Tips on How to Express Colostrum

Article By
Sonni-Ann
Published On
28 Jun, 2022
Read Time
4 minutes

If you're a new parent, you may be wondering about the importance of colostrum for your baby.

Colostrum supports a baby's immune system, protects against infections, and promotes healthy development. Let's explore the benefits of colostrum and discover how best to collect it.

What is colostrum and why is it important?

During the later stages of pregnancy, you start to produce breast milk. The exact time when this happens varies from one person to the next.

Colostrum is the first milk that you produce after giving birth. It's thick and sticky in consistency, usually yellow, clear, or milky-coloured, and rich in antibodies and nutrients that are essential for a newborn's health. Giving it to your newborn baby supports their immune system and development, and can help you establish a good breastfeeding routine from birth and beyond. 

Colostrum is highly concentrated and produced in small amounts. Even just a small portion of your colostrum will be beneficial nutritionally for your baby, as their stomach is only the size of a marble when they're born.

A step-by-step guide on how to express colostrum

  1. Before you start antenatal expressing, you should make sure your hands are clean, and you will need sterilised oral syringes and a larger sterilised container.
  2. First things first, get comfy.
  3. Then, firmly but slowly massage your breast from the top, moving down to your nipple.
  4. After a few minutes of massaging, cup one of your breasts with your hand. Place four fingers under your breast and the thumb on top to make a 'C' shape around the nipple.
  5. Use your thumb and index finger to stroke and squeeze your breast around the nipple to express the colostrum. Do this gently and don't carry on if it's painful.
  6. Once you can see colostrum gathering drop by drop at the end of your nipple, collect it using a sterilised syringe. If needed, you can decant it into a larger sterile container.
  7. When the flow of colostrum slows down, move your hand around and express from a different section of your breast.
  8. Then repeat on your other breast.

What are the benefits of expressing colostrum?

Antenatal hand expression of colostrum can help you feel more prepared for breastfeeding and means you have some nutrient-rich milk ready to give to your baby when they're born.

It's a great step for anyone who's pregnant, but it's particularly recommended for those who:

  • are diabetic or have developed diabetes during pregnancy
  • take beta blockers
  • have developed pre-eclampsia during pregnancy
  • have breast hypoplasia or have had breast surgery
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • have a raised BMI
  • are expecting twins
  • are planning a caesarean section delivery.

It can also help if your baby's likely to experience issues with their blood sugar levels or may struggle to feed after birth because they:

  • are larger or smaller in size than expected for their gestational age
  • are a multiple
  • have a cleft palate or lip
  • have Down's syndrome
  • have a heart condition.

Who shouldn't express colostrum

You may be told to avoid collecting your colostrum if you:

  • have had a premature labour previously
  • experienced contractions, vaginal bleeding, and/or premature breaking of your water during your pregnancy
  • needed cervical stitches.

How much colostrum should I express before birth?

You can collect colostrum by hand when you're pregnant. You should only use your hands for expressing during pregnancy and it's recommended that you don't use a breast pump to express breast milk until after your baby has been born.

Before you begin to hand express and collect colostrum, be sure to speak to your midwife or a healthcare professional first. They can help make sure it's right for you and your baby and can answer any questions you have.

When you feel ready to get started, you can hand express for a few minutes once a day from the 36th or 37th week of your pregnancy. Over time, you can increase this until you're spending between five to 10 minutes a time gently expressing up to five times a day. You can then express as regularly as needed in the first few days after your baby arrives.

When and how to store colostrum before birth

Once collected, your colostrum syringes can be dated, labelled, and stored in your freezer, ready to give to your baby once they arrive.

You can store your expressed colostrum syringes at the back of the fridge between 2°C and 4°C for up to 24 hours before you freeze it. It will last for up to 24 hours if kept in a cool bag with ice packs - when you're transporting to hospital, for example.

When you label your syringes, be sure to include:

  • your name
  • the date and time the colostrum was expressed.

Taking your colostrum to the hospital

To bring your expressed colostrum into the hospital when you have your baby, you will need:

  • re-sealable bags
  • a small cool bag
  • a bag of crushed ice or some ice blocks.

When you're going to the hospital to give birth, you can place some of your frozen colostrum syringes in a re-sealable bag and put it inside a cool bag between a bag of crushed ice or some ice blocks.

Tell your midwife that you have colostrum with you when you arrive at the hospital. They will label it and store it in the fridge or freezer at the hospital for you.

Feeding colostrum to your newborn

Once they're born, some newborns struggle to breastfeed at first, and others are unable to maintain their blood sugar levels. In these situations, your expressed colostrum is the perfect first food for your baby.

Before you feed your baby, the syringe needs to be brought to room temperature. To do this, you can place the bag with the syringe fully into warm water. Your midwife will demonstrate how to use a small cup or syringe to feed it to your baby.

Having a small feed with colostrum helps give your newborn a boost in energy and blood sugar levels. It can also help to encourage them to breastfeed.

How long should I express colostrum for?

You should aim to hand-express colostrum twice a day from the 36th or 37th week of your pregnancy, for no more than 10 minutes per breast. If you're unsure, it's best to consult with a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider for personalised guidance.

Yes, it's possible to collect colostrum by hand from 36 weeks of pregnancy and you can express it up to three times daily. If you're expecting twins, you can start colostrum collection from 32 weeks of pregnancy.

Some people find that warmth helps them express colostrum, so try massaging your boobs with a warm flannel and expressing in the shower or bath. Overall, it's important to remember that any amount of colostrum will be beneficial to your baby. The amount produced varies greatly from one person to the next, so be patient with yourself.

Follow these simple steps to collect colostrum with a syringe:

  1. Thoroughly clean your hands first.
  2. Gently massage your breast to stimulate milk flow and express a few drops of colostrum.
  3. Sterilise the syringe and remove its plunger.
  4. Place the syringe at the base of your nipple and slowly pull back on the plunger to collect the colostrum.
  5. Label the syringe with the date and time of collection before storing it in the fridge or freezer.