As a pregnant person, you are probably full of anxiety. So many what ifs are floating through your head. Will the baby be okay? Will the birth and pregnancy be straightforward? Will my body be able to produce enough milk?
If you have diabetes or are concerned about milk production, collecting your colostrum may be something to talk to your doctors about.
Here’s our overview of colostrum harvesting and what it entails:
To put it in scientific terms, the colostrum is the first form of milk produced from a mammary gland after giving birth. It is nutrient dense and helps build up the baby’s immune system before the colostrum develops into mature milk. Some purposes of colostrum include:
Visually, colostrum is a thick milk that is often golden in color. It is sticky and much thicker than cow’s milk or mature breast milk. Because of its yellow color and nutritional makeup, it is occasionally referred to as liquid gold.
During pregnancy, the body can start producing colostrum as soon as 12-18 weeks. It may leak out of the breast starting in the second semester, but unless advised otherwise, it’s not recommended to pinch out the colostrum, as it could lead to premature labor.
After delivery, the placenta is removed from the body. This sends a signal to your breasts to start producing milk, instead of the liquid gold. Typically, the body will only produce colostrum consistently for 2-5 days after birth. Afterwards, it develops into transitional milk, and eventually the breast milk we usually think of.
Colostrum is essential to a baby’s growth and because of its highly concentrated nutrients, newborns need very little to reap its benefits. Pregnant people may choose to harvest their colostrum before or after birth to always have an option to feed their newborns.
The process of collecting your colostrum is not far from the process of collecting breast milk. Starting as early as 37 weeks pregnant, you can start harvesting colostrum once per day. After birth, you can collect colostrum as often as needed.
Here is the general process of harvesting colostrum:
So, all of that makes sense. But why would I collect colostrum while pregnant when my body produces it after the birth? There are a few reasons why people may harvest their colostrum during pregnancy.
Many newborns struggle to adjust to breastmilk or cannot breastfeed well initially. Having a stash of colostrum ensures that the newborn can still get the nutrients they need. Colostrum can be frozen as well, so it won’t go bad.
Not to mention, sometimes the mother is (unfortunately) separated from the baby. This could be due to emergency health flares or an adoption situation. A stash may be helpful to ensure the infant will have food to eat, even if away from the mother.
Other times, you may still be joined with the baby, but they need extra nutrients. If the baby has low blood sugar or body weight, a heart condition, or Down syndrome, colostrum may be easier to digest and encourage weight gain.
Harvesting colostrum can also be good if you are delivering twins, triplets, or more. Twins are more likely to be born early and underweight. Also, if you have previously had breast surgery or underdeveloped breasts, it may be helpful to know you have enough food.
People with diabetes, previous breast surgeries, or histories of low milk production may want to collect their colostrum during pregnancy. Those with diabetes often need longer for mature milk to develop, but harvesting colostrum during pregnancy helps activate the milk ducts to speed up the process. It can also help keep the baby’s blood sugar stable if the diabetes is hereditary.
If planning to chestfeed, learning to hand express can be helpful for new parents. This way, you’ll know exactly how to get your baby the milk they need. It can boost milk supply, and lets you expel milk even without a pump.
Jaundice is a condition where excess bilirubin flows through the bloodstream. It can cause yellow pigment in the skin and eyes. Jaundice is common in newborns– their red blood cells have shorter life spans so they have higher production of bilirubin. Combined with their immature livers, the bilirubin doesn’t get broken down as well as it does in adults.
Colostrum is a natural laxative that helps flush meconium from their digestive tract. Meconium contains bilirubin, so colostrum can help treat or prevent jaundice.
If you use a bonding cloth, your scent will transfer to the cloth during colostrum harvesting. When the baby is born, the scent can encourage recognition. It can also be used to help the baby settle with another person if they are able to smell the comforting scent.
More and more chestfeeding products have been released recently. I am very thankful– chestfeeding has so often been ostracized and having products to increase comfort is a huge step forward.
Though I mentioned this company earlier, Haakaa has changed the colostrum collecting game. Their silicon colostrum collector allows chestfeeders to harvest and feed from the same reusable container, instead of a disposable feeding syringe.
It is completely nontoxic and can be stored in the freezer until ready for feeding.
Bellababy has a wide variety of chestfeeding tools– one of their biggest sellers being their wearable pump. The pump allows you to pump anywhere. Because they are small and portable, you can complete other tasks while pumping, instead of being tied down by cords. The pump increases milk production and imitates the sucking pattern of an infant.
Chestfeeding should not be painful, but it is important to massage the breasts before feeding or pumping to minimize any discomfort. Momcozy’s 3 Mode Adjustable Kneading Lactation Massager helps before you start pumping. With 12 types of care and massage options, the massager can unclog milk ducts and help you empty your breasts.
Its heating function helps activate the chest before pumping, so you can improve milk flow for your baby. The convenience of not having to warm towels or compresses is one of many perks of this product.
Harvesting colostrum starts at 37 weeks and may be a good idea if you have diabetes, are expecting multiples, know that your infant will have health conditions, or are concerned about chest feeding.
Before you jump the gun and buy anything, talk to your doctors to make sure hand expressing colostrum during pregnancy will actually be beneficial to you.