because every drop of this baby superfood counts
What is colostrum?
Colostrum is the 'first milk' produced by your breasts, starting at around 16 weeks of pregnancy until around the third day after your baby’s birth. It is a concentrated form of "mature milk", which is very high in protein, antibodies and other protective components that are important for your newborn.
Why "liquid gold"?
Colostrum is a very special superfood for your baby! So much so, that it is commonly known as ‘liquid gold’ because of its unique thick yellow & sticky characteristic but most importantly because of its many amazing elements to nourish your baby. Colostrum is all your baby needs in the first few days of life - it's low in fat, packed full of proteins, vitamins, minerals,
carbohydrates antibodies and other protective components, making it the perfect food for your newborn.
Why is colostrum important?
Colostrum is all around the perfect food for your newborn. But perhaps, one of the most well known benefits of colostrum is its immune properties. Consider the colostrum your baby’s “first immunization”. Colostrum is extremely important for your little one’s immature immune system and some experts estimate that up to 60% of a newborn’s immunity comes from colostrum. It is packed with an antibody known as secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), and every drop teams with white blood cells (leukocytes) that defend your vulnerable baby against viruses and bacteria. For this reason, colostrum is incredibly important for all babies, but especially for premature babies.
But the benefits of colostrum are endless. Colostrum is excellent for your baby’s digestive system. A newborn baby is born with what we call a “leaky” or highly permeable gut. There are gaps between the cells lining the mucosa and it is through these gaps that viruses, bacteria and allergens enter baby’s body. Colostrum plugs up these gaps like a putty so that no harmful pathogens can pass through. This permeability of the gut explains why exclusive breastfeeding (giving your baby nothing but breast milk), is so important for the first six months. If Baby ingests anything else – even water – this seal can be broken and may take up to 4 weeks to close again.
Colostrum also helps prevent jaundice. That's because colostrum is a natural pro-biotic and laxative. It will help baby get rid of that first very dark poop or "meconium" that has built up in baby's bowels during his time in the womb. To help you understand how important this is I will explain what happens when your baby is born. Babies are born with extra red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen in the body. In order to ensure that baby’s brain gets enough life-giving oxygen throughout the birth process, extra red blood cells are produced right before birth. As soon as your baby is born, he no longer needs those extra red blood cells and baby's liver starts breaking these red blood cells down into a waste-product called bilirubin, which has a yellow pigmentation and is excreted through the stools. If baby breastfeeds early and often after birth, the laxative properties of colostrum will help him flush out the bilirubin. If baby doesn’t feed well (for whatever reason), and doesn't eliminate this first poop in a timely manner, the bilirubin gets reabsorbed from the bowels and builds up in his body. This stresses baby's immature liver and if the bilirubin build ups to higher than normal levels, baby may need photo-therapy (special lights that break down the bilirubin) at home or in hospital.
Newborn jaundice is your classic vicious cycle: baby doesn’t feed well, doesn't eliminate the meconium and becomes yellow. The high bilirubin levels make him sleepy and lethargic and even less likely to feed well causing baby to become more jaundiced and feed even less. Do you get it? Baby really needs adequate volumes of colostrum early on. Prevention is much better than cure.
If all the benefits mentioned above were not enough, colostrum is also very high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants making it very important for healthy brain, heart, and central nervous system development. Colostrum is easy for your baby to digest and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels in babies - this is especially important in those babies of mothers who have diabetes in pregnancy.
What is antenatal colostrum harvest?
Antenatal hand expression or antenatal colostrum harvest is a technique that involves hand expressing colostrum in the final few weeks of pregnancy and storing the colostrum to use when your baby is born. As I mentioned above, your body starts producing colostrum at around 16 weeks gestational and will continue to produce colostrum until about 3 days after your baby is born. Mothers are advised to wait until around 37 weeks gestational before starting antenatal expression and to talk to your doctor or midwife prior to starting colostrum harvesting.
Do keep in mind that antenatal expression of milk is just for additional milk baby can receive during the early days. You will still need to work on the latch and is recommended to nurse your baby on demand to establish breastfeeding and your milk supply.
Why antenatal colostrum harvest is recommended?
For some mothers, it can be a useful tool that helps ensure their baby will start life without the need for formula supplementation. I mentioned above some of the many amazing benefits of colostrum and the importance of giving only your milk to baby in the early days. If the unexpected happens and you and your baby are separated, or if your baby has feeding difficulties or health problems, you will find it easier to express your milk for your baby if you have practiced beforehand. Also, by having the colostrum in advance minimizes the chances of any delay in your baby receiving your milk if any challenges arise and helps you to be better prepared and more confident to breastfeed your baby. ALWAYS talk to your doctors or midwife to check if antenatal colostrum harvesting is safe for you and remember that harvesting colostrum is not recommended before 37 weeks (full-term) to avoid increased risks of premature labour.
Expressing while pregnant is not advised in some circumstances such as in history of/risk of premature labour, and it is important for you to discuss your individual needs with your health care professional.
Because breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin, which is a hormone that cause uterine contraction, you may find your womb going hard and then relaxing when you are hand expressing. These are braxton-hicks contractions and you do not need to worry about these unless they begin to feel like period type cramps or mild labour contractions. This is rare but if it happens you should stop expressing and rest.
When should I use the colostrum collector kit?
You can use the colostrum kit to express colostrum antenatally (after 37 weeks of pregnancy) and postnatally (after your baby is born). This may be especially important if the unexpected happens and you and your baby are separated, or if your baby has feeding difficulties. If possible, it is important that you continue to offer the breast to establish breastfeeding and your milk supply. If your baby is struggling to latch, ask help to a public health nurse, a lactation counsellor or a lactation consultant. I am a lactation counsellor and my contact is firstname.lastname@example.org.
How much colostrum is produced?
Colostrum is produced in small amounts (10-100 mL/24 hours), which is perfect for your newborn's tiny tummy. The smaller volumes also give your baby a chance to learn to nurse without being overwhelmed by a large flow of milk in the first few days. These smaller feedings encourage your baby to go back to the breast often in the first few days. This frequent stimulation is what increases your milk production - a lovely and effective feedback loop!
Who can express?
All moms can benefit from knowing how to hand express. Learning how to hand express your colostrum is a great way to prepare for your breastfeeding journey. Check with your all care provider to check if you have any health restrictions with regards to antenatal colostrum harvesting
How do I hand express?
Hand expressing milk simply means using your hands to remove milk out of your breast. Please refer to our step by step guide on how to hand express your colostrum.
It is recommended to express antenatally by hand rather than use an electric or manual breast pump. Colostrum will be produced in quite small quantities and can easily stick to the bottles or pump parts and be harder to collect. A pump at this stage is likely to be more uncomfortable than gentle hands.
Try hand expressing for a few minutes, 2 or 3 times a day. If you hand express and use a syringe to draw up the individual drops of colostrum, you can use these syringes for storage prior to birth. Collect and store every single drop of colostrum you express. Different women will be able to express different amounts of colostrum but please remember that every drop of your liquid gold counts and is so important for your baby.
Storing your milk
Colostrum can be collected two to three times each day in the same syringe. You will need to store the syringe in the fridge between uses. At the end of the collecting day, the colostrum can be frozen – place the syringe into a zip-lock bag before putting into the freezer. Label the syringe and bag (separately) with the date and time of when you expressed. The frozen colostrum can be stored for up to six months in the freezer. Once thawed, it should be used within 24 hours.
Transporting/Using your milk
You can take syringes of frozen colostrum into hospital using a freezer block and insulated bag. The colostrum can be defrosted under a running warm tap or at room temperature.
It’s a good idea to mention to your birth team that you have colostrum stored and make sure that the hospital staff are aware in advance of your wishes in certain situations. The hospital may have access to a freezer for storage once you arrive.
After the birth, ideally breastfeeding would be unrestricted, the baby would feed successfully at the breast and the antenatally expressed colostrum would remain unused. However, if your baby is experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding at this time, you may be encouraged to know you have stored milk. If harvested colostrum ends up being ‘wasted’ because you are able to establish early exclusive breastfeeding, this is a cause for celebration rather than frustration! The process of antenatal expressing however, gives you a back-up option if things don’t go according to plan which many families find reassuring. You’ll also start your breastfeeding with a good sense of how to hand express and confidence about how your breasts work.
Remember that even if you have colostrum stored, you should still continue to offer the breast on demand in order to work on the latch and build your milk supply. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask me. My email is email@example.com.