Colostrum harvesting - should you do it?

Colostrum Harvesting – Should You Do It?

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As you near the end of your pregnancy, you might have heard about colostrum harvesting. It’s a technique where you, the expectant mother, can hand-express colostrum before your baby is born. While colostrum harvesting can be beneficial, it’s not a must-do for everyone.

Colostrum is your body’s first breast milk – a nutrient-rich, golden fluid packed with antibodies that give your newborn their initial post-birth boost, often called ‘liquid gold’.

baby being orally fed harvested colostrum via a syringe

As a breastfeeding coach, I encourage all my clients to consider colostrum harvesting. Here are the top 3 reasons for harvesting colostrum:

  1. Promotes and establishes breast milk supply preparing both your body and mind for the breastfeeding experience.

  2. Colostrum acts as a natural, first vaccine for newborns, providing them with a layer of protection against bacteria, viruses, and diseases. It is also rich in growth factors, helping the newborn’s digestive system to develop and prepare for digesting breast milk.

  3. Colostrum helps to expel excess bilirubin through its laxative effect, which can help reduce the risk of neonatal jaundice.

What is colostrum harvesting?

Antenatal expressing of colostrum is when you, the expectant mother, gently express the first milk from your breasts before the arrival of your baby.

benefits of colostrum

You’ll find colostrum to be thicker and more concentrated than the milk that follows. It comes in small quantities, but don’t worry, every little drop counts! To collect it, you can hand express directly into a sterile container.

Practicing this before your baby is born serves a dual purpose.

  1. It ensures a stockpile of your early milk for your little one.

  2. Plus, it familiarizes you with the process, making breastfeeding a tad bit easier when your baby is born.

While colostrum harvesting can feel new and a bit odd at first, you’re getting the hang of something that sets the stage for a nourishing start for your baby. You will need a little patience and gentle persistence.

The pros and cons of harvesting colostrum

Let’s break down some of the benefits and specific concerns you might face when considering if you would like to harvest your colostrum.

image of a pregnant mother considering the benefits of colostrum harvesting


1. It may help with milk production if you have a history of low milk supply or breast surgery

If you’ve been concerned about your milk supply due to breast hypoplasia or previous breast surgeries, harvesting colostrum can be a gentle way of encouraging your body to get the flow going. You’re essentially letting your breasts know that it’s soon time for work!

2. It could nourish your baby if you can’t breastfeed right after birth due to cleft palate, premature, downs syndrome, or if you have diabetes

Life sometimes throws a curveball, and if you’re facing challenges like gestational diabetes or your baby has a condition like cleft lip or Down syndrome, having colostrum on hand means you’re ready to feed and protect your baby, even if direct breastfeeding isn’t an option straight away.

3. You learn a vital skill

There’s something empowering about mastering the skill of hand expression. It helps you get to know your body and be confident that you can provide for your baby, with or without a pump.

4. Colostrum may help prevent jaundice

Newborns are prone to jaundice, but the natural laxative effect of colostrum can help your little one pass meconium, reducing the risk. Just a few drops of this golden goodness may make a big difference! (fact check this)

5. Colostrum contains antibodies that boost your baby’s immune system and help their digestive system develop

Colostrum is pretty amazing. It’s packed with antibodies to bulk up your baby’s immune system. It’s a special concoction that prepares their little tummies to digest food and fight off infections. It’s like your first hug to their immune system – and who wouldn’t want that?


1. Harvesting colostrum may potentially induce contractions and start labour

When you express colostrum, it can release oxytocin, which may lead to contractions and induce labour (but this is unlikely). If you have a history of early labor, your healthcare provider might suggest you avoid colostrum harvesting to prevent bringing on labor before your little one is ready. This is especially true if you’re taking beta blockers, which could affect how your body responds to the oxytocin.

2. The amount of colostrum that can be harvested varies, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to collect a significant amount

Every woman is different, and so is the amount of colostrum you might be able to harvest. Even if you express several times a day, you might only get a few drops each time, which can feel a bit disheartening. For those with gestational diabetes, monitoring blood sugar levels is important, as hypoglycemia in the baby can be a concern, and colostrum can help manage this after delivery.

3. Harvesting colostrum can be time-consuming and uncomfortable for some women, especially in late pregnancy

Let’s be honest, expressing colostrum takes time and patience, and it might be pretty uncomfortable, particularly as you near your due date. You’re already juggling a lot, and adding another task to your to-do list could be just plain exhausting. If you’re using a syringe to collect colostrum, it can be tricky business, and you’ll want to be in touch with your midwife to ensure you’re doing it right. If it’s becoming too much for you, it’s perfectly fine to stop expressing and wait for your baby’s arrival. After all, your comfort is also a priority.

4. Cervical suture

If you’ve got a cervical suture (also known as a cerclage), it’s best to steer clear of colostrum collection. The physical stimulation of expressing could potentially trigger contractions, which isn’t ideal if your goal is to keep that little one cozied up inside for a bit longer. Additionally, there’s a debate on whether the oxytocin release from expressing colostrum could induce labor, with differing opinions on its likelihood and safety.

5. Placenta issues

Those with placenta-related complications, such as placenta previa or placenta accreta, should avoid harvesting colostrum. Collecting could increase the risk of bleeding, which can be quite serious.

6. An unstable twin/triplet pregnancy

Carrying multiples? If your pregnancy has been identified as unstable, or if you’ve been told you’re at a higher risk of early labor, it’s wise to hold off on colostrum collection.

When should you start to harvest your colostrum and how do you do it?

You can start to harvest colostrum near the end of your pregnancy, not before 37 weeks. It’s a straightforward process that involves hand-expressing the early milk from your breasts.

Collect the colostrum drops in a 1ml syringe – yep, there is only a small amount of it! It’s advisable to use the same syringe for collecting and storing the colostrum. This method is efficient and ensures the colostrum is easily transportable and ready for use after your baby is born. Storing it in small doses makes it easier to feed to your baby.

Hand expressing steps

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to hand-express colostrum:

  1. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water to prevent introducing bacteria into the colostrum.

  2. Find a comfortable place to sit or stand, and place a clean, 1ml syringe or spoon nearby to collect the colostrum.

  3. Gently massage your breasts in a circular motion, starting from the outer areas and moving towards the nipple. This helps stimulate milk let-down.

  4. Place your thumb and index finger on opposite sides of your areola, about 1-1.5 inches behind the nipple. Your fingers should form a “C” shape.

  5. Gently press your fingers back towards your chest wall, then compress your thumb and index finger together, as if you’re trying to bring them together behind the nipple. Release the pressure and repeat the compression. Avoid sliding your fingers over the skin, as this can cause discomfort.

  6. Rotate your hand around the areola to express from different milk ducts. Keep your fingers in the “C” shape and maintain the compression-release motion.

  7. As you compress and release, small drops of colostrum will begin to appear at the nipple. Collect the drops with the 1ml syringe or spoon.

  8. Express from one breast for about 5 minutes, or until the flow slows down, then switch to the other breast. Alternate between breasts a few times during each session.

It may take some practice to get the technique right, and the amount of colostrum expressed can vary. If you have any concerns or difficulties, ask your lactation specialist or healthcare provider questions specific to your needs.

How to store your harvested colostrum

1ml syringes used for collecting colostrum

Once you’ve got the hang of expressing that liquid gold, you will need to store it safely to ensure every precious drop you’ve collected is kept safe and ready for your little one.

1. Use clean, sterilized containers made specifically for storing breast milk. These can be hard-sided plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids, special breast milk storage bags designed to withstand freezing and thawing, or 1ml syringes obtained from your healthcare provider.

2. Store the collected colostrum as follows:

Storage locationTemperatureDuration
Room temperatureUp to 77°F (25°C)4 to 6 hours
RefrigeratorCool (back of refrigerator)Up to 48 hours
Freezer0°F (-18°C) or colderFreezer compartment of a fridge: 2 weeks
Separate freezer unit: 6 months
Storing colostrum

3. Label each container with the date and time of expression. This helps in using the oldest collected milk first and ensures that it is used within a safe time frame.

4. Thaw frozen colostrum in the refrigerator or by setting it in lukewarm water. Never use a microwave to thaw or heat colostrum, as this can destroy nutrients and create hot spots that might burn the baby’s mouth. Once thawed, colostrum should be used within 24 hours and should not be refrozen. Any leftover colostrum that has been warmed and offered to a baby should be discarded and not stored again.

Does colostrum harvesting hurt?

Harvesting colostrum should not hurt. When you hand express, take care to be gentle. It might take some practice but once you get the hang of it, it should feel like a natural process. If you experience pain, it’s a sign to stop and perhaps consult your healthcare provider.

How much collected colostrum should you take to the hospital with you?

a pregnant woman packing her hospital bag for the birth of her baby and wondering how much harvested colostrum to take with her.

If you have been harvesting your colostrum at home and plan a hospital birth, it can be tricky to know how much to take with you! A cool bag with ice packs can be a trusty friend to keep your frozen colostrum at the right temperature during your trip to the hospital.

  1. Newborns typically consume very small amounts of colostrum in the first few days. Their stomach capacity is quite small – about the size of a cherry on the first day, increasing to about the size of a walnut by day three. Typically, newborns may only need about 1 teaspoon (5 ml) per feeding in the first 24 hours.

  2. The average hospital stay after birth can vary, but it’s usually around 2-3 days for a vaginal delivery and slightly longer if there’s a cesarean section. Consider how many feedings might occur during this time.

  3. Determine if the colostrum is meant to supplement breastfeeding or serve as the primary source of nutrition (in cases where the mother or baby might have complications). This will affect how much you might need.

Make a note on your birth plan about how much colostrum you have and that you would like to use it to feed to your baby on arrival.

How much colostrum should you harvest?

  • Before labor: The amount of colostrum you produce before labor can vary. Aim to collect 1-2 milliliters per session.

  • Frequency: Twice a day is a common routine for many.

  • Storage: Use sterile containers to store the colostrum in the fridge or freezer till it’s needed.

Remember, there’s no “right” amount to harvest – every drop counts!

Take the first steps toward breastfeeding with colostrum harvesting

Colostrum harvesting can be a real game-changer for expectant moms. By now, you’ve got a good grasp of what it’s all about and how it could benefit both you and your little one. But here’s the thing – it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Your body is amazing and it’s working hard to create that liquid gold for your baby. Every drop counts, and whether you decide to harvest colostrum or not, trust that your body knows exactly what your baby needs.

Colostrum harvesting FAQ’s

Colostrum harvesting does not directly control high blood pressure – it is more accurate to say colostrum harvesting can be beneficial for mothers who are taking beta blockers to control high blood pressure.

The advice is to start slowly, perhaps just once a day for a few minutes, and then gradually increase to 2-3 times per day as you get closer to your due date – but be aware the amount collected can vary greatly between mothers.

No, you won’t run out of colostrum before birth; your body continuously produces colostrum throughout pregnancy and after birth.

You can try to collect colostrum daily or every other day after 37 weeks, as comfortable and advised.

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