There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies. But while breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience, some women can experience difficulty, particularly in the first few days. Many new mothers may feel a sense of loss if they are unable to breastfeed — either at all or for as long as they’d hoped.
It is completely normal to feel sad, and sometimes even grief and remorse. The most important thing is to allow yourself to feel these emotions, and remember that things sometimes don’t go as planned. Even if you have attempted breastfeeding or only breastfed your child for one day, remember it is a precious gift and something to be proud of.
Why is colostrum important?
A woman’s breasts produce a fluid called colostrum during late pregnancy and during the first few days after their baby is born. After that, breast milk is produced in greater volumes. Breast milk contains important nutrients for a baby’s growth and development, and it protects babies’ immune systems and helps to minimise disease and infections.
Colostrum itself is high in protein, and contains antibodies and vitamins, minerals and salts which can help protect your baby from dehydration. Because it is high in energy, it also helps your baby pass their first bowel motion, which can help prevent jaundice after birth.
Why do women need to express?
Sometimes it’s necessary for women to express breast milk in late pregnancy. Your baby will then have a supply of milk ready if it’s needed after they are born, and infant formula may be avoided. Hand expressing breast milk may be required if your baby:
- Is particularly small or large or born early.
- Has difficulty latching onto your breast or doesn’t suck effectively.
- Is very hungry and wanting to ‘cluster’ feed, particularly in the early stages.
- Has a congenital condition like a heart problem or Down Syndrome.
- Has a cleft palate and/or lip.
Expressing breast milk may also be required if women have difficulty producing enough milk for their baby’s feeds, including women who have:
- had a low milk supply in the past
- had problems with breast growth
- had polycystic ovarian disease
- had diabetes in pregnancy
- had breast surgery in the past
- had medical assistance to conceive
- multiple sclerosis
However, there are some situations when hand expressing breast milk is not advised during pregnancy, particularly if you are at risk of premature labor, or you start to experience contractions during or after hand expressing. That’s why it’s vital you check with your doctor if you are uncertain or have concerns.
Can I obtain colostrum using a breast pump?
In many situations, it can be also be helpful to have a stored supply of colostrum. However, while breast pumps are effective for stimulating breast milk supply after a baby is born, they are not effective at obtaining colostrum. Colostrum can be obtained by hand expressing until your breast milk supply is established. This can be done from the 36th week of pregnancy until 72 hours after your baby is born.
It is important to realise that hand expressing takes practice (along with lots of other things to do with babies!). The volume of colostrum that can be expressed will also vary, but even small amounts of colostrum can be beneficial. If you can successfully hand express in your final weeks of pregnancy, you can also freeze your colostrum in syringes and take them to the hospital before you give birth. They will then store them for use if needed. You can find out more on how to hand express breast milk here.
My team and I would be delighted to assist you on your pregnancy journey. Call (07) 3353 3100 to book an appointment today.