Colostrum is considered “liquid gold” for newborn babies because it provides the necessary nutrients, proteins, and bioactive compounds to give them a jumpstart in life and help them through their growth and development.
If you’re a mom or a mom-to-be, this article will guide you through the dos and don’ts of colostrum harvesting, answer commonly-asked questions, and how to make the most out of your pregnancy.
- What is Colostrum Harvesting?
- Understanding Colostrum
- The Process of Colostrum Harvesting
- Tips for Successful Colostrum Harvesting
- Colostrum Harvesting for High-Risk Pregnancies
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some key points:
1. Colostrum harvesting is typically done after reaching 37 full weeks of pregnancy. It can be beneficial if you have certain medical conditions or circumstances, such as diabetes, expecting multiples (twins or triplets), limited breast development (breast hypoplasia), or if you’re taking beta blockers to control high blood pressure.
2. The process can activate the milk ducts and make colostrum more readily available, which might make it easier to nurse when the time comes.
3. Colostrum harvesting produces oxytocin, the hormone that produces contractions in labor. However, it’s generally not thought that colostrum harvesting alone would start labor.
4. Women who are most likely to benefit from harvesting colostrum are those who know their baby is at an increased risk of having low blood sugar in the first few hours after birth. If the baby struggles to feed, women may be encouraged to supplement breastfeeding with formula. Having a store of breastmilk can be beneficial in such cases.
*Remember, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider or lactation consultant before starting colostrum harvesting.
What is Colostrum Harvesting?
Colostrum is the “pre-milk” released by the mammary glands after giving birth and is the first form of breast milk babies get through breastfeeding. All mammals produce colostrum just before giving birth and it’s especially rich in bioactive compounds and nutrients like vitamins A, C, and K, magnesium, and beta-carotene that will greatly benefit newborn babies. These compounds also give colostrum its yellowish color and hue.
Colostrum is the first phase of breast milk, which then develops and changes days after childbirth:
- Colostrum – Colostrum changes to transitional breast milk a few days after childbirth, but small amounts of it remain in breast milk for a few weeks.
- Transitional breast milk – Transitional milk appears 2-5 days after the delivery and remains that way until up to 2 weeks after. Here, the milk starts to have a bluish-white color.
- Mature breast milk – About 10-15 days after childbirth, breast milk matures further. 90% of the milk is composed of water, while the remaining 10% is made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats essential for the infant’s growth and development.
Key Components & Benefits of Colostrum
Colostrum is rich in proteins and nutrients that benefit infant growth and development that make it highly concentrated and nutrient-dense, which means it’s highly effective even in small doses.
Colostrum is composed of the following:
- Immunoglobulins – Immunoglobulins or antibodies are glycoprotein molecules produced by plasma cells (white blood cells) and used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects like germs, viruses, and bacteria.
- Leukocytes – Leukocytes, also known as white blood cells, help protect the body from infections and dangerous cells. They produce antibodies that circulate through the bloodstream and eliminate bacteria.
- Lactoferrin – Lactoferrin is a protein found in human/animal milk and other bodily fluids that helps regulate how well the body absorbs iron from the intestine. It supports the overall immune health and response and has immune-modulatory effects, which produce an antiviral response to cope with immune stressors.
- Lysozyme – Lysozyme is a protein present in bodily secretions like tears, saliva, mucus, and in tissues of animals and plants. It plays an important role in the immune system, providing protection against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Growth factors – Growth factors are naturally occurring proteins responsible for bodily processes like wound recovery, muscle synthesis, skin elasticity, and cell regeneration.
In terms of nutrient content, colostrum has twice as much protein and quadruple zinc compared to developed breast milk and is lower in fat and sugar, making it easier to digest.
The Process of Colostrum Harvesting
Once a woman becomes pregnant, her body starts to produce colostrum around the 12th to the 18th week of gestation. Then upon childbirth, mothers produce about a tablespoon to an ounce’s worth of colostrum in a day.
One way to know if your baby is getting colostrum is if they’re maintaining their weight and consistently wetting diapers.
Monitoring Colostrum Production
Monitoring your colostrum production can help you identify any potential issues early on.
One way to check your colostrum is by squeezing them. You can try this method when you reach full-term pregnancy at 37 weeks:
How To Extract Colostrum
If you’re new to extracting colostrum, you can perform the following steps:
- Hold your breasts with your hands in a “C” formation. Your thumb should be above the nipple, the index finger under it, and the rest of the fingers under the breast.
- Gently squeeze the areola and nipple with your thumb and index finger. The colostrum should flow within minutes.
- If colostrum doesn’t come out, you can move your fingers to another spot to determine. Always apply with firm and gentle pressure.
- Repeat the process for your second breast.
- Repeat the procedure as necessary and in a pattern.
You can start to extract from the 37th week of your pregnancy for no more than 3-5 minutes at a time and from 2-3 times daily.
Colostrum Storage & Labeling
Store the colostrum in a sterile syringe. You can also use a sterile container first and then draw it up into a syringe. The syringe needs to be labeled with your name, the date, and the time you expressed.
You can store the colostrum in the fridge at a temperature of 2-4°C, and let it stay there for up to 48 hours. After 48 hours, you should store all the syringes in a clean zip-lock bag and place it in a freezer at a temperature of -18°C.
Tips for Successful Colostrum Harvesting
Hand-expressing colostrum simply means gently squeezing milk out of your breast. If you’re new to drawing out colostrum, here are some tips that might help:
- Start by getting comfortable. Find your best position and make sure that you are as relaxed as possible.
- Having a hot shower or a bath before expressing can help warm your breast tissue to stimulate the flow of colostrum. You can also use a warm cloth and apply it to your breasts and gently massage them before expressing.
- Always be gentle when expressing yourself to avoid hurting your breasts.
- Since the first milk (colostrum) is very concentrated, it is thicker and will come out of your breast drop by drop, so don’t worry if it seems hard to draw them out.
- If the milk doesn’t flow, try moving your fingers slightly toward the nipple or further away to find the spot that works best for you.
- When the flow starts to slow down, move your fingers around the breast to stimulate further flowing.
In some cases, women may feel their tummy going hard and relaxing while expressing colostrum. These sensations are called Braxton Hicks contractions, otherwise known as prodromal or false labor pains, which are uterus contractions that typically are not felt until the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. It’s the body’s way of preparing for labor, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that labor has begun.
Instances like these are rare, but if this happens, you should stop and rest for a while. If problems persist, it’s important to seek immediate help from your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant.
Taking Your Colostrum To The Hospital
When the delivery comes, have your (labeled) frozen syringes put into a re-sealable food bag and placed inside a container with ice (or a cold compress), and brought with you to the hospital.
Advise your midwife or any of the attending hospital staff that you have colostrum with you when you arrive to have it stored in the hospital fridge or freezer so that you can have them ready once you’ve given birth.
Colostrum Harvesting for High-Risk Pregnancies
According to the NHS, colostrum harvesting may be particularly beneficial for a mother and her baby if they:
- Are expecting twins or triplets
- Plan to give birth by cesarean section
- Have a high BMI (body mass index)
- Have breast hypoplasia (limited breast development)
- Have diabetes of any type
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome
- Are currently taking beta blockers (for blood pressure management)
- Had previous breast surgery
In addition, antenatal harvesting is beneficial for the unborn baby if they have been found to have conditions like a cleft palate or Down syndrome or if they are too small for gestational age.
Women whose pregnancies are classified as high risk may be advised not to harvest their colostrum, especially if they:
- Currently have cervical stitches
- Have experienced threatened or actual premature labor in the past
- Are experiencing contractions, vaginal bleeding, and/or have had your water breaking early during this pregnancy
If you’re categorized as having a high-risk pregnancy, consult your healthcare provider regarding the safety or possibility of colostrum harvesting and follow their prescriptions for safe and healthy childbearing.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is colostrum harvesting safe?
Yes, it’s usually safe to squeeze out colostrum once you reach full-term pregnancy (which is about 37 weeks). It’s particularly beneficial if the babies are likely to have problems with feeding or maintaining their blood sugar levels during the first few days after birth. Women having high-risk pregnancies, however, might be advised to avoid doing this.
Consult with your healthcare provider first if you wish to do this before your baby is born.
Can I harvest colostrum if I’m leaking during pregnancy?
Leaking during pregnancy is normal. If your nipples are leaking, the substance is usually colostrum, so it’s recommended to save and store them properly and have them ready in the event of childbirth.
Can I use a breast pump to get colostrum?
Pumping colostrum with a breast pump can be difficult given its thick consistency. Most lactation experts just prescribe manually expressing colostrum.
How much colostrum should I collect?
Once pregnant, the expectant’s body starts to produce colostrum within 12 to 18 weeks of gestation. Upon childbirth, mothers produce about a tablespoon to an ounce’s worth of colostrum within a day of the delivery.
Can I continue to harvest colostrum after giving birth?
Women continue to produce colostrum for the first 2 to 5 days after their baby is born. As the days go by, the colostrum gradually develops into transitional breast milk and mature breast milk.
- Colostrum is the first form of breast milk that newborns will get through breastfeeding. It’s rich in bioactive compounds that will benefit newborn babies in their growth and development.
- Harvesting colostrum is beneficial for both mother and baby.
- Pregnant women can start to extract colostrum from the 37th week of their pregnancy.
- The collected colostrum should be stored in a freezer in syringes to have them ready once the mother delivers her baby.
- Women having high-risk pregnancies (among other factors) are discouraged from harvesting their colostrum to prevent problems.
Pregnancy can be a rough road to the miracle of childbirth, and one of the best things to prepare for is harvesting and storing your colostrum to help nourish your newborn to help them grow and develop well.
However, collecting colostrum doesn’t always go smoothly and may come with setbacks, and some women might not be advised to do so. Always consult your trusted lactation expert, obstetrician, or trusted healthcare provider to guide you on how to carry out your pregnancy safely and healthily.