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Harvesting Colostrum: A Comprehensive Guide for Expectant and New Mothers

The journey of pregnancy and early motherhood is filled with decisions aimed at optimizing the health and well-being of both mother and baby. One such decision is the collection of colostrum, both before and after the baby is born. Colostrum, often termed ‘liquid gold,’ is the first form of milk produced by the mammary glands during late pregnancy and the initial days following childbirth. This guide dives deep into the why, how, and when of collecting colostrum, providing expectant and new mothers with essential knowledge and practical advice.

Antenatal Colostrum Collection: Why And How

Antenatal expressing, the process of hand expressing colostrum during pregnancy, is gaining popularity for numerous beneficial reasons.Here’s why you might consider antenatal colostrum collection:

  • Health Conditions: Babies born to mothers with diabetes, or those with congenital conditions, cleft lip and/or palate, or born prematurely, might require immediate supplementation to stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent the need for IV fluids or formula. It’s great to be prepared for any situation
  • Previous Breastfeeding Challenges: Mothers who have experienced low milk supply, breast growth issues, polycystic ovarian disease, previous breast surgery, or have multiple sclerosis could find antenatal expressing particularly beneficial.
  • Preparation and Confidence: Even without specific risk factors, antenatal colostrum collection offers a backup supply for any feeding challenges post-birth and allows mothers to practice hand expressing, building confidence in their ability to feed their newborn.
  • Getting ahead: You might want to harvest colostrum to get ahead of your stash. Whether you want to express feed from the outset or simply take advantage of some extra supply before baby’s born, antenatal colostrum collection is a great way to start storing some liquid gold.

How to harvest colostrum antenatally

Experts generally recommend starting antenatal expressing from 37 weeks gestation for women with a low-risk pregnancy. The process involves hand expressing for 3-5 minutes on each breast, 2-3 times a day. The amount collected might be small, but every drop of colostrum is invaluable.

Postnatal Colostrum Collection: Ensuring A Healthy Start

Collecting colostrum after birth plays a critical role in supporting the newborn’s health, especially in situations where the baby may have difficulty feeding directly from the breast. Here are scenarios where postnatal colostrum collection becomes essential:

  • NICU Admissions: For babies admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), mothers can hand express colostrum to initiate and maintain milk supply, providing the best possible nutrition for their baby.
  • Boosting Milk Supply: Expressing colostrum in the days following birth can help increase milk supply and establish breastfeeding, particularly useful for mothers looking to exclusively breastfeed or express feed.
  • Health and Immunity: Colostrum collected postnatally can be used to boost the baby’s immune system, offering protection against infections and diseases.
  • Getting ahead: You might want to harvest colostrum to get ahead of your stash. Whether you want to express feed from the outset or simply take advantage of some extra supply that baby leaves behind after a feed.

Techniques and Storage

Collecting colostrum, whether done antenatally (before birth) or postnatally (after birth), is a beneficial practice that can significantly support breastfeeding and provide for the baby’s early nutritional needs. Effective hand expressing and proper storage techniques are crucial for maximizing the benefits of colostrum collection. This section expands on various methods for expressing and storing colostrum, including using Haakaa Silicone Colostrum Collectors, traditional cups, and syringes, as well as best practices for freezing colostrum.

Hand Expressing Techniques

Hand expressing is a skill that can be learned and perfected over time. It involves manually stimulating the milk ducts in the breast to release colostrum. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Prepare: Wash your hands thoroughly. Find a comfortable, quiet place where you can relax.
  2. Position: Gently massage your breast in a circular motion, working from the outside towards the nipple to stimulate flow.
  3. Express: Place your thumb and first few fingers about an inch away from your nipple, mimicking a ‘C’ shape. Avoid squeezing the nipple itself, which can cause pain and inhibit milk flow.
  4. Compress and Release: Gently press back towards your chest, then compress your thumb and fingers together and release. This action should not hurt. Repeat the compression in a rhythmic fashion to mimic the natural suckling of a baby.
  5. Collect: As the colostrum begins to flow, collect it in a sterile container or syringe.

Using Haakaa Silicone Colostrum Collectors

The Haakaa Silicone Colostrum Collector is specifically designed to make the collection process easier and more hygienic. Its material is safe for storing colostrum, and its design is suited for direct expression into the collector. After collection, the colostrum can be directly capped and stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Remember to label each collector with the date of expression.

Hand Expressing into a Cup and Using a Syringe

For those who do not have access to Haakaa collectors, hand expressing into a sterile cup and then using a syringe to draw up the colostrum offers an alternative method. This approach is particularly useful for collecting very small amounts of colostrum:

  1. Collect: Express colostrum into a small, sterile cup. A shallow cup can make it easier to gather the colostrum. You can even use your Silver Mama Nursing Cups if you have,
  2. Draw Up: Using a sterile syringe, draw up the colostrum from the cup. This method is precise and minimises waste.
  3. Storage: Cap the syringe, label it with the date, and store it in the refrigerator for short-term use or freeze it for up to 6 months.

Freezing Colostrum:

Freezing colostrum is an effective way to preserve its nutritional and immunological benefits:

  • Temperature: Freeze colostrum at -18°C or colder.
  • Containers: Whether using Haakaa collectors, syringes, or other safe storage containers, ensure they are sealed tightly to prevent contamination and leaks.
  • Labelling: Always label the storage container with the date of expression. Colostrum can be stored in the freezer for up to six months but using it within three months is best to maximise its quality.
  • Thawing: When ready to use, thaw the colostrum in the refrigerator or by holding the container under warm running water. Do not refreeze thawed colostrum. You can also rub the syringe/ccollector between your hands to thaw it enough to empty it out into a bottle while it thaws further to avoid it leaking out the syringe.

Remember to use milk within 24 hours of defrosting it.

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Addressing Misconceptions And Encouraging Expression: A Deeper Dive

A common piece of advice given to new mothers is to avoid expressing milk before four weeks postpartum, to prevent overstimulation and engorgement. However, this advice often lacks the nuance needed for mothers planning on exclusively express feeding or those wanting to collect milk for storage and be in control of their supply.

Establishing a supply sufficient for their baby’s needs requires expressing as often as a baby would feed. Furthermore, the early days post-birth offer a window to take advantage of the natural oversupply to build a significant stash of breast milk for the future.

Understanding Milk Production And Expression Timing

Milk production in the early postpartum period is governed by a supply and demand mechanism. The more frequently milk is removed from the breasts, whether by the baby or through expression, the more milk the breasts will produce. This principle is crucial for mothers who need to establish a milk supply through expressing.

The concern about overstimulation and engorgement arises from the physiological process where increased milk removal signals the body to produce more milk. However, engorgement and overstimulation can be managed with correct expressing techniques, frequency, and using cold compresses or cabbage leaves to reduce discomfort.

The Case For Early Expression

For mothers unable to breastfeed directly or those choosing to exclusively express feed, early and frequent expression is vital. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), initiating milk expression within the first hours after birth can significantly impact milk supply. This early initiation helps stimulate the production of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production.

Moreover, research published in the “Journal of Human Lactation” suggests that early initiation of pumping, within the first 6 hours post-birth, can lead to a more robust milk supply. This is particularly critical for mothers of preterm infants or situations where the baby is unable to breastfeed effectively due to medical conditions like cleft palate or congenital anomalies.

Taking Advantage of the Natural Oversupply

The first few weeks postpartum often bring a natural oversupply of milk as the body adjusts to the baby’s needs. This period presents an opportunity for mothers to build a milk stash for future use. Expressing milk during this time can alleviate discomfort from engorgement, prevent mastitis, and provide a supply of milk that can be stored for times of separation, illness, or when the mother returns to work.

Strategies for Successful Early Expression

  1. Start Early: Initiate expressing within the first 24 to 48 hours after birth if direct breastfeeding is not possible or the baby is separated from the mother.
    • Remember, within the first 24 hours your best pumping device is your hands. Using a breast pump will be almost ineffective and if you manage to draw any initial colostrum there will be a lot of wastage as the single few drops travel down the parts. It is best to hand express using the methods and information about within the first 24-48 hours as you wait for a bit more volume of milk to come in.
  2. Express Often: Mimic the newborn’s feeding pattern by expressing 8-12 times in 24 hours, including at night, to establish and maintain milk supply.
  3. Use Correct Technique: Consult with a lactation consultant to ensure efficient hand expression or pumping techniques. Proper technique can reduce the risk of nipple trauma and increase the amount of milk expressed.
    • If using a breast pump, ensure you have the correct flange sizes as this can severely make or break your output and experience. Access our flange git guide here for more information and a free ruler to measure yourself.
  4. Manage Engorgement: Use cold compresses after expressing to reduce swelling and discomfort. Ensure that the breast is emptied adequately to prevent mastitis.
  5. Store Milk Safely: Follow safe milk storage guidelines as outlined above

Tips for Successful Colostrum Feeding

  • Be Patient and Calm: Newborn feeding can be a process of trial and error. Stay patient, and create a calm environment to make feedings as relaxed as possible for both you and your baby.
  • Monitor Intake: While only a teaspoon per feeding is needed, it’s essential to ensure your baby is feeding effectively and receiving enough colostrum, especially in the first 24 to 48 hours.
  • Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to seek advice and support from lactation consultants, nurses, or your pediatrician, especially if you’re experiencing difficulties with feeding methods.

Methods for Administering Colostrum

  1. Direct Breastfeeding: The most natural way to administer colostrum is through direct breastfeeding. This method allows your baby to benefit from the colostrum immediately as they nurse. It also helps stimulate your body to continue producing milk and strengthens the bond between mother and child.
  2. Finger Feeding: If direct breastfeeding is not possible initially, finger feeding is an alternative. This involves using a clean finger as a soft, nipple-like substitute, onto which the expressed colostrum is placed. As the baby sucks your finger, they can ingest the colostrum. This method can also help acquaint your baby with the sucking reflex if they are having difficulty latching.
  3. Syringe or Dropper Feeding: For more precise administration, especially when dealing with the small quantities typical of colostrum, using a sterile syringe or dropper can be effective. This allows parents to directly deposit the teaspoon of colostrum into the baby’s mouth, ensuring they receive the full amount without waste. It’s gentle, controlled, and can be particularly useful for premature babies or those with feeding difficulties.
  4. Spoon or Cup Feeding: Another simple method is to use a small, sterile spoon or cup to feed your baby the colostrum. This technique is straightforward and can be less intimidating for new parents. It allows the baby to taste and swallow at their own pace, which can be comforting and effective.
  5. Supplemental Nursing System (SNS): An SNS is a device that can deliver colostrum while the baby is at the breast. It involves a thin tube attached to a syringe or bottle containing the colostrum, which then delivers the liquid alongside the nipple. This method supports the breastfeeding process, encourages the baby to latch, and ensures they receive the necessary colostrum. Haakaa come to the rescue, once again with an affordable and accessible SNS.

The Importance Of Professional Guidance

Before beginning antenatal expressing, it’s crucial to consult with an IBCLC, midwife, or obstetrician to ensure it’s appropriate for your situation. They can provide personalised advice and support, ensuring the safety and well-being of both mother and baby.

Collecting colostrum, both before and after birth, is a powerful way for mothers to support their newborns’ health and establish a strong foundation for breastfeeding. With the right techniques, tools, and professional guidance, mothers can navigate this process confidently, ensuring they are prepared for various feeding scenarios. Remember, every drop of colostrum is a step toward nourishing and protecting your baby, making it a practice worth considering for all expectant and new mothers.

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