If you’re expecting, you’ve probably heard about “colostrum harvesting,” and how you need to do this to get ready for breastfeeding. This is not true. There is nothing you need to do while pregnant in order to successfully breastfeed.
Let’s separate the fact from the fiction:
You can start pumping while pregnant and fill up your freezer with milk before the baby even arrives.
Collecting milk while pregnant will help boost your milk supply, so that you will have plenty of milk by the time the baby is born.
If you collect colostrum while pregnant, there will be no need to use formula, should your baby need a supplement.
You have colostrum from around 16 weeks of pregnancy. You may see it leaking, or may not, and both are normal.
If you hand express at any point after 16 weeks, you will probably see a few drops. However, your pregnancy hormones will not allow your supply to increase at this point, because your body is super smart and knows when to grow a baby (when the baby is inside) and when to feed a baby (when the baby is outside). Until you deliver the baby and your lactation hormones “come online,” you will probably only ever see a few drops at a time during a hand expression or pumping session.
You probably don’t need to fill up your freezer with milk, but that’s a post for another day. (Contact me if you need to talk through the freezer stash situation.)
Should your baby need a supplement, it is usually ordered in the amount of 10-20 ml per feeding, and babies eat at least eight times a day. Most parents expressing colostrum while pregnant collect around 1 ml per session. When you consider the math, you can see that unless you are spending most of your maternity leave pumping, it is unlikely that you will have enough colostrum to feed a baby who needs a supplement. The good news is that when you hand express or pump after the baby is on the outside and your lactation hormones are flowing freely – it is now possible to see higher volumes of colostrum that will increase over time.
Please note that high risk pregnancies are typically advised not to pump or hand express while pregnant, as breast stimulation may trigger contractions.
For these reasons, if you’re enjoying a healthy uncomplicated pregnancy,* I don’t recommend prenatal milk expression. There will be plenty of time for pumping later, and it will actually work to produce decent amounts of milk once the baby is out. Also, remember that if your baby is latching well, you won’t even need to pump for the first few weeks.
So let’s not make baby feeding any harder than it needs to be: Sit back, relax and enjoy your pregnancy! And if you want an individualized breastfeeding or pumping plan to stack the odds in your favor, let’s work together to create it!
*Pregnant parents with a medical conditions like gestational diabetes have more of a reason to be concerned about their baby needing a supplement. Please reach out to me if you’d like to talk through a plan to get breastfeeding off to a great start, that may include some prenatal milk expression, depending on your preferences.