You may not know this, but there are special circumstances in which you may need to express breastmilk in the final few weeks of your pregnancy. It is called Antenatal Expressing, and there are different reasons for doing so. It is advocated by some NHS Trusts – but not all – so discuss with your Midwife as it is not recommended in certain circumstances.
Antenatal expressing is also known as ‘colostrum harvesting’. This is because the milk you produce and express before birth (and just after), is called Colostrum. Colostrum contains vital immunological properties and helps to colonise the baby’s gut with healthy bacteria that protect against allergy and disease. It is produced in small quantities (but a newborn baby’s stomach is only as big as a marble, so they only need a few millilitres), and contains everything they need in the first few days, including proteins, fats, and antibodies! It really is amazing stuff – also known as Liquid Gold!
If given the go-ahead by your Midwife, mums-to-be are usually advised to wait until around 36 weeks before starting antenatal expression. There are different reasons to express during pregnancy, but the overall goal is to be able to provide Colostrum to baby, which may not otherwise be possible, depending on circumstances. It may be that the mother has medical conditions which will make it harder for baby to establish breastfeeding (such as hypoplasia, breast surgery), or has to take medications that are incompatible with breastfeeding, or baby has conditions which may make breastfeeding harder (such as a cleft lip or palate, Down’s Syndrome, cardiac complications, intrauterine growth restriction).
It is also common for mothers with diabetes to express during pregnancy, as babies of diabetic mothers risk developing low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) within the first 24 hours after birth, and the Colostrum helps to stabilise baby’s blood glucose (sugar) levels.
Antenatal expression might also be needed if the baby is separated from mum at birth, or has difficulty feeding. It ensures that there is a store of Colostrum, which baby can still receive right after birth, even if not through breastfeeding.
If you want more information about antenatal expressing it is important to talk with your Midwife at an antenatal appointment, and don’t proceed without professional help.
The information in this blog is from guidance from ABM (Association of Breastfeeding Mothers), LLL (La Leche League), and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation trust. For further information please speak with your Midwife, or refer to the following websites:
For further support and advice about expressing, or about Ardo breastpumps, do not hesitate to get in touch – we answer all sorts of questions from many, many mums and their partners every day, and are here to help you!