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Expressing Antenatal Colostrum

Antenatal-Expressing_MAMA LINC

Did you know that you might be able start expressing antenatal colostrum before your baby is even born?

Using the hand expressing technique, mamas can ‘harvest’ their nutrient-dense antenatal colostrum from 36 weeks. This can be frozen and later defrosted to give to your baby once they are earth-side.

Why would I want to express antenatal colostrum?

Having colostrum on hand can be incredibly useful for any family in those first days after baby is born. However, there are some particular circumstances where it can be extremely helpful or recommended for mamas to antenatally express.

These situations may include:

  • If you have gestational diabetes
  • If you and baby are separated after birth
  • If pregnancy ultrasounds have detected baby has a cleft palate or lip
  • If your baby has been diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction
  • If your baby has been diagnosed with congenital conditions such as down syndrome or heart issues.
  • You’re carrying multiples
  • You’ve had previous breast surgery
  • You have breast hypoplasia, which is when your breasts did not grow during puberty

Having frozen colostrum can be really beneficial for babies in these situations as it can reduce the need for supplemental formula early on.

I often recommend antenatal expressing to mamas because it really can help bring in your transitional milk faster, as well as getting you comfortable with your breasts and giving you the confidence of knowing that you do have milk! Hand expressing is also an incredibly valuable too.

Is it safe to try expressing antenatal colostrum?

In a normal, healthy pregnancy, it’s generally considered safe to antenatally express in the final weeks of your pregnancy (starting at 36/37 weeks). However, it’s important to be aware that nipple stimulation and expression does have the potential for causing uterine contractions. This is why it’s important not to express too early and to seek approval from your medical provider.

There are some situations where it may not be safe for you to experience contractions or go into labour. These conditions include placenta previa, placental abruption, multiple previous caesareans, potential fetal compromise, a history of antepartum haemorrhage or any other serious obstetric problems or diagnoses. For this reason, it’s vital that you seek the approval of your midwife or Dr before you commence antenatal expressing, just to make sure it’s safe for you and your baby.

How do you express antenatally?

It’s recommended that you use the hand expressing technique, rather than a pump. This is because colostrum is really thick and sticky and tends to just get stuck (and wasted) on pump parts. The amount you will get is also really tiny – we’re talking droplets – and colostrum is liquid gold, so we want to make sure we are saving every little bit.

To hand express: you need to form a C-shape with your thumb and fingers around 2-3cm away from your nipple. Press back towards your chest and then compress your thumb and your fingers before releasing. You may spot a drop or two of colostrum appearing on your nipple.

Expert tip: try hand expressing while in the shower where it is warm and you are relaxed.

If you see droplets on your nipple, you can either collect them on a sterile spoon to put in a syringe shortly, or you can use a sterile syringe to suction the droplets directly off your breast. These syringes can then be frozen and saved for giving to your baby after birth (more on storage below).

For each session of hand expressing, you’ll only need to go for a few minutes – even if you don’t get any. Keep trying once a day and see how you go. Some mamas don’t get any. For others it takes a few sessions before they are able to see droplets. It’s all perfectly normal. I also need to emphasise that how much colostrum you are are/are not able to express antenatally has absolutely no bearing on your postpartum breast milk supply. It is completely OK if you cannot express any colostrum antenatally.

How to hand express your antenatal colostrum 

How to store antenatal colostrum

Every country has their own breast milk storage guidelines, so I recommend double checking with your provider, but generally speaking:

Always put a cap on the syringe and label the syringe with the date, time and your name.

Colostrum can be frozen straight away, or kept in the fridge for 24 hours prior.

You can store syringes in a labelled zip lock bag or container in the freezer.

When you need to take it to hospital, place the container/zip lock bags into a cooler/esky and let hospital staff know you have it on hand. They will be able to direct you where it can be stored in a freezer until you need it.

Pregnant Mamas make sure you check out our FREE Prenatal class that 8 out of 10 new mothers say they wish they took before birth to ease their stress and worries. You can even watch it at your own pace from the comforts of your own home! Sign up here.

It’s important to note antenatal expressing should be discussed with a healthcare provider to ensure safety and suitability for individual circumstances. This blog is general education only. For any personal based advice regarding you or your baby please seek advice from your own healthcare professional. 

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