IBCLC Charlotte Treitl shares her top tips for antenatal colostrum harvesting – how to do it, why to do it, and when to do it.
Antenatal colostrum harvesting can be done from around 36 weeks of pregnancy, but you do need to check with your midwife if this is appropriate for you – you can get syringes from your midwife or you can buy them from the internet. All you need to do is gently hand express, and you can collect the colostrum in a cup and then syringe, and you can buy syringes online, or you can ask your midwife to provide some of them for you. This can be stored in the freezer until your baby arrives. And then, if you do have any issues with establishing breastfeeding, you've got an emergency supply of milk that you can give to your baby.
Not all parents need to do antenatal colostrum harvesting. It is often recommended for anyone who may be having an instrumental birth or a cesarean section. Sometimes, the anesthetics used during surgery can make you and your baby sleepy which can impact breastfeeding. It is entirely possible to breastfeed after a c-section or instrumental birth, however!
It can be really reassuring for families to have a bit of stored colostrum so that their baby can have it as their first feed after birth, if there are any problems getting baby to latch straight away. And over the coming days postpartum, if there are any difficulties with getting breastfeeding established, you have a supply of milk to help you feed your baby whilst you seek support.
Colostrum syringes should be labelled with your full name and date of birth. You can use the sticky labels from your maternity notes to do this. You should also write the date and time the colostrum was harvested, so you can use the oldest milk first. You can also collect colostrum by hand when your baby is born, and switch to pumping around day 2-3 if baby still isn't feeding well at the breast. You should seek expert support if your baby is not latching.
Hand expressing colostrum can be a little bit challenging at first. It should never be painful! A light breast massage before you begin can help stimulate milk flow. This great video from Lyndsey Hookway IBCLC explains the value of hand expressing and how to do it.