My experience with antenatal colostrum expressing

When we first met our midwife at our OB’s office, she ran us through what would happen roughly week-by-week of the pregnancy. When she hit 36 weeks, she explained it would be time for me to begin “massaging my breasts” in preparation for milk, and if possible, collect colostrum.

I had two reactions:

  1. I laughed, and cracked a joke about making sure I gave Mario the heads up so he didn’t walk into the bedroom and get excited that it was a new form of foreplay
  2. Ask if that was the stuff that comes out of your boobs before milk (it was)

She explained that there’s a lot of benefits to collecting colostrum early. Some women actually find their breasts start leaking during pregnancy, but even if I wasn’t one of those women, that I could still express and collect it. Our bodies start to produce it early on in the pregnancy, but it wasn’t necessary to begin collection until later.

We finally hit 36 weeks, and I started trying to collect. I wanted to share that journey here, as there’s been some ups and downs during the process. I haven’t found many people online sharing their stories, and since that’s the entire reason that I have been blogging this pregnancy, I figured I should get it out there.

But first, the benefits…

Some babies may need more colostrum straight away at birth This can be the case if the baby is born premature, or the mother is high risk – for example gestational diabetes can cause a baby to be born with low blood sugar. Where the mother finds it difficult to supply enough, it can be handy to have a backup supply readily available.

Some babies may have problems latching on, and therefore feeding them initially can be difficult. Having some ready-to-go means the baby can be fed, while the mother is working on expressing to collect more.

You can read more on the benefits at the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s website.

What I didn’t realise, and what I haven’t found much online, is the other benefits of colostrum. Adele Barbaro is a mummy blogger that I follow on Facebook. Just recently she shared the post below, at a perfect time when I was just starting to experience success with my collection efforts.

If anyone else has any other suggestions for the use of colostrum I would love to hear them!

Pre-game: the online research

When it hit 36 weeks, I advised Mario that it was time. He looked at me confused, and I said quite solemly:

It’s time for me to start playing with my tits

My amazing aunt (who I’ve heard on the grapevine is an amazing midwife; she’s offered me so much information to date as well) had dropped us off a collection kit. She gave us some pointers, and some more invaluable advice  to prepare us for labour.

The first thing I did was start googling techniques. I set myself up on the couch, and explained to Mario that I was frustrated. I was sure that everything I was reading was wrong, because it was all just about how to express. No one was telling me just the massage portion, and I was positive that  I was meant to do some massage stuff before I ever got to the expressing part.

Mario researched as well, and advised I was wrong. We went back-and-forth. I was now positive there was no way he knew more about how to handle my boobs than I did.

Lesson learned – Mario knows more about using my boobs than I do.

For those who want to know, this link from the Mater Hospital has a graphic step-by-step. Save yourself the hours of research and just follow it – that’s the right technique.

Over the coming days I would look at YouTube videos to see if I was doing it right, and in doing so found a video of the largest boobs I have ever seen. I’m still a bit stunned from it actually. But all of it just came back to that single technique.

Phase 1 – Hand expressing

I’m going to cut to the chase – hand expressing is hard, tiring, and frustrating.

My first few times, I would start on the couch and spend 10 minutes to get a single drop. I felt like such a failure. My mind started racing, with thoughts that I wasn’t going to be able to feed my child. I wondered if I had better start researching formulas so that my baby would be fed.

I thought I was doing it wrong, and began to research online more than ever. Had Mario looked at my history he may have thought I’d suddenly turned bisexual. I saw more images of boobs than I ever cared to. I started watching youTube videos of women massaging their boobs (see previous note about accidentally finding the largest boobs in the world, making me feel even more inadequate). Finally, I was sure I was doing the right process but that it may have just been a matter of time. In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Mario was right there with me each night, encouraging me to keep going. For the most part, he was interested in the process, and was there to provide pep talks when I needed it. Each time I would get something into the syringe he would remind me that I was providing sustenance for our child. He made me feel special.

Over the first week I would only try expressing once at night with only a mild massage to begin with (in hindsight I could have prepared a lot better). Mario would sit there with the syringe, and I would work away. As each drop would appear he would pounce on it and suck it up, before I would resume. It was a team effort, and it was so surreal. So weird, so gross, so awesome. A year ago the whole scenario would have made me sick – who would imagine I would be trying to make my boob leak and my husband playing catch? Yet in the moment I was so glad not to be going through this on my own.

Efforts after hand expressing colostrum

Interlude – OB’s consent

We had mentioned to our OB that we had started doing collection, and he thought it was great. We asked about how long we should be doing it for, as we’d heard it could potentially bring on labour. At this point I was 37 weeks, which is now considered full term (anywhere from 37 – 41 weeks is full term).

He explained there had been studies about nipple stimulation and bringing on labour. They had one group of women go through nipple stimulation for 4 hours a day, and another group of women have none. The birth rates were the same. The only difference was that one group of women with much stronger nipples.

So “go for gold” he said (no pun intended, funny since colostrum is gold). The fact that I was at 37 weeks anyway, even if for some reason it did bring on labour, my baby wasn’t at risk anyway. There wasn’t any reason to not go ahead.

Phase 2 – Manual collection

By this time I had started to think about getting a manual pump. I had researched again online and it seemed that some people had started to use a manual pump with some success. I was still finding hand expressing to be a frustrating process, and so anything to make it easier would be welcome.

My amazing sister-in-law offered me her old pump, as she was no longer using it. She sent it up to me, along with her steriliser, so I had everything I needed to get under way.

It made an immediate difference. I was still only giving myself a small massage before I started to collect, or trying to use my hands to warm up my boobs beforehand.

This time I was able to start collecting about 0.5ml each time, so my production had immediately doubled. My hands were still getting tired after a few minutes from pushing the pump, but it was so much easier overall.

After each collection we would use a syringe to suck up what we had managed to collect. I had also moved to two collections a day – one in the morning and one at night.

Phase 3 – Electric pump collection

Early on in the pregnancy we had organised to buy an electric pump, a Spectra S2, from a friend of mine that was winding down her breastfeeding/pumping efforts for her bub. We had heard so many good things about the Spectra, so when she offered that to us along with a swing we agreed straight away.

We collected it from her just this week, and decided we would give that a go with the expressing as well. There wasn’t much online about whether to use a manual or electric, only just warnings to be cautious of not ruining your nipples. I’ve been extremely careful. I’m not using a high level of suction, and I’ve also started using a nipple cream immediately after. It was one that my friend had sent me, telling me with explicit instructions to use it like lip balm *grin* The packet itself had said to begin using it in the third trimester as a way to condition my nipples for breastfeeding, so it seemed perfect timing.

I also started following recommendations I had read online, and from my SIL, to use a heat pack before trying to collect. I have been kicking myself for not doing this earlier!! My biggest recommendation is that if you’re going to start expressing to definitely use a heat pack. I’m not sure whether it was coincidence, but the effect was immediate.

Where at best we were filling a 1ml syringe each day, now I’m getting anywhere from 4 – 5ml each session. This is now on par with what I have read about a lot of other women. I think it’s a combination of my body beginning to increase production as a result of the regular expressing, along with actually having devices that have the right techniques.

You can see in the image below our first attempts on the left (it took forever to fill those syringes) to our efforts now on the right. Those last two have been just from the last two days. It won’t be long before the tupperware container is full.

From manual to electric pump - collecting colostrum

What now…?

Regarding my hand expressing method, I’ll be sure to raise this with the midwives when I’m in hospital after the birth. I would love to have their assistance on how to improve on it. No doubt there will be times where I will need to hand express, whether I have an excess supply and sore boobs, or some other reason. It would be interesting to see the difference a heat pack and time has made on it as well.

For all the syringes we collect, they are now labelled and stored in the freezer. Mario had ordered some labels online so that we could write on them and date them for each syringe. When we go into labour, it’s his job to remember to grab them (worst case he can always come home and get them too, since we live only 10 – 15mins from the hospital).

Mario has already been and bought extra syringes for us from the chemist, again proving I’m incredibly lucky to have a husband that does this stuff. In fact, he’s pretty much the Project Manager of the whole operation! He gets out the kit each morning and night, waits until I’m finished, collects it, labels it, and washes it all up. I’m totally spoilt.

I’m now 38.5 weeks along, and will continue to build up a supply until baby is born. Like Adele mentioned in her post above, there may be many other reasons we end up using this in the future, so it really can’t hurt!

Did you collect colostrum when you were pregnant? Or have any experiences trying to collect? Have you got any other uses for colostrum to share?

All Mum Said
  • Wow kel such an interesting read I really have enjoyed reading all ur blogs on the whole pregnancy 🙂

    • Thank you!! I just wish I had found something similar prior to mine, but I’ve been lucky to find Facebook groups to chat to people about we are all going through. Writing also helps me to analyse things too haha

    • And the advice from friends and family too!

  • Loving your blog Kelly . Interesting and amusing as always. Hope you continue it on after birth ??

    • Thank you! Continuing it is definitely the plan. There will be a lot of poo stories to come haha, all the parenting stories 🙂 I’ve actually been writing since 2005, this site since 2013. I’ve only just upped my efforts this year and created the page for it. I’m so glad you’re enjoying it!

  • I’d never actually heard of early expressing. Who knew!!!?

    • Me either! Learnt something today

    • It seems to be something that is recent I think? I’d heard my sister in law collected hers, and it helped with top up feeds so her bub didn’t lose much weight in the beginning, which is awesome. But it doesn’t seem like many people have talked about it

  • I was supposed to express it due to GD… i didn’t and regretted it

    • Bummer – ah well, lesson learned right? Hope bub is going well!

    • He’s one now so it’s all good. Just meant that i had to give up some sleep time on hospital to be milked 🐄🐄🐄

  • Oh how interesting! I’ve never heard of doing this before.

    • There’s so much about pregnancy that you don’t seem to hear about everyday (but so much to take in as well)

  • I am glad I didn’t have to express antenatally, I didn’t leak at all during either pregnancy! Well done Kelly!

  • Second time my colostrum appeared early. Could be just because I’d had the experience with breastfeeding my first I think.

    • That makes a lot of sense actually for your second time around. I’ve had breast pads on stand by, but I daresay I won’t get any use out of them until bub is actually born

  • I remember a midwife hand expressing me after my first – I was like whoa!!!

    • Oh man – that would be quite an experience! And that’s just made me realise that when they help with breast feeding I should probably be prepared for someone else to be handling my boobs!

    • Kelly’s World You’ll never look at your boobs the same way again. Wait til you see them being sucked into an electric pump. 😂

  • Ooh I remember a women at the hospital had done this too!

  • I wish I’d done this!!

  • Thanks for sharing something new with me today!

  • I remember this vaguely being mentioned in a parenting book with barely any actual info

    • Yeah – it’s amazing how little there is out there. My biggest thing was about the frustration I felt through it as well, no one was explaining how little comes out to begin with, hence my immediate feelings of disappointment in myself.

  • My sister just told me she was doing this. I didn’t really know about it.

  • I heard about this but was too freaked out to try it. I’m currently sitting in the hospital with a two-day old who is feeding like a maniac. A little prep might not have been a bad idea….

    • Congratulations on the birth, how exciting!! Is it your first?

  • Learn something new every day! Interesting.

    • Interesting, and for those unprepared, can be a bit gross haha

  • I really had no idea about this. Interesting read.

  • How interesting! I never knew you could do this

  • Wow – never knew this Kelly!

  • How clever! I think I was too overwhelmed at that stage of pregnancy to even think of trying this – but what a great stash to have!