Antenatal expression of colostrum

When you become pregnant, your body starts to produce colostrum, a low volume, thick, sticky milk that is packed full of antibodies.

Your body produces colostrum from about the 16th or 17th week of pregnancy. 

A couple of weeks before your due date, it can be beneficial to learn how to hand express your milk.

After the birth, if your breasts become engorged, you can use hand expression to help your baby to latch on better, and to keep you comfortable as well.

Hand expression is also useful, if you ever need to be briefly separated from your baby for a time, or if your baby isn’t initially latching very well at the breast, or perhaps struggles to latch on.

These are fairly common scenarios, and expressing your milk with your hand is a very useful tool, and the more you practice the technique, the easier it becomes.

There are some specific circumstances where it can even be useful to express your milk a day or two before you give birth.

Doing this allows your own milk to be given to your baby straight away if there is a chance that you may be separated briefly from each other, e.g., you have a date to have an elective cesarean section.

Mum lying in a hospital bed with her baby

If you go into labor and are told that you will be induced at some point, hand expressing a little of your breast milk in advance can be so useful.

If you know that your baby is going to be born with a cleft lip or palate, it can be advantageous to save some of the colostrum before the birth in this circumstance, too. 

It can take time to establish breastfeeding, and your baby may be separated from you for a little while in those circumstances, so this is excellent preparation.

If you have diabetes, your baby has a higher risk of having low blood sugars in the first 24 hours after the birth, and having your colostrum, ready to give to your baby, will help to raise those blood levels.

If you know that you have a medical condition or some other circumstance that might make it more difficult for you to establish a supply, then once again, expressing your colostrum before the birth can be useful.

It’s also essential to discuss with your midwifery team, in advance, to get all the help and support you need to do this.

When you express colostrum, you’ll produce it in very small amounts.

This is normal. Speak to your midwifery team and ask them to provide you with equipment that you need to collect the milk. Remember to label it, date it, and store it correctly.

It’s encouraging to know that you will have this extra colostrum after the birth to assist you as you work to get breastfeeding established. 

Babies need to feed at least eight to 12 times every 24 hours, and at night.

If your baby isn’t feeding well, you can give your baby your colostrum at any point, which will aid things to go more smoothly. 

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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