What is Colostrum?
That’s most likely the first question that comes to mind when we hear the word “colostrum” for the first time. To put is simply, colostrum is the first milk produce by breast during pregnancy and it is the first milk your baby will drink if you decide to breastfeed. Your body will start producing colostrum midway through your pregnancy up until a few days after you give birth. Some women may even notice a thick yellowish liquid leaking from their breast towards the end of the pregnancy.
Since newborns have a very small digestive system, they cannot absorb large quantities of milk, so colostrum is high in carbohydrates, protein and antibodies but low in fat, since fat is harder to digest. I guess you can say that it’s the baby’s first superfood!
In the previous months leading to birth, your baby will swallow amniotic fluid in preparation to breastfeeding. The colostrum will help your baby clear his digestive system from bilirubin, a pigment that comes from the breakdown of red blood cells. The result of this clearing process is your baby’s first stool called meconium. It starts as a tar-like and thick paste (for about the first 24 hours) and will then transform over the next few days to a more green or yellow color, depending on if the baby is breastfed or formula fed.
See, this happens when you become a parent, you will find perfectly normal to share stool information (and blog about it)!
Will I have Enough Colostrum for Twins?
The short answer is: Probably. For the first 24 hours after birth, a woman on average will produce around 37 ml of colostrum. On the other hand, each baby will take on average between 7-14 ml per feeding. Although if your babies are premature like mine were, they will take even less. If I recall correctly, one of mine was taking 3 ml per feeding for the first 24 hrs.
Your body is a wonderful creation. It will rapidly adapt to your babies’ needs.
Will I Produce Colostrum if I’m Already Breastfeeding an Older Child?
If you are already breastfeeding an older child, you might wonder if your body will still produce colostrum and how will your body know colostrum goes to the newborns and not the older child? You may experience a drop in milk production halfway through your pregnancy. This is mostly due to the high levels of progesterone produced and the alvioli not holding milk as well. At birth, your progesterone levels will go down and your body will start producing prolactin. The prolactin will then seal the alvioli and you will see colostrum (if you haven’t seen it in the weeks prior to labor).
Tandem nursing, referring to nursing two or more babies or toddlers, is quite feasible. According to an experienced mother and lactation consultant Ann Smith, you should nurse your baby first and then your older child. She says that since the older child will have to learn to share his source of nourishment anyway, it’s not a good idea to prevent the older child to nurse right after the newborn comes along. This can create a form of resentment from the older child toward his or her new sibling.
Should I Express Colostrum Before the Babies Arrive?
La Leche League recommend storing colostrum from 36 weeks at the earliest other studies suggest 37 weeks. Normally your body will produce enough colostrum until you start producing larger quantities of milk. In some instances it might be suggested to store antenatal (before birth) expression of colostrum. For example, if your baby has trouble latching, you would still be able to feed him or her colostrum. It can also become handy if you suffer from diabetes. Babies born from diabetic mothers are more likely to develop hypoglycemia within the first 24 hours. The colostrum can help prevent these low level blood sugar levels.
It is possible that a woman who is expressing colostrum can experience mild cramps similar to premenstrual cramps. Those cramps are cause by the release of a hormone called oxytocin which is released during breastfeeding but the quantity released is very small. Expressing occasionally for a few minutes a day will unlikely trigger labor but to make sure, please consult your doctor or midwife. Many women who are nursing while pregnant can do it safely and will not trigger early birth. If you are still worried, remember that oxytocin is released in much larger quantities during sex. If your doctors says that it’s okay to have sex during your pregnancy, it would surely be okay to express for short periods of time towards the end of your pregnancy!
How to Express Colostrum
To express colostrum, gently press your breast and collect the colostrum with a spoon. You can store it in a food syringe and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or take several syringes and freeze them in a breast milk storage bag. The University Hospital Southampton NHS clearly explain the method used:
How to start colostrum harvesting If you would like to harvest your colostrum, you can start hand expressing for a few minutes once a day when you are 36 to 37 weeks pregnant. Gradually build up to gently expressing for about five to ten minutes at a time, two to five times a day, and then as often as necessary in the first few days after you give birth. If your baby is premature or unwell, you will be encouraged to start expressing within two to three hours of giving birth.
You can harvest your colostrum while you’re pregnant by hand expressing in the same way that you will express milk when your baby is born. While you’re pregnant you should only use your hands for expressing. Do not use a breast pump until after you have given birth. (1)
If you prefer a video, you can watch the one created by The Baby Clinic Cornwall. This video will show you how to massage the breast and how to harvest the colostrum with a syringe.
Colostrum is a wonderful superfood and should be given to a newborn whenever possible. You can always decide to use formula afterwards if that’s what you choose. It has a lot of benefits and will help your babies during their first few days.
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(1) University Hospital of Southampton, read here