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Pregnancy is that period in a woman’s life that is filled with a list of dos and don’ts. Everything you did while you were not pregnant suddenly comes under scrutiny during the nine critical live-giving months. Some of these practices range from ensuring a healthy pregnancy and delivery to feeding and care after birth.
One of the most remarkable changes a woman experiences is the growth of the breasts in preparation for feeding the newborn.
The cells in the breasts, called alveolar cells, begin to secrete something called colostrum from the 12th to the 16th week of pregnancy. (1) This colostrum is very often expressed by pregnant women by squeezing the breasts to avoid discomfort.
While squeezing your breasts during pregnancy is not bad, experts recommend avoiding it from the 36th week as it can induce early labor. (2)
Colostrum: Should It Be Removed?
Colostrum is different from the milk produced by new mothers. It is thick and yellowish-white and is rich in nutrients. It is often the first food a newborn baby consumes.
Studies have found colostrum to be particularly beneficial for boosting immunity. It also contains antioxidants, enzymes, and hormones that boost the baby’s growth and development. (2)
Lactation experts claim that expressing colostrum and freezing it until the birth of the baby have several benefits:
- Colostrum can reduce the dependence on formula milk while the mother is recovering and the baby is still in the hospital. (3)
- It is used alongside glucose gels to treat neonatal hypoglycemia (low blood sugar in newborns). (4)
- It supports breastfeeding after birth. (5)
- It helps mothers with diabetes in managing blood sugar levels. (5)
How to Express Colostrum
You will know your breasts have begun the production of colostrum when your breasts start leaking a whitish liquid or if they have grown in size and are often sore.
A lactation consultant may be able to guide you on how to express and store this colostrum safely and hygienically.
When you are ready to express colostrum, massage your breasts from all sides bringing it toward the nipple area to encourage the flow of colostrum. Hold around the breasts with both hands (forming a C-shape), and squeeze until the colostrum releases. Repeat on both breasts.
You may only get a few drops at a time, so you can follow this method daily to collect a significant amount for when the baby is born.
Precautions to Consider
Speak to your doctor or lactation consultant before expressing colostrum if:
- You are on medication that is likely to contaminate the colostrum.
- You have had a previous high-risk pregnancy.
- You are currently experiencing a high-risk pregnancy.
- You have an infection or illness. (6)
Can I use a pump for expressing colostrum?
Colostrum is expressed during pregnancy (starting around 36 weeks), but some experts recommend using the hands to express the colostrum instead of pumps as using the latter has the risk of inducing labor and may cause preterm delivery.
Your midwife or doctor may be able to guide you on the best way to express breast milk by hand. (7)
Can someone else squeeze the breasts for me?
Yes, you can visit a lactation consultant with your partner to learn the safe way of expressing colostrum. Your partner can support your pregnancy by helping you express it.
After birth, your partner can also bond with the newborn by feeding this colostrum via a bottle.
- During pregnancy, even before birth, the woman’s body starts preparing itself for birth and taking care of the newborn.
- One of the ways of doing this is by the production of colostrum, which is rich in nutrients, immune-boosting compounds, enzymes, and hormones that support the baby’s growth and development.
- Many experts suggest expressing this colostrum by squeezing the breasts and storing it to feed the baby after they are born.
- However, squeezing the breast can release a hormone called oxytocin, which can induce labor, so it’s recommended not to squeeze the breast after 36 weeks of pregnancy.