Thabet, co-founder at Naytal, an online clinic that offers pregnancy and postnatal services for women.

Colostrum is a great source of nutrition for your baby, and some women will collect their colostrum before giving birth, otherwise known as ‘colostrum harvesting’. Some pregnant women may do this if they know their baby is going to have trouble feeding, while others simply want to become more confident at hand expressing their breast milk.

If you're keen to learn more about colostrum harvesting and give it a go, we've answered all your questions, from the advantages of harvesting to exactly how to do it.

What are the pros and cons of colostrum harvesting?

“Many pregnant women harvest their colostrum to store up breast milk and to practice breastfeeding before their little one is born,” says Leila. “It is also beneficial for women having multiple babies (and more mouths to feed!) or whose milk might be delayed following a planned c-section.”

Other reasons pregnant women may harvest colostrum is if their baby include:

• Baby going to be large or small for their gestational age

• If baby has a cleft lip or palate

• If baby has Down’s syndrome or a heart condition

“For women with high blood pressure or diabetes, colostrum can also help their babies to maintain their blood sugar levels,” says Leila.

“Colostrum is full of positive bacteria that helps your newborn to adjust to the world. Various nutrients and antibodies in the milk help to pass on your immunity to your baby, kickstarting their immune system. Its laxative qualities even help them to pass their first meconium poo.”

According to the NHS, there is no evidence that hand expression of colostrum can trigger labour for
women who are not known to be at risk of premature labour.

However, if you do experience any uterine contractions while you're expressing, you should stop. If these
continue, contact your midwives.

When can women start harvesting their colostrum?

Colostrum harvesting should start from when you are 36 to 37 weeks pregnant. “Although some women may notice their breasts leak colostrum as early as week 16 of their pregnancy,” says Leila.

You can do this by hand expressing for a few minutes once a day and gradually build up to doing it for five to 10 minutes. Once your baby is born, you can harvest your colostrum the same you would express your breast milk, using a breast pump.

Does colostrum harvesting hurt?

“Some women may find the process of colostrum harvesting tender, however, it should not hurt,” says Leila.

“If hand expressing does cause soreness, you should try changing the pressure or position of your fingers. You can also get expert help from a Lactation Consultant who can help guide you through the best practice of colostrum harvesting.”

How do you harvest colostrum?

Leila says one of the most important things to remember is to be patient and gentle with yourself. Harvesting your colostrum is a new skill and it will get easier with time.

“I recommend practising in the shower or bath so that you are in a warm, relaxed environment,” says Leila.

To hand express colostrum follow Leila's steps below:

• Before you start, wash your hands and apply a warm compress to your breast.

• Make sure you are comfortable (leaning slightly forward whilst seated is common) and then gently massage your breast, stroking towards the nipple.

• Cup your breast in a C shape with your thumb above the nipple and the first few fingers below. Then start to compress and release in a repetitive, rhythmic process.

• Use a sterilised 1ml syringe to draw up the colostrum from a teaspoon or from your nipple.

• It should then be stored the same as breastmilk: up to 8 days in a fridge at 4 degrees or lower or up to 6 months in the freezer.

• You may only express a few drops of colostrum or a full teaspoon, so don’t be disheartened if you feel you haven’t expressed a lot, colostrum is extremely concentrated so every drop counts.

• Always discuss colostrum harvesting with your midwife before you do it.

How to transport your frozen colostrum

You can take your frozen syringes of colostrum with you to the hospital in a freezer bag containing a freezer block or ice pack. It can then be defrosted under warm running water or at room temperature for when you need it.

Make sure you let your midwives know if you're planning to do this ahead of labour so they're aware on the day, as they may also be able to provide you with freezer storage at the hospital.

Can colostrum harvesting bring on labour?

This is a common myth says Leila: “Research shows that hand expressing colostrum is highly unlikely to induce labour. If it was that easy, we wouldn’t need to induce so many pregnancies!”

What are colostrum harvesting kits?

These are kits you can buy that contain the items you need to harvest your colostrum.

“Most colostrum harvesting kits consist of multiple syringes and caps, cloths and a user guide,” says Leila. “Some also come with a storage bag or cup.”

However, your midwife will be able to provide you with syringes.

My Expert Midwife Colostrum Harvesting Kit

MEM colostrum harvesting kit

View offer

This kit contains 5 sterile syringes and caps, 5 freezable labels, 2 MORI bonding cloths, no harm nipple balm sample and a full guide to colostrum harvesting.

Meet the expert: Leila Thabet, co-founder at Naytal. Naytal is an online clinic for women, providing affordable, one-to-one support for your pregnancy and postnatal needs. You can book a virtual appointment at a time that suits you with their team of female health specialists including breastfeeding experts, private midwives and pelvic floor physiotherapists. Head to Naytal.uk to find out more.

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