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Antenatal expression of colostrum

It is possible to express your breastmilk (colostrum) while you are still pregnant and freeze it so you can feed it to your newborn baby, if you need to. This is called 'antenatal expressing'.   


What is colostrum? 

Colostrum is the first fluid made by your breasts from about the 16thweek of pregnancy. This is the first food for your baby andcontains vital immune factors. Colostrum also helps to colonise your baby’s gut with healthy bacteria that protect against allergy and disease.  

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends babies be exclusively breastfed (receive nothing but breastmilk) for around the first 6 months of life. This includes receiving only colostrum in the early days after birth.  


Do I really need to express colostrum before my baby is born? 

No, it’s not necessary for all women. Your baby will receive your colostrum each time you breastfeed in the first few days after birth. Antenatal expressing has become more popular in recent times, but it may not be neededfor you and your baby. 

If you choose to express your colostrum but can’t manage to get any, there’s no need to worry. This won’t mean you will have a low supply after your baby is born.   


When might it be helpful? 

For various reasons, some babies may need more fluids ornutrition after birth than they can get directly from their mother. If a mum doesn’t have this extra breastmilk (and donor breastmilk is not available) her baby may have to be given formula.    

If you think this may apply to you when your baby is born, talk to your midwife or obstetrician. They may suggest that you express your breastmilk (colostrum) antenatally. In this way, if your baby needs more milk they can be given your colostrum, rather than anything else, and you can be exclusively breastfeeding.   

You may decide to express colostrum antenatally if you have: 


Diabetes 

If you have diabetes during pregnancy, your baby is at risk of low blood sugar after birth. Receiving extra colostrum at this time can help your baby’s blood sugar level to stabilise.  


Other conditions 

Some conditions may make it hard for a baby to breastfeed well, at least in the early days, for example, babies with cleft lip and/or palate, or a neurological or cardiac condition. If your baby is diagnosed before birth with one of these conditions, you may like to express colostrum before baby is born so you will have it on hand if needed. 

 

Before expressing colostrum antenatally it is important to discuss this with your midwife or obstetrician. 


Is antenatal expressing safe? 

A large Australian study (the DAME study) showed that women with diabetes and a low-risk pregnancy can safely express breastmilk(colostrum) in late pregnancy without causing harm to their babies. It also found that the babies of some first-time mothers who expressed colostrum during pregnancywere less likely to receive formula in the first 24 hours of life. Check with your midwife or obstetrician before expressing to make sure it is a safe option for you. 


When and how to express colostrum 

Most women are advised to wait until late in their pregnancy before starting to express. Colostrum is thick and small in volume, so expressing by hand often works best. Our page on hand expressing has some videos to demonstrate and your midwife will also help you. 


Without expressing colostrum antenatally, there is still a lot you can do to help your baby breastfeed right from the start.   

For further information about the storage of your expressed colostrum see:

expressing and storing breastmilk

Breastfeeding: expressing and storing breastmilk booklet

Breastfeeding: Expressing and Storing Breastmilk covers all aspects of expressing and storage of breastmilk including hand/pump expressing, when to hire/buy a pump, long term milk expression, and correct storage and handling of breastmilk.

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© Australian Breastfeeding Association June 2022

 The information on this website does not replace advice from your health care providers.

 

Last reviewed: 
Jun 2022