A Problem Worth Preventing:
"Inadequate breast milk intake is the number one reason breastfed newborns need re-hospitalization, most commonly for treatment of excessive weight loss and jaundice. Twenty percent of mothers give up breastfeeding in the first month, most commonly concerned about insufficient production and suboptimal intake.” -First Droplets, Dr. Jane Morton
The key to successful breastfeeding is making plenty of milk. Hands down, the most important thing I teach mothers prenatally, is how to prevent a “low milk supply”. This is most valuable to learn before delivery, because it is in the hours after delivery that your body is getting programmed to make more milk.
Prenatal colostrum harvesting is when the mother collects, or expresses, the colostrum from the breast during pregnancy before the baby is born, and freezes it for use after birth. More on this in a bit.
What is Colostrum?
Colostrum is a mother’s first milk, and a baby’s first superfood! Colostrum is jam packed with antibodies and antioxidants to help build the baby’s immune system. The consistency of colostrum is different from mature milk, it is thicker and creamy with a yellowish color - ’liquid gold’ couldn’t be a better name! It is packed with nutrients, high in carbohydrates, protein and low in fat. It also has laxative properties that help get the digestive system going. Colostrum helps the passing of meconium, which is the baby’s first bowel movement, and also assists in preventing jaundice.
Colostrum is low in volume, so at the beginning your baby will feed frequently, ideally every 2-3 hours. Sometimes even every hour, but this is great for breast stimulation - as the more milk you get out, the more milk you will make! Nature is truly incredible - your baby’s constant feedings at the beginning help your body to make what the baby will need for the next year of their life!
Did you know our bodies start producing colostrum around 16 weeks of pregnancy?
I often find that when I am meeting with women prenatally, they are shocked when I hand express droplets out of their breasts. Some are even slightly grossed out! That is a normal reaction, this is all new and most of us have never seen anything come out of our breasts before.
It is also totally normal if you do not get much colostrum out during pregnancy; everyone is different, and after your baby is born, the volume should increase naturally. The most important thing is that you get familiar with the technique of hand expression, as it can be very valuable after delivery to inform supply for your entire breastfeeding journey.
Here is a wonderful video from First Droplets which will show you how to Hand Express!
Breastfeeding didn’t work for me with my first - why would it work with my second child?
I work with many second-time mamas who have struggled with milk production with their first - in those cases, I find that colostrum harvesting helps things go MUCH smoother the second time around. They tend to have more milk and their milk increases in volume sooner! It’s great to start practicing the technique of hand expression prenatally. It’s even more helpful to get a partner familiar with the technique, as two sets of hands are better than one! This ensures that you will utilize those crucial first hours and days after delivery - to make more milk, it’s important to remove milk in these hours.
Back to Freezing Your Prenatal Colostrum - and How it Can Benefit Baby
The frozen colostrum is taken to the hospital and stored until it is required, where it can be defrosted and fed to the baby. Colostrum harvesting not only can help increase your production, but also will get you familiar with hand expression, which can be super beneficial in the days after delivery. Learning how to hand express and collect colostrum is one of the most valuable skills you can learn to be successful at breastfeeding. Mothers who are low risk and have medical clearance will benefit from harvesting their colostrum beginning at 36 or 37 weeks.
Having colostrum frozen and ready to go can be extremely beneficial for mothers with the following circumstances:
- Mothers with Gestational Diabetes. Colostrum is the best thing to stabilize a baby's blood sugar! Many babies born to diabetic mothers can have low blood sugar levels after birth, putting them at risk of neonatal hypoglycaemia and jaundice. DAME study showed there is no risk for GD mothers to start hand expressing at 37 weeks.
- Mothers with C-sections. It is common for C-section mother’s to have delayed milk supply. See video at first droplets if you are have a scheduled Cesarean
- Mothers who are separated from their baby
- A baby with feeding difficulties
- Mothers expecting multiples, to ensure a robust milk supply
Express yourself, let’s do it!
- At 36/37 weeks, check in with your health care provider for approval
- Before expressing, you can get in the shower or use a warm moist compress to help get milk flowing
- Massage and become comfortable with your breasts
- Make a C-shape with your hand, like you are holding a cup
- Place your C-shaped hand around the base of the areola
- Now, COMPRESS back to the chest, PRESS in and RELAX
- Keep trying until you find the sweet spot and get a little droplet of colostrum out
- Go back and forth about 10 times each, for a few minutes at a time
Don’t be discouraged if very little or nothing comes out while pregnant. This is very normal! It is still great because any stimulation is helpful. More importantly, you will become familiar with hand expression and your breasts which will be beneficial in the hours after delivery. If you do want to collect any droplets, I recommend the Hakka Colostrum Collectors. These are excellent because they are the perfect size, and also double as syringes which are great for feeding baby.
Colostrum Storage Guidelines
When you fill up a Colostrum Collector, you are going to follow regular breastmilk storage guidelines. When you go to the hospital, just bring them in a little cooler and ask them to store them until your baby arrives. Here are the current storage guidelines for breastmilk.
Colostrum Harvesting Works, I Promise!
“When I had my first baby, she was 3 weeks early and ended up in the NICU for about 5 days for various complications. I thought breastfeeding would come so easily, and had no idea that it was something I needed to focus on in the first hours / days after birth. I ended up having a very low supply at the beginning due to her being in the NicU and not feeding from me every 2 hours like a typical infant would. With a ton of help from Shelly, I was able to fix my supply by focusing on hand expressing and pumping, but I still struggled with having enough milk during my daughter’s first year of life. Fast forward to my second child - this time I knew how to prepare - I started hand expressing at 36 weeks, and I hand expressed colostrum every chance I got in the first 2 hours after he was born. My supply was night and day different with him - I remember the first time I pumped I got 12 ounces compared to 5 with my first! This is such an easy way to set you up for success, I just wish everyone knew about it!” - Meghan L.
The key to successful breastfeeding is making plenty of milk! Learning how to hand express and collect colostrum is one of the most valuable skills in order to be successful with breastfeeding, and is something that can be started before the baby arrives.
The first few hours after delivery are critical for long term breastfeeding success - the more milk you can remove from the breast, the more milk you will make in the long term. Harvesting colostrum can make your breastfeeding journey with your new baby much smoother!For more help: Please watch the videos on www.firstdroplets.com