It is possible to express your 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 16th week of pregnancy. This is the first food for your baby and contains 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 (that is, 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 needed for 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 or nutrition 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.
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.
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 pregnancy were 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 explains the technique in detail and your midwife will also help you.
1. National Health and Medical Research Council 2012, Infant feeding guidelines: Summary. Canberra, ACT: National Health and Medical Research Council.
2. Forster DA, Moorhead AM, Jacobs SE, Davis PG, Walker SP, McEgan KM, Opie GF, Donath SM, Gold L, McNamara C, Aylward A, Ford R, Amir LH 2017, Advising women with diabetes in pregnancy to express breastmilk in late pregnancy (Diabetes and Antenatal Milk Expressing [DAME]): a multicentre, unblinded, randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 389(10085): 2204-2213.
Learn more to prepare for breastfeeding
Attend any of our online interactive pre-birth sessions or look out for our special session for mums with diabetes