It’s not uncommon for some pregnant women to notice that they start leaking a yellowish substance, called colostrum, from their breasts before giving birth. Colostrum is the first type of breast milk produced during pregnancy.
It’s been drilled into our heads that we cannot waste any of the precious liquid gold, and some may think that if they don’t collect colostrum, which is super rich in nutrients, the baby won’t get any of it once they’re born.
This is not true; it doesn’t matter if you start leaking colostrum while pregnant; you will continue to produce it once the baby is born.
So, is it necessary to store what leaks from your breasts to feed it to your baby once they’re born?
And is it safe to express colostrum while pregnant?
Is it bad to squeeze your breast during pregnancy?
Read on to know more about the different breast milk types and tips on saving the liquid gold for your baby.
What week in pregnancy do you start producing milk?
Estrogen levels continue to rise during the second trimester, and milk ducts develop, so you will notice how your breasts grow, and you may need to go up one or a few cup sizes.
Also, you will begin to produce milk in the second trimester, around week 22, and this first milk is called colostrum.
Some pregnant women don’t notice the milk production, but others will leak and may need to use breast pads (also known as nursing pads) to soak up the liquid and prevent their clothes from getting stained.
Colostrum is the first milk your body produces during pregnancy, generally between the 16-22nd week, and it plays a significant role in building your baby’s immune system.
Colostrum is not produced in large quantities because when a baby is born, their stomachs are the size of a marble, so they don’t need much to feel full. Despite the small amount of colostrum, it has a high concentration of protein, vitamins, minerals, and immunoglobulins and is also low in fat and sugar.
It’s filled with white blood cells that produce antibodies to strengthen the baby’s immune system and protects them from infection.
Breast milk is usually called liquid gold because of its peculiar yellow color and benefits.
What comes after colostrum?
Your body will produce colostrum up until around the second to the fifth day after delivery, and afterward, you will begin to produce what’s called transitional milk.
Transitional milk lasts for about two weeks, and this kind of breastmilk contains high levels of fat, lactose, and water-soluble vitamins, as well as a higher calorie count than colostrum.
The final stage of breastmilk is Mature milk, which will remain that way until you wean your baby from breastmilk.
This type of breastmilk is 90% water, and the other 10% is carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Mature milk is divided into fore milk (found at the beginning of the feeding and has a higher water content) and hind-milk (which comes after the initial release and contains the most fat necessary for weight gain).
Is it bad to squeeze your breast during pregnancy?
Now that we understand the cycle of breastmilk production and the benefits from each stage, let’s get back to the main topic: Is it wrong to squeeze your breast during pregnancy?
This is debatable because it’s well known that nipple stimulation is a way to induce labor naturally, so you’ll need to be careful.
Expressing colostrum early in pregnancy is unnecessary unless your doctor recommends it.
There are cases where your doctor may indeed recommend expressing colostrum that’s already leaking and storing it to feed to your baby once they’re born if there’s evidence that the baby will require special care.
Women who have diabetes before pregnancy or gestational diabetes are encouraged to express milk if they have leaking breasts before delivery.
The reason is that babies usually have low blood sugar at birth and can become hypoglycemic if not treated. Hypoglycemia can cause serious complications to the baby.
Hypoglycemia is typically observed in babies born to mothers with diabetes. Therefore, if the mother stores breast milk, it can be given to the baby immediately after birth to prevent hypoglycemia.
Usually, babies born from mothers with diabetes are supplemented with infant formula until the mother produces enough milk. Milk production may take a few days, so if you have some colostrum stored (even if it seems to be a few drops), they can be given to the baby instead of formula milk.
How to express and store
If your doctor approves that you can squeeze colostrum before giving birth, then try not to use a breast pump and use hand expression to get the colostrum.
Hand expression is a method where you start squeezing your nipples and areolas with the opposite hand and get a few drops of breastmilk that can be gathered into one teaspoon and then stored in a tight and dry container.
The container must then be sealed and kept in the freezer or refrigerator, depending on how much time you store it.
There’s a learning process to render satisfying results with hand expressing colostrum, but even a small supply can make a huge difference with your child.
8 additional tips about expressing colostrum and milk storage
Here are some pointers about expressing colostrum before giving birth and the best way to store them to avoid spoilage.
- Make sure you know your delivery date before considering squeezing colostrum while pregnant since it can trigger early labor.
- Avoid antenatal expression before the 39th week of pregnancy.
- Pay attention to your bra. If it’s too tight or made from an itchy material, it may stimulate your nipples and cause colostrum to begin leaking.
- Seek expert advice before choosing to start squeezing your breasts to gather colostrum. The best advice will be from the doctor monitoring your pregnancy because they have a better understanding of your medical history and will be able to give an informed opinion.
- If you’re given the green light, use hand expression instead of the breast pump. Hand expressions are gentler and more controlled than the motions of the pump. The pump may even overstimulate your breasts.
- Don’t worry if you only gather a few drops of colostrum at a time. One teaspoon of the precious liquid is enough for a baby to receive the health benefits they need. Later, it can be fed to the baby with a syringe.
- Store the small supply you gather in a dry, sterilized, and airtight food-grade container or breastmilk storage.
- Keep the containers in the refrigerator if you’re going to feed them within the next four days or in the freezer if it needs to be stored for extended periods. Once you start labor, take it with you to the hospital and give it to a nurse or someone qualified, so they can handle it and give it to your baby when the time comes.
When asked if it is bad to squeeze your breast during pregnancy, the first thing you need to do to get an appropriate answer is to ask your doctor or a medical provider.
Colostrum is full of vital nutrients that are key to the development of babies, especially for their immune system.
However, unless medical conditions suggest that your child will need extra help after birth, antenatal expression may have side effects that need to be considered.
In late pregnancy, many women use nipple stimulation as a natural way to induce labor, but it should be avoided unless your due date is near or you’re already overdue.
Early labor is dangerous for babies; untimely or premature labor can cause lifelong consequences for the child. So before you try hand expressing your breast milk, seek expert advice on the matter.
Women get stressed out about breastfeeding after birth, so adding more stress to your body before your child is even born is unnecessary.
Other women feel that if they waste colostrum, they will be depriving their babies of the nutritious substance once they’re born.
But as we said before, you will continue to produce colostrum after birth for the first few days, and whether you’re leaking colostrum or not doesn’t determine how your breastfeeding experience will be.
Many women don’t have any leakage from their nipples, which doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to breastfeed or will have low milk production. It’s also normal to have colostrum let down after birth too.
And remember, enjoy the process. Your pregnancy and motherhood journey should be something to be remembered fondly.