Your body has been making colostrum since about half-way through your pregnancy. In case you didn't know, colostrum is the first milk that your baby will get and it is packed with antibodies (making it a yellow color). It is perfectly made for a newborn, providing all the nutrition they need as your mature milk begins coming in (typically 3-5 days after delivery).
Did you know that you can start collecting and saving colostrum a few weeks before your baby is set to arrive? It is typically recommended for mothers who have gestational diabetes (baby may have low blood sugar) or anticipate feeding difficulties (e.g., cleft lip or palate). However, it could be beneficial for any mother! If you are at high risk for early delivery, reach out to your care provider to get the green light before starting colostrum collection. Though I have never seen anyone go into labor from prenatal hand expression, the oxytocin that is released when expressing colostrum could lead to contractions so you want to make sure you discuss this with your provider before you begin.
Once you get the go-ahead from your provider, you can start collecting colostrum around 36-37 weeks. You can hand express and collect colostrum 2-3 times per day for a few minutes at a time. If you feel any discomfort or contraction pain, stop immediately. And don't worry - your body will continue making colostrum to replace what you are expressing! There will be plenty of colostrum available in your breasts when your baby arrives.
For a video demonstration of hand expression, "The Basics of Breast Massage and Hand Expression" by Maya Bolman is one of my favorites.
Colostrum can be yellow or clear - it is thick, kind of like honey. You may only get drops or glistening, which is normal and does not indicate anything about your milk supply. Collect any colostrum expressed by using syringes with caps or other colostrum collection containers. Label your container with the date the colostrum was collected.
You can store your expressed colostrum in the back of your freezer for up to 6 months (in case you don't use them when baby first arrives).
Pack your colostrum on a freezer pack in a small cooler and take with you to the hospital. Do not store frozen colostrum or breastmilk on regular ice because it will thaw, so a frozen cooler pack is necessary. Ask for it to be stored in the freezer once you get to the hospital since once it is thawed, it must be used within 24 hours. Colostrum can be fed via syringe if your baby has low blood sugar, jaundice, or is not latching for any reason. If having any difficulties with breastfeeding, always seek IBCLC support for further guidance. We are here to support you!