If you are pregnant, you may begin to see small drops of colostrum leaking from your nipples as early as your second trimester. Colostrum is a yellow, sticky substance that is full of many protective and nutritive ingredients that are perfect for your newborn baby.
Is it OK to Squeeze Colostrum?
This question really has two distinct parts to it. The first is if you are asking to express colostrum during pregnancy. The other is after birth. First, let me assure you that in most cases it is ok to express small amounts of colostrum. However, the concerns are different depending on when you start.
When do I Start Producing Colostrum?
Your body begins preparing for milk production in your second trimester. The hormones your body produces in pregnancy create changes in your breasts to prepare for breastmilk production. Colostrum is the precursor to breast milk. It is sticky, yellow, and can vary in consistency.
Some mothers may find their colostrum production high and experience frequent leaking. If this happens, you can use nursing pads to absorb leakage. As you near your due date, you may find this happening more often. This infrequent leaking of colostrum is normal and no need for concern.
Some mothers have no colostrum leakage during pregnancy. With a greater emphasis on breastfeeding lately, I have noticed that some mothers worry the lack of pre-birth colostrum is an indication they will not produce enough milk. Colostrum levels before birth are not an indication of success in breastfeeding.
Here are some of the most common questions about colostrum.
Should I Collect the Colostrum That is Leaking?
Colostrum is often called ‘liquid gold’ because of its miraculous properties. During pregnancy, it is not necessary for you to collect colostrum or practice breastfeeding.
Your body will continue to produce colostrum until a few days after birth prior to the production of breastmilk. Feel free to let any leaking escape into a nursing pad; you are not depriving your child of the colostrum he will need after birth.
What Causes Leaking Breasts?
The main cause is hormones. Your body is preparing for your baby. Other causes may include some medical conditions, some medications, nipple stimulation from a bra, and sexual activity. Medical reasons may not be avoided. If you notice you are leaking a great deal, you can discuss this with your physician.
Choosing the right bra can make a huge difference for leaky breasts. Use natural fibers such as cotton and avoid lace in direct contact with your nipples. Avoid bras with a seam down the middle that can cause irritation. Here is a great article on choosing a bra.
In most pregnancies, sex offers no risk for premature labor. The stimulation during sex may cause some leaking but this is not a concern. If you are noticing cramping after having sex check with your physician.
Should I Express Colostrum before Birth so I Have a Supply for Baby?
Your body can produce milk very quickly so there is no need to collect in advance. However, if there are no risk factors and you would like a small supply in case of C-Section, you can begin collecting after 39 weeks.
Your baby only consumes a small amount of colostrum at a time, about 1 teaspoon, so do not collect large amounts. In most cases, you will be able to produce what you need after birth so early collection is not necessary.
If There is No Colostrum Leakage Does That Mean I Will Not Be Able to Breastfeed?
No, absolutely not. Colostrum expression is controlled by many factors and even if you see little to no colostrum prior to birth, it will have no impact on how much breastmilk you will create.
Your milk supply will be determined by a latch, the effectiveness of sucking, and frequency of feedings. Here are two great sites for questions about breastfeeding, La Leche League and The Breastfeeding Manual.
Can Expression or Pumping Cause Labour?
The answer is yes. This is especially true if you have a high-risk pregnancy, are 40+ weeks, or are experiencing cramps after expression. This can be a great tool to induce labor if you are overdue but best to avoid prior to 39 weeks.
Is it Bad to Express Colostrum While Pregnant?
There are some risks when expressing colostrum during pregnancy. The risks are higher if you are having a high-risk pregnancy or if you are expressing a large amount on a regular basis.
Breast stimulation or expression of colostrum can induce early labor. If you are prone to early labor, having multiple births, or other medical issues it is best to avoid this unnecessary risk. Leaking breasts will not lead to premature labor.
- it is not bad to express small drops of colostrum during pregnancy.
- there is a risk of premature labor if expressing too early.
- there is no reason to express prior to 39 weeks.
Colostrum After Birth
Colostrum is a very amazing nutrient that your body produces for your baby’s first few days.
- Immune System Building Blocks – over one half of your colostrum is full of white blood cells that will protect your baby from many infections. It is also the first step to the baby developing his own immune system.
- Concentrated – Colostrum is full of protein, low in fat, and overflowing with nutrients.
- Easy to Digest – Colostrum is designed to be easily digested by your newborn. It is the best first food. It contains the good bacteria your baby needs to kick-start his digestive system.
- Key Components – Research is discovering that colostrum is a very high-functioning complex liquid. It is specifically designed for your baby. Your colostrum contains key components that help protect your baby’s weak digestive system. It works like a lock and key. Only your colostrum has the unique component your baby needs to create the protective covering in your baby’s stomach. This special lining helps prevent many digestive complications.
- Prevents/Lowers Jaundice – The sticky properties of your colostrum help your baby poop easily and frequently. This is key in the treatment/prevention of jaundice. Your baby has extra blood cells in utero because they essentially breathe through their blood. After birth, the lungs take over and your baby now needs to breakdown all those extra cells. The frequent and easy removal of that waste prevents overload on the liver which leads to jaundice.
- Vitamins and Minerals – Colostrum is full of many essential vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A which is for eye, skin and digestive health. Magnesium, copper, and zinc assist the heart, bone growth, and brain development.
To learn more about the magical properties of colostrum and breast milk here is a link to a free ebook.
When Should I Express Colostrum?
Babies are born with a sucking reflex that will assist with breastfeeding but for the most part, both of you will be learning at the same time.
The first 6 hours after birth are vital to milk production. You should begin breastfeeding within those 6 hours. Ideally within the first hour is best. Here are some keys to successful breastfeeding:
- Relax, although there is a window when it is best to start breastfeeding take your time. Being relaxed will be key.
- Skin to skin – that is you bare-chested and baby only in a diaper. In the first hour baby may be allowed to remain in constant contact with you. This skin to skin aids in temperature regulation, stress relief, and feeding responses for your baby.
- If breastfeeding is difficult, you can express your colostrum and feed the baby with a spoon or syringe. Baby will likely only consume about one teaspoon so you will not need to express much.
- You can do this expression while baby is in your arms. Allow both of you time to learn. Expression of colostrum can give you some peace of mind that baby is fed while you learn.
- It is best not to express and feed baby with a bottle, this can cause issues with breastfeeding later.
- Check the above links for assistance with breastfeeding and check out these videos for some visual assistance.
How do I Express Colostrum?
Hand expression will be the easiest way to feed your baby in the first hours if breastfeeding is difficult. A pump will put a barrier between you and baby so I highly recommend hand expression to start.
I will give you some tips here but your breasts will be your best teacher. You will learn the best places to apply pressure just by trying.
- Sit in an inclined position, too high might be uncomfortable and too low might be awkward. You want to be comfortable and have your back supported completely.
- Take the opposite hand from the breast you are starting with.
- Cup your hand into a ‘C’ shape.
- Place your thumb on one side of your breast and the rest of your fingers on the other side.
- Ensure you are not touching or stretching your areola.
- You can move your fingers around your breast in a circular motion, alternating between squeezing and applying pressure.
- Press back into your breast tissue and then squeeze.
- This stimulation should start the colostrum flowing, now just collect the colostrum on a spoon or other sanitary container.
- You can squeeze the colostrum right onto your baby’s lips.
What if I Do Not Want to Breastfeed?
Mothers have different reasons for not wanting to breastfeed. Hopefully, I have convinced you of the vital properties of colostrum.
Even if your baby only receives colostrum for the first few days of life, the health benefits are tremendous. You can express colostrum to add to your baby’s formula and make a huge difference in their long-term health.
More: How to Induce Lactation
Prior to 39 weeks, I do not recommend expressing colostrum. After 39 weeks you can use the expression of colostrum to induce labor and to have a small amount of colostrum available for baby if needed.
After birth, expression of colostrum can assist with bringing in your milk supply, provide vital nutrients to baby if breastfeeding is difficult, and expression will increase your post-birth contractions which will aid in your recovery.
- New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding, 2nd Edition (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics)