Colostrum Harvesting

Colostrum Harvesting

Colostrum Harvesting

Antenatal colostrum harvesting can be the first step to successfully breastfeeding your baby. If it is anticipated that a baby may experience difficulties feeding or maintaining their blood sugar levels after birth, expressing colostrum antenatally means that your baby may have a supply of colostrum available if required, reducing the need to use artificial infant formula.

Before proceeding, please discuss this with your midwife, lactation consultant, or obstetrician for individual advice.

What is Colostrum?
  • Colostrum is a fluid that is produced by the breasts from about 18-22 weeks of pregnancy and during the first few days after the birth.
  • The appearance of colostrum may vary from dark yellow to clear; it can also be quite sticky.
  • Colostrum is easily digested and the ideal food for your baby.
  •  Colostrum provides perfect nutrition specifically for your newborn baby.
  • Colostrum is low in volume but high in energy, which is excellent to help prevent low blood sugar levels.
  •  Colostrum is a great laxative that helps with the early passage of meconium (baby's first bowel motion) which in turn assists in preventing jaundice.
What is Colostrum Harvesting?

Colostrum is in your breasts from around 20 weeks of pregnancy. We can start to hand express this colostrum from around 36 weeks of pregnancy. Colostrum is very important for babies; it is very concentrated and contains lots of protective properties to give your baby the best start.

Am I a suitable candidate to harvest colostrum before my baby is born?

Colostrum harvesting is NOT considered appropriate for anyone at risk of preterm delivery or anyone who has a history of a low-lying placenta or any bleeding in the pregnancy. Please discuss your suitability with an obstetrician or a midwife.

Who should Harvest Colostrum?

Any woman with the agreement of Obstetrician/Lactation Consultant can express antenatally. It is considered a great skill to learn before baby arrives. Colostrum harvesting is especially important for:

  • Babies of Diabetic mothers (Diet or Insulin)
  • Babies who have been monitored for being small or large
  • Previous issues with establishing a supply
  • Multiples eg. twins
  • Planned caesarean births
  • Mothers having had a previous breast surgery (maybe beneficial)
When can I start expressing?

Only hand express when harvesting colostrum, never use a pump. Generally, you may start hand-expressing colostrum from 36 weeks gestation and/or 2 weeks prior to babies arrival (planned section).

How do I hand express?

While you are hand expressing a hormone oxytocin is released. This may stimulate your uterus (womb). If you experience any cramping in your uterus you should stop and discuss with your health care provider. To make contact with the CUMH emergency room please call 021-4920598 / 021-4920500
How should I store Colostrum?

Expressed colostrum should be stored in a sterile syringe and sealed with an appropriate cap or place the syringe in a sterile container. Syringes should be labelled correctly, dated and stored in either the freezer or fridge after expression. Ideally put directly into the freezer every 24 hours until required for your hospital admission.

Expressed breastmilk/colostrum can be stored for;
  • 5 days in the fridge (not in the door)
  • 3 months in drawer freezer
  • 6 months in a deep freezer
How should I transport my colostrum to the hospital?

Your expressed colostrum (fresh or frozen) must be transported to the hospital in a cooler pack with ice blocks to maintain the temperature.

Ensure hospital staff are aware your colostrum is frozen. While in CUMH the freezer for storing colostrum is on Ward 2 East in the treatment room, and there are fridges on all wards. Frozen colostrum will defrost quickly if needed.

  • Colostrum defrosted in a fridge should be used within 24 hours
  • Colostrum defrosted at room temperature should be used within 5 hours or discarded.
What do I need to get started?
  1. Pick up your colostrum harvesting kit from the Midwives in clinic.
  2. Sign up for our antenatal breastfeeding class to learn the skill of hand expressing by emailing where you submit your preference for an online or in person class. 

Please contact the Breastfeeding Support team on 087-6623874 if you have any concerns, or you require any additional support.

If early exclusive breastfeeding is possible for you, the antenatally harvested colostrum might not be needed. This is cause for celebration, not commiseration.

Before giving the colostrum to baby, the cap must always be removed from the syringe. Your baby can be at risk from a choking episode if the cap is not removed from the syringe as advised.

Seek advice from a Healthcare professional for guidance on how to feed the harvested colostrum to your baby.