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Understanding Colostrum: Your Baby's First Superfood

30 Apr, 2024

What is Colostrum?
As expectant parent, you may find yourself delving into a world of new terminologies and concepts, one of which is colostrum. What exactly is colostrum, and why is it considered so crucial for our babies' well-being?

Colostrum is essentially the first fluid produced by your breasts around the 16th week of pregnancy. It serves as the initial food for your newborn, packed with essential immune factors that lay the foundation for a healthy start in life. Moreover, colostrum plays a vital role in populating your baby's gut with beneficial bacteria, offering protection against allergies and diseases.

In line with the recommendations of Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), it's advised that babies be exclusively breastfed for approximately the first six months of life. This exclusive breastfeeding period includes the consumption of nothing but colostrum during the initial days after birth.

When Should I Express Colostrum?
Now, you might be wondering, "Do I really need to express colostrum before my baby is born?" The answer is not necessarily. Your baby will naturally receive colostrum each time you breastfeed in the first few days postpartum. While antenatal expressing has gained popularity in recent years, it may not be essential for every mother and baby.

However, there are instances where antenatal expressing could prove beneficial. Some babies may require additional fluids or nutrition after birth beyond what they can directly obtain from breastfeeding. In such cases, if a mother lacks the extra breastmilk or donor milk isn't available, the baby may have to resort to formula. Antenatal expressing offers a solution by providing a reserve of colostrum, ensuring that the baby receives the best nutrition possible.

Mothers with diabetes during pregnancy face the added concern of their baby experiencing low blood sugar after birth. Supplementing with extra colostrum can help stabilise the baby's blood sugar levels during this critical period.

Furthermore, certain conditions such as cleft lip and/or palate or neurological and cardiac issues in babies might pose challenges to breastfeeding initially. Antenatal expressing allows mothers to prepare for such scenarios by having colostrum readily available if needed.

Before considering antenatal expressing, it's crucial to consult with your midwife or obstetrician. They can provide personalised guidance based on your specific circumstances and health status.

Concerns about the safety of antenatal expressing are understandable. However, a notable Australian study, the DAME study, demonstrated that women with diabetes and those with low-risk pregnancies can safely express breastmilk (colostrum) in late pregnancy without harming their babies. Additionally, first-time mothers who expressed colostrum during pregnancy were found to be less likely to resort to formula feeding in the initial hours post-birth.

When should I start expressing Colostrum?
It's recommended to start expressing breastmilk no earlier than 36 weeks into your pregnancy.

Expressing Frequency and Duration
Express breastmilk twice a day, ideally once in the morning and once in the evening, for about 10 minutes in total each time (approximately 5 minutes from each breast). Check out colostrum collection kits for harvesting those precious first drops of colostrum in the early days of breastfeeding to feed to your baby straight away.

Expected Amount of Colostrum
It's normal for about 1 in 4 women to get no breastmilk at all when they try expressing. For those who can express, the average amount is around 5mls in total, not for each session.

Collecting and Storing Colostrum
Use collectors, such as the Midwives Own Brand Colostrum Collectors.
Thoroughly wash and air dry containers before use.
Use the same collector to collect milk for 24 hours.
Label each container with date, time, your name, and hospital number.
Store expressed milk in the refrigerator and freeze it each evening.
Use a new syringe or container each morning.
Hand Expression Technique
Wash hands with warm water and soap before expressing.
Express after a warm bath or shower and gentle breast stroking may aid milk flow.
Gently press the pads of thumb and forefinger opposite each other on the outer edge of the areola and squeeze rhythmically.
Express until flow stops (up to 5 minutes) then switch to the other breast.
Rest or swap hands as needed.
Do not worry if there's little or no milk; contact your midwife if unsure or if it causes discomfort.
Precautions and Monitoring
Hand expressing may increase oxytocin, causing mild contractions. Do not express if experiencing abdominal or labour pains, or if baby's movements are abnormal.
Stop expressing and contact the hospital if experiencing prolonged or frequent contractions, bleeding, or reduced baby movements.
Transporting colostrum to the hospital
Transport the frozen colostrum from the freezer in a cooler bag packed with frozen cold packs, such as the Midwives Own Brand Colostrum Cooler Bag when coming to the hospital for baby’s birth
Give the milk to the midwife upon arrival for storage in the postnatal ward freezer.
If you have a baby in the Special Care Nursery or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit repeat the same process.

In essence, colostrum serves as nature's precious gift to kickstart your baby's immune system and nourish their growing body. Whether you choose to express it antenatally or not, understanding its significance can empower you on your journey to give your baby the best start to life.

Article supplied by Midwives Own Brand.

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