Most pregnant women will pump their breast milk after birth. Some women choose to pump before birth in order to have a stock of milk available for the baby after they are born.
Before giving birth, many mothers choose to pump and store their colostrum – the nutrient-rich milk produced in the early stages of breastfeeding.
There are numerous benefits to harvesting colostrum, such as potentially increasing breastmilk production and developing strong immunity in newborns. Colostrum can help newborn babies recover from certain health conditions such as jaundice and low birth weight.
However, there are cons to pumping milk before birth especially if pregnant women don’t know the proper way to do it. Doing it incorrectly could result in sore nipples and in some cases, unexpected premature labor.
When Can I Start Expressing Milk in Pregnancy?
For pregnant women, it is important to know when they can start pumping breast milk.
Some pregnant women may start producing colostrum at the end of the second trimester, while others may not produce colostrum until after their baby is born.
From 36 weeks of pregnancy, or from 32 weeks if you are likely to have a premature baby, you can start to hand express. Colostrum is thick and concentrated and comes out in small drops, so it should be collected by hand. It can get lost in pump equipment.
What Is the Purpose of Colostrum?
Colostrum is the first milk your baby consumes in the early weeks of her life. It’s highly concentrated with nutrients and antibodies to fight infection and protect your baby. It also helps them learn to suck, swallow and breathe during feeding.
Here are additional benefits of colostrum:
- Helps boost a baby’s immune system.
- Coats the intestines for a healthy gut which also helps prevent harmful bacteria from being absorbed.
- Provides ideal nutrition for infants.
- Easy to digest.
- Reduces the risk of infant jaundice
- Helps infants clear meconium due to its laxative effects
- Prevents the occurrence of low blood sugar in full-term babies.
The primary purpose of colostrum is to provide your baby with the nutrients they need in the first few days of life. It is essential for your baby’s health and should be consumed as soon as possible after birth.
Colostrum also helps a newborn learn how to breastfeed. It is thick and slow-moving, so it gives a baby time to practice sucking and swallowing. This is also the reason why colostrum can’t be collected using manual and electric pumps, as it comes out in only a tiny amount.
Harvesting Colostrum Before Birth
Breastfeeding is considered to be the best way to feed a newborn baby, and colostrum is even more beneficial than breastmilk.
That’s why many women like to collect and store this gold milk, in order to feed their newborns when they arrive. This practice of keeping the colostrum is known as antenatal colostrum harvesting.
Pros of Pumping Breast Milk Before Birth
There are many benefits to pumping and storing breast milk or colostrum before birth, including providing your newborn with essential nutrients and antibodies.
Colostrum is packed with these nutrients and can give your baby a boost in the early days of life.
Here are some of the pros of pumping during pregnancy:
- Colostrum – the first milk your body produces – is high in immunoglobulins, which can give your baby a boost of immunity.
- Colostrum can help ease the early passage of your baby’s first bowel movement and help prevent jaundice.
- If you’re planning to breastfeed, pumping during pregnancy can help your body get used to the sensation and build up your milk supply. For instance, mothers who decide to breastfeed exclusively may choose to express their breast milk regularly.
- If you’re pregnant and have diabetes, you might experience breastfeeding difficulties in the immediate postpartum period. If this is the case, you may want to consider expressing and storing your breast milk while pregnant. Stored milk is especially important for babies born with hypoglycemia, as they may need a milk feed urgently after their birth. Without breast milk, he’s at a greater risk of seizures or damage to the brain.
- When a mother saves her colostrum during her pregnancy, she is providing her newborn with the first immunization against disease. This expressed milk also helps to protect and nurture the immature gut of the baby. Formula feeding can pose problems for newborns, so it is often best to breastfeed whenever possible.
- Pumping your breasts during pregnancy can help you get used to hand expressing in case you need to do it later on. Familiarization with hand expressing techniques can help improve breastfeeding efficiency. If you’re not making enough milk after birth, you may need to add more minutes to your pumping sessions.
- Some women may collect colostrum during pregnancy in case they have a low milk production or experience difficulties breastfeeding later on. Having a freezer stash of breast milk is also a good idea for women who have undergone breast surgery, have a history of low milk supply, or have medical reasons that may make breastfeeding difficult. Pumping colostrum before birth gives you a chance to build up a stash of this precious liquid gold that can be used to help your baby get a good start on breastfeeding.
If you’re not comfortable with pumping before birth, you can do so after delivery. You can use a breast pump, either an electric pump or a manual one, to express your milk or harvest colostrum.
Does Colostrum Harvesting Hurt?
When harvesting colostrum, some women may find the process to be tender. However, it should not hurt. If hand expressing does cause nipple pain and soreness, you can try changing the pressure or position of your fingers.
This means you may need to change the pressure you use or the placement of your fingers for a more comfortable experience.
If you need more support, speak to your midwife or licensed health and wellness professionals.
Cons of Pumping Before Birth
There are some purported disadvantages to pumping milk before birth. Some people doubt the process due to these cons and might avoid it altogether.
But most of them are myths. There are specific ways to do things to avoid bad results. Pumping before birth can be a wrong decision if you don’t plan it or do it the right way.
If not done properly, pumping before birth can be painful and make harvesting colostrum difficult. It could also lead to sore nipples and you ended up hurting yourself during the entire processing.
This might be because you haven’t started producing enough colostrum or you are putting too much pressure on your fingers while expressing.
Not many women know that they can use a warm compress or massage their breasts to encourage letdown reflex to make each pumping session as comfortable as possible.
In some instances, harvesting colostrum is not recommended for pregnant women who have a history of premature labor.
Expressing or harvesting colostrum can cause nipple stimulation which can then lead to oxytocin production. Oxytocin is a hormone that can be used to start or speed up labor. It causes contractions of the uterus.
If you wish to harvest colostrum before your baby’s due date, you can discuss your options with your doctor or a lactation consultant. They should be able to teach you the right techniques for pumping milk before birth.
The Bottom Line
Colostrum provides immunities to newborns and helps to protect and nurture their immature gut. It also contains many nutrients that are beneficial for a baby’s growth and development.
Harvesting colostrum before birth can help you build up a stash of this precious liquid gold that can be used to help your baby get a good start on breastfeeding.
Pumping before birth has numerous benefits, but there are also some disadvantages that you should be aware of.
It is important to discuss your options with your doctor or a lactation consultant before making a decision. They will be able to provide you with more information and support.
Can Pumping Milk Induce Labor?
Using a breast pump, either a manual pump or an electric breast pump, or even hand expression, can cause nipple stimulation which can lead to the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that triggers uterine contractions which induces labor.
Can Breast Milk and Colostrum Cure a Sick Baby?
Yes. Breastfeeding a sick baby is one of the best things you can do to help them recover. Your breast milk is full of antibodies, white blood cells, stem cells, and protective enzymes that will help fight off infection and promote healing.
Plus, the act of breastfeeding itself is comforting and provides numerous health benefits for your little one.
This is also the perfect time to use your stored frozen colostrum. If you freeze colostrum into an ice cube, you will need to bring the temperature down in order to feed it in liquid form.
Despite being produced in small quantities, stored colostrum is packed with nutrients.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies for about the first 6 months, and continuing breastfeeding while introducing appropriate complementary foods until they are at least 1 year old.
How Much Colostrum Should I Give My Sick Baby?
When it comes to colostrum, a little goes a long way! Most moms only produce about an ounce within the first 24 hours, but that’s actually the perfect amount. A baby only needs about 1-1.5 teaspoons of this golden milk per feeding. So make sure to save any extra for later!
Should You Continue Pumping After Giving Birth?
To continue pumping after birth is entirely the breastfeeding mother’s decision to make. Of course, like most things, it can have advantages and disadvantages. Knowing this information can help you make an informed decision.
For instance, if you decide to exclusively pump, you don’t have to worry about nipples sore during the early weeks after birth.
You also have the flexibility to have extra milk for storage. More milk is always better than less milk.
If your newborn has poor latch because your nipples are flat, try pumping for a minute or two before you begin breastfeeding. The suction of a breast pump will sometimes draw out and lengthen the nipples enough for your child to latch on.
Another factor to consider is when your baby was born early and couldn’t latch. If this is the case, you might want to decide to pump until your baby can latch on.
After your baby arrives and if you decide to continue exclusively pumping, you should at least feed your baby freshly pumped breast milk for most of the time.
If this is not an option for you, you can also choose to pump after each breastfeeding session.
Another thing that is often overlooked by mothers is looking after their breast pumps, especially the pump parts. If you are using your pump regularly, make sure that all parts of the pump are clean.