What is Colostrum and How to Collect it

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Published On
28 Jun, 2022
Read Time
4 minutes

When you're pregnant, you can collect colostrum by hand expressing, then use it to feed your newborn baby.

This guide is here to tell you everything you need to know about colostrum, including what it is, and how to collect, store and transport it.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first breast milk your body makes. It's thick and sticky in consistency, and usually yellow, clear, or milky colored. It's high in calories, full of antibodies, and packed with stem cells. This supports your baby's 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.

Why is it important to collect 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 is 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 cesarean 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.

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

  1. Before you start expressing, you should make sure your hands are clean. You will need sterilized oral syringes and a larger sterilized container.
  2. First things first, get comfy. Warmth can help, so try massaging your boobs with a warm flannel and expressing in the bath or shower.
  3. Then, firmly but slowly massage your breast from the top down towards 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 sterilized 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.

When should I start to collect colostrum milk?

The best time to start collecting colostrum is between 36 and 37 weeks of pregnancy.

How much colostrum should I express?

How much colostrum you collect in an expressing session can vary from just a few drops to a teaspoon full. Don't compare yourself to others and remember that every drop counts!

Remember that colostrum is a very concentrated food and newborn babies only need a small amount per feed - about a teaspoonful.

How and where to store your colostrum

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 refrigerator between 35°F and 39°F for up to 24 hours before you freeze it. It'll 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.

Tips for taking colostrum to the hospital

To bring your expressed colostrum into the hospital when you have your baby, you'll 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.

How to feed your baby colostrum

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 do you collect colostrum before birth?

You should only use your hands for expressing during pregnancy and it's recommended that you don't use a breast pump to express breastmilk 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.

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. Sterilize 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.

It's important to note that colostrum harvesting produces oxytocin (the hormone that produces contractions in labor). On rare occasions, it can also stimulate Braxton Hicks contractions. Don't worry though, it's very unlikely that collecting your colostrum will trigger labor.

If you experience mild labor contractions or cramps comparable to period pain, it's recommended that you stop collecting colostrum. Take some time to rest before trying again. If contractions continue while you're collecting colostrum, you should seek medical advice and wait until you're closer to your due date before you resume.

Gentle massage, applying a warm compress, or expressing after a warm bath or shower can encourage your colostrum to flow.