Colostrum. The amazing liquid that contains everything your newborn baby needs to thrive in their first days after arrival.
So what is this magical substance, why is it important and how is it used by baby? Read on where we answer all the FAQ’s!
Colostrum is sometimes referred to as your baby’s first vaccine. This is due to the high percentage of antibodies and white blood cells that it contains. It’s also packed with good bacteria that helps colonise the gut and give you baby the best start. Colostrum is completely unique to each mother and baby pair.
Your breasts begin producing colostrum at around 16 weeks of pregnancy. Some women notice little leaks while others don’t notice anything at all. Either way is completely normal, leaking colostrum and breastmilk is not the only indicator that you will have the ability to breastfeed!
Colostrum V breast milk
Both of course are incredibly important, colostrum and breast milk are very similar but differ in a number of ways too.
Sticky, thicker and more yellow than white, colostrum has higher levels of protein and Vitamins A, E and K. It also helps protect babies gut and works as a natural laxative to push through baby’s first poop! You'll notice relatively small amounts of colostrum immediately after birth and for the first couple of days before it begins to transition to mature milk.
How will I know when my milk has changed?
You may have heard the term 'milk coming in'. This refers to your body switching from producing colostrum to breast milk, this generally takes around 2-5 days after birth. The majority of women will feel this happening as their breasts will become heavy, hot, tender to touch and sometimes engorged or painful. The colour and consistency of the milk will change from thick and orange/yellow to a slightly thinner and more 'milk like’ substance. Your milk will stay like this for the next few weeks as you establish breastfeeding and your body and baby work together to arrange your supply.
Why express Colostrum during pregnancy?
Many women are advised by their Midwife or health professional to collect some colostrum during the later weeks of pregnancy to store for use after the birth. Expressing during pregnancy means that you'll have some colostrum saved and on hand for after birth, should your baby need it.
Who can express colostrum during pregnancy?
Any mum who has had a healthy pregnancy and has been given the go-ahead by their midwife or healthcare can start expressing colostrum from around 38 weeks. Many midwives have found this can be very helpful especially if baby needs some help after birth.
"With babes we know could likely be low-birth-weight or babies known to be growth-restricted or at risk, it can be fantastic to already have some frozen colostrum to supplement the vulnerable newborn in their first days of life," says Kathy, Senior Midwife. "However, there is certainly no reason that a healthy mother with a healthy newborn can't also hoard some colostrum antenatally. It's a brilliant idea!"
If for whatever reason, you need to be separated from your baby, this is a great idea to harvest your milk to ensure they can still receive the very best in those early days.
While the majority of women will be given the go-ahead to express colostrum, there may be some cases where it's not advised, for example if there were any risks with pre-term labour or other pregnancy complications. We always advise discussing with your Midwife so that you're able to receive the best advice for your own personal situation.
When should I start to express colostrum?
Your Midwife can advise on when you can start expressing during your pregnancy but it's generally thought that towards the end of pregnancy is ideal. "With a healthy normal pregnancy, because nipple stimulation can trigger uterine contractions, I would say from 37-38 weeks onwards," says Kathy. (Again, before expressing please speak to your Midwife / Caregiver)
How do I express colostrum?
If you've never expressed milk before then the process might seem a slightly daunting. First thing we advise is DON’T use your electric pump to start!
You'll be producing and collecting tiny little amounts and the stimulation of an electric pump can be a bit much which can mess with your supply. Gentle hand expression is the way to go.
Here's what we recommend:
1. Collect the equipment you need - Make sure everything is freshly washed/sterilised and that your hands are clean.
2. Sit comfortably (as comfortably as you can during late pregnancy) and try to relax as it'll make the whole process easier.
3. Start gently hand expressing using the guidelines above. Some mamas may find warmth from a heat pad and/or gentle massage helps.
4. As you continue to express, you may notice beads of colostrum forming on your nipple. If you don’t notice any forming, don't panic! It can take time and a couple of days worth of stimulation to get things going. Continue to massage for a few minutes or as long as comfortable, even if nothing is appearing, as this will lay the groundwork for future expressing sessions.
5. If you do notice colostrum beads forming, you have two options; you can either use your Onatural syringe to gently suck each bead up directly from the nipple, or you can collect the beads in a spoon or container and then draw them into the syringe from there.
6. Whichever method you choose, make sure that the plunger is fully pushed into place before trying to collect anything and work slowly. If you notice a bubble forming in the syringe, flick it carefully and it should disperse. Keep filling until you've collected what you can and then place syringes into your labelled sandwich bag or Tupperware container and into the freezer.
As with almost everything breastfeeding, breast pumping (and motherhood!) related, it can take some time to get your head around expressing milk. Be gentle with yourself, keep trying and seek support and guidance from your midwife or a consultant if need be.
And Good Luck!
Onatural Team x