Why I’m harvesting colostrum at 35 weeks
I haven’t told all that many people that I am antenatally expressing – harvesting colostrum (first milk) – into tiny little syringes. I am actually pretty proud of myself at the moment (even though my running total is 1.5ml at the time of writing).
Why harvest colostrum?
It may not seem like much, but these are tiny drops of liquid gold. Colostrum is the early breastmilk that is essentially super concentrated. It is packed with calories, fat, sugar, and antibodies. There are a lot of different reasons a person might want to harvest colostrum before their baby is born.
Primarily, I decided to do this because I have a tongue tie, my son has a tongue tie and so do several members of my immediate family who have subsequently had issues breastfeeding. There is very real risk that this baby will have a tongue tie as well. Having a supply of milk that she doesn’t need to work so hard for could buy us some time to get it sorted.
When I was pregnant with my son four years ago I had no idea that I could save this stuff. I certainly didn’t know that it could be even remotely useful. As it happens, the reason babies can survive on so little before your normal milk comes in after a couple of days is because colostrum is high in sugar, fat and calories. It really is amazing stuff and I want my baby to have it even of it can’t come direct from the source right away.
At 2 days old, between phototherapy lights for jaundice and having my boobs manhandled by several midwives a day because I wasn’t “feeding right” I was coerced into feeding my son a bottle of cows milk formula. They told me “his blood sugar must be low and he’s too exhausted to feed“. Never mind that frequently falling asleep at the breast before finishing a feed is a tongue tie symptom that should have been spotted by these experienced professionals. He promptly threw up the entire feed and more and we were back to square one.
We subsequently discovered, over the course of the next weeks and months, that was the first sign of CMPA in my son. Tiny little babies aren’t designed to break down such complex proteins. If there is even the smallest chance that I can avoid this baby going through what my son still suffers I will take it.
Being in tune with my body
Last time I didn’t know what my body was capable of so I didn’t trust it. I know I didn’t work with it and I probably even worked against it. Once, a midwife told me to just express a bit of milk by hand onto a spoon or something. After trying I realised I didn’t really know how to handle my breasts effectively (sounds daft, right?) so I didn’t get anything out.
I did go on to pump breastmilk a little. Eventually I learnt how/when it was best to do that and what my breasts responded to and what they didn’t but it was slow progress with a lot of sore nipples and heartache. It was also nearly four years ago.
Being prepared like this, knowing what my body can do and understanding some of my limits is making me feel stronger as I head towards full term. I am so much more confident that my body can take care of my baby.
Recovering from trauma
I haven’t talked too much about the trauma of my son’s birth and the weeks that followed it. They somehow manage to be both the best and worst weeks of my life. Unfortunately a lot of the happiness is still shrouded by simmering anger. I have been working hard to turn that angry energy into positive progress throughout my pregnancy. Harvesting colostrum has become surprisingly therapeutic. All the knowledge and experience I have from being let down over and over with my first child is being channelled directly into making more informed choices this time. Any bitterness I felt towards my boobs for letting me down (yes, that’s a thing and yes, I know it’s silly) is melting away now I can see how well they are already working for my unborn child.
Separation from my baby at birth
No one wants to think about some of the things that could go wrong during labour and childbirth. Occasionally unexpected complications arise with either the birthing parent or the baby. Some complications cause separations of the birthing diad. If I am unable to attend to my baby’s needs for whatever reason then I know she will have a stock of my milk to get her through. Liquid gold, packed full of my antibodies to protect her in this big scary world.
Now, I don’t have gestational diabetes but it definitely deserves a mention here! If a mother has GD there is a risk that baby’s blood sugar could drop rapidly after birth. Harvesting Colostrum and having it on hand means baby will be able to get the sugar they need quickly without the need for formula milk.#
How to Start Harvesting Colostrum
An edit in 2022 with a little more insight…
There is no ‘right’ way to do it, really. Every body is different. Although we do understand the physiology of how breast tissue generally works. It took me a week or more to start getting a full syringe. Keep in mind I was storing the gold in 1ml syringes at first.
Make sure your hands and breasts are clean before starting to express colostrum.
Start out slow, and try to relax. Make sure you’re warm and comfortable, and put a half hour show or podcast on. Massage the soft tissue of your breasts inward towards the nipple to stimulate the milk to flow down. Milk ducts form almost a flower shape with the nipple at the centre, so make sure you cover all sides.
When you do start to get some little drops you can start to collect them. Gather the colostrum on a sterile medicine spoon or cup, or in a sterile syringe. Most people start with 1ml syringes, I moved up to 5ml when the milk was coming a little more readily. I started expressing colostrum twice a day and storing both in a sterile 10ml milk collection pot. I carried on using syringes to collect, but I would have to empty them into the collection pot a couple of times.
Speak to the Experts
As with most bloggers, I am by no means an expert on the subject. This post is based on my own experiences and reasons for harvesting colostrum in the third trimester. If you would like to know a bit more from the experts, visit Le Leche League.
I would highly recommend a consultation with an IBCLC before and after your baby arrives.