Antenatal expressing simply means to express colostrum prior to the birth of your baby. Some women are very surprised that they can produce colostrum prior to birth, but most women do (and if you don’t, don’t worry it’s not an indicator of the supply you will have once baby is birthed).
Antenatal expressing will NOT take away from the goodness baby will get, our bodies are clever and will continue to produce colostrum - in even more quantities, until the placenta is birthed and the colostrum begins to transition into breastmilk.
The benefits of antenatally expressing are:
1. It gets you familiar with your breasts, and how the milk is effectively removed from your breasts which may make you more comfortable and confident when feeding
2. Can help to build your supply
3. You can store the expressed colostrum for up to 1 year (in a deep freezer). This can be given to baby as ‘top-up’ feeds if baby requires supplementation for any reason. For example if you have gestational diabetes and baby is likely to have unstable blood glucose requiring more milk to keep their glucose stable, you can use this colostrum whilst your own supply builds.
Antenatal expressing should be recommended to mothers with diabetes, or expecting a low birth weight baby/IUGR, cleft lip or palate or if you are having another child and had supply/latch issues first time around. It can safely be done from 36 weeks once a day until birth. Please just check with your midwife/ob prior to commencing as their are times when it wouldn’t be recommended.
How to hand express and how to store
This video from https://globalhealthmedia.org/portfolio-items/expressing-the-first-milk/ is a great example of how to hand express.
Milk ducts are all around the breast, so you can move your hand around every 5 or so squeezes so that you don’t get sore in one spot or just activate one duct.
I’ve attached a fact sheet from NSW Health that has more explanation, and also a factsheet from the ABA on how long you can store expressed breastmilk for. Please check with your hospital re: their storage procedure for antenatal expressed milk and to see if they have a kit with the containers in it, and also - let your partner/birth support person know that you have it! Because there are cases where the mother is put under general anaesthetic or too unwell and the baby may need the antenatal expressed milk - so if your birth partner knows it’s there then hopefully it will be used!
Start with 3 -5 minutes on each breast. The total time expressing when proficient should only be 5-10 minutes. If cramping pains in the uterus are experienced during expressing, please stop expressing and contact your birthing unit, or nominated midwife if you have one.
You may not see any colostrum for the first few days or you may just see a glistening. This is perfectly normal. Continue to express and the amount you see will increase.
Collect it first onto a spoon or straight into the syringe, whichever is easier for you. This can be easier to do with your partner or support person. Get some labelling stickers from your midwife so you can label your colostrum before you bring it to the hospital, with your name, date and time expressed.
Store the syringes of colostrum in your freezer in a container or bag.
To hand express
Wash your hands with soap and water before handling breasts.
Gently massage all around your breast. You may benefit from some strokes or taps around the breast – anything to stimulate the breast to release your colostrum.
Then place your thumb and forefinger opposite on either side of the nipple about 3cm back from nipple base. Press inwards or backwards while gently squeezing finger and thumb together, repeat and rotate fingers around the breast. This should not cause pain, just pressure.
Use a sterilised spoon or sterile syringe to collect any you see. It may take several sessions to be comfortable with this.
Move around the areola to express all parts of the breast.
Remember anything new is hard to do, so keep practicing.
If you are not able to express any colostrum after a week, speak to your midwife at your next antenatal appointment.
If you have stored colostrum and have now had your baby and didn’t require it, you can still give to baby at any time ~ As long as it’s been stored appropriately and in date - it’s an amazing liquid gold - full of antibodies, amazing to give to your little one when they are unwell or for an immune boost! You can add it to bottles, to iceblocks or smoothies! You can also donate it to mothers in need through the Red Cross or the fb page ˜human milk for human babies