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Harvesting Colostrum in Preparation for a Successful Breastfeeding Journey

The journey of motherhood begins before your baby’s first breath. During pregnancy, your body undergoes remarkable changes to prepare for the arrival of your little one. One of the crucial transformations is the production of colostrum, often referred to as the “golden liquid” for its extraordinary health benefits. 

In this blog, we will explore the concept of harvesting colostrum, it’s benefits, when to start, and as usual my top 5 tips on how to effectively harvest it during your pregnancy.

What is Harvesting Colostrum?

As discussed in my previous blog on the importance of colostrum, colostrum is the first milk your body produces during pregnancy and the initial days after childbirth. It’s a concentrated, nutrient-rich fluid that is low in volume but incredibly high in essential components. 

Antenatal or prenatal colostrum harvesting is the process of stimulating the mammary glands within the breast during pregnancy to produce secretions of this milk. This milk can be collected and stored in preparation for your little one’s arrival. It’s one of the best ways to prepare for breastfeed during pregnancy, reducing the need for formula after your baby is born. Colostrum is collected through hand expression and can be frozen for future use.

What are the Benefits?

Colostrum is typically produced in small quantities, making every drop valuable for your baby. Here are some compelling reasons why you should consider harvesting colostrum during your pregnancy:

  • Insurance policy: Harvesting colostrum before birth ensures that you have a supply of this gold substance on hand, especially if you face challenges with breastfeeding initially.

  • Medical necessity: In some cases, unfortunately mothers may have medical conditions or complications that prevent immediate breastfeeding. Having a stash of colostrum can be a lifesaver for your baby in such situations. 

  • Security and confidence: It alleviates concerns about the capacity of your breasts to produce milk. 

  • Stress reduction: The early days after giving birth can be overwhelming. Having colostrum readily available can reduce stress, knowing that your baby’s first nourishment is secure without needing formula. 

  • Breast anatomy understanding: Hands expressing colostrum helps you understand your breast’s functioning and changes during your breastfeeding journey. 
  • Expertise: Practicing hands expression during pregnancy makes you more confident when expressing your milk after your baby is born. 
When to Start? 

While some professionals recommend against harvesting colostrum due to concerns about premature birth, due the oxytocin release, there is no scientific evidence supporting these claims. If you are around 37 weeks pregnant and your pregnancy is low risk, you can start hand expressing and harvesting your colostrum. 

My best recommendation is starting once a day for 2-3 minutes and increasing the time and frequency every 4-5 days, up to a maximum of 3-4 times a day for about 10 minutes. The amount you obtain may vary from none at all, a few drops, or to a full syringe or teaspoon. This variation does not indicate your ability to produce sufficient milk for your baby after birth. 

Like everything in life, there will be some cases that we need to recommend mothers to stop harvesting colostrum like for example if you experience painful contractions or any bleeding during the expressing process. Also, if your pregnancy is high risk, it’s important to discuss this technique with a qualified IBCLC lactation consultant to determine whether it is safe to continue colostrum harvesting.

My Best Top 5 Tips for Effective Colostrum Harvesting

Harvesting colostrum is a very straightforward process, but similarly to everything in life, needs some practice. No gold medal athlete wins the first time, right? So, let me share with you my essential tips to follow to get it correctly:

1. Make yourself comfortable and try to relax: Warmth can aid in milk flow, so I highly recommend to express in the shower or bath, especially for the first time. Relaxation is key, as stress can inhibit oxytocin release. 

2. Hygiene is a must: Although harvesting colostrum is not a sterile technique, it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly if you choose not to express in the shower or bath.

3. Breast massage: Use both hands to start by gentle massaging your breasts for a couple of minutes with each breast to stimulate milk flow and locate milk ducts before hand expression. 

4. Express your colostrum: Begin hand expression by placing your hand in a C-shape, 2 cm away from your nipple, using your thumb and index finger to gently press back towards your chest. Compress your breast between your fingers and thumb, moving them slightly towards your nipple without lifting them from your breast. Release pressure and repeat, trying to establish a rhythm while mobilising all the ducts. 

5. Collection and storage: Collect your colostrum with a spoon and then transfer it to a syringe, or it’s easy if you collect it straight away with a 1ml syringe. If you do see colostrum appear, it will come out as a drop due the concentration, so place your syringe underneath the drop (gravity will help), and draw back the plunger over the liquid. Once you’ve done with both breasts, make sure you label the syringes with the date and the time. Store them in a container or a clean, resealable bag in the freezer to prevent any odours from affecting the colostrum. 

Harvesting colostrum is an act of love that sets your baby on a path to a healthier start in life. The benefits are immeasurable, and having a supply on hand can provide peace of mind during those early days. 

Consult your IBCLC lactation consultant, gather your supplies, and take this nurturing step to ensure the best beginning for your little one. It’s important to note that harvesting colostrum very rarely causes the onset of labour, although you may feel your womb tightening and relaxing. This is not usually a cause of concern.  

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