What is colostrum harvesting? Colostrum harvesting is hand expressing colostrum from the breast antenatally, to store for after the birth. It is advised that you do not start harvesting colostrum until you are 36 weeks’ pregnant.
Some of the many benefits include:
- It will make you feel empowered and have an active role in the care of your newborn.
- It teaches you how to hand express.
- It makes you familiar and more confident with how breast feeding works.
- If in the early days your baby requires supplements, the colostrum can be used instead of formula e.g. preventing the risk of low blood glucose levels in the newborn or slow weight gain.
- Nipple stimulation/the act of expressing milk can be a natural way of initiating labour because oxytocin is stimulated.
How to express colostrum
You can hand express milk from 36 weeks gestation* (DAME study, The Lancet).
*unless there are any contradictions e.g. certain medications. Always discuss with your midwife if you are on any medications to see if these are compatible with breastfeeding.
- Wash you hands.
- Gently massage your breast and nipple to stimulate the hormones needed to release colostrum.
- Position your thumb and index fingers in a C-shape, 2-3cms back from the base of your nipple.
- Gently press and release, and keep repeating until colostrum starts to flow.
Hand expressing 2-3 times daily is recommended and the amount of milk will vary from a few drops to a teaspoon. These small amounts are ideal for your baby as colostrum is high on calories and packed full of antibodies. You may find when you are harvesting your colostrum your uterus tightens and relaxes. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions.
- Breast milk can be kept in the same syringe. Syringes should be capped and kept at the back of the fridge at a maximum temperature of 4degrees.
- At the end of the day syringe(s) of colostrum should be sealed in a breast milk storage bag and frozen.
- Each syringe should be labelled with your name, date and time of expressing.
- Colostrum can be stored for 2 weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge or up to 6 months in a freezer at -18degrees .
Don’t forget to bring some frozen colostrum into the hospital when admitted for your baby’s birth. Let your midwife know you have it and they will arrange to have it stored correctly. They have to record the date and time it was removed from the freezer. Defrosted colostrum should be discarded or used within 24 hours. If your breast milk is frozen then the best way to transport it is in a coolbag with cool block.