Colostrum harvesting pros and cons [2023 Guide]

Verified by  Ana Carolina, MD
Verified by Ana Carolina, MD

Dr. Ana Carolina is a Pediatrician. She has been practicing for 7 years and is passionate about providing comprehensive care to children.

Pregnancy and childbirth are beautiful, transformative experiences, and they come with a myriad of decisions to be made. One such decision that you may come across is colostrum harvesting.

What is colostrum harvesting?

Colostrum harvesting is a practice that some pregnant women undertake in the weeks leading up to childbirth. It involves manually expressing colostrum from the breasts and storing it for later use. This practice can start anytime from 36 weeks of pregnancy, but it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before beginning, to ensure it’s a safe option for you.

When you harvest colostrum, you essentially collect and store small amounts of this ‘liquid gold’ to feed to your baby after birth, if needed. The harvested colostrum can be a lifesaver, especially in situations where the baby is born prematurely or has low blood sugar levels.

When and why is colostrum harvesting done?

Colostrum harvesting is often recommended when there’s a likelihood that the baby may have difficulties breastfeeding immediately after birth. Some of the situations include when the mother has diabetes, the baby is expected to be born prematurely, or there’s a history of breastfeeding issues.

In these instances, having a store of colostrum can ensure the baby has access to this vital first nutrition, even when they can’t latch immediately.

But the practice isn’t exclusive to these situations; some mothers choose to harvest colostrum simply to feel more prepared for breastfeeding and motherhood.

If you’re considering colostrum harvesting, it’s essential to understand that every mother’s experience is different. You may produce lots of colostrum, a little, or none at all when you try to harvest.

Each of these outcomes is entirely normal. What’s important is doing what feels right for you and your baby.

What are the pros of colostrum harvesting

Here are the four pros of colostrum harvesting.

1. Ensuring immediate nutrition for the newborn

The first advantage of colostrum harvesting is the assurance that your baby will have immediate access to this nutritious substance, even if there are initial challenges with breastfeeding. Babies sometimes struggle to latch on properly in the first few hours or days, and having a supply of colostrum on hand can ensure your little one doesn’t miss out on this ‘liquid gold’.

2. Comfort for mothers with conditions like gestational diabetes

For mothers with certain medical conditions such as gestational diabetes, colostrum harvesting can provide some peace of mind. Babies born to mothers with diabetes are at a higher risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) after birth, and the quick access to colostrum can help stabilize the baby’s blood sugar levels.

3. Helps prepare the breasts for nursing

Colostrum harvesting may also act as a form of physical preparation for breastfeeding. The process of expressing colostrum can help you become familiar with handling your breasts and understanding the mechanics of milk expression.

4. Colostrum as a natural immunity booster for newborns

Remember, colostrum is a natural immunity booster. It is packed with antibodies and white blood cells that help protect the baby from infections in the early days of their life. By harvesting colostrum, you’re ensuring that your baby can receive these immune benefits, even if they initially struggle with breastfeeding.

While these are compelling advantages, remember that the decision to harvest colostrum should be personal and guided by your unique circumstances. Always consult with your healthcare provider before making a decision.

What are the cons of colostrum harvesting?

Here are the four cons of colostrum harvesting.

1. Risk of stimulating labor too early

One concern with colostrum harvesting is the potential risk of prematurely stimulating labor. The action of nipple stimulation during harvesting can cause the release of oxytocin, a hormone that can trigger contractions. This is why it’s crucial to wait until at least 36 weeks of pregnancy, and only start with your healthcare provider’s approval.

2. Possible storage and contamination issues

Proper storage of colostrum is essential to maintain its nutritional and immunological value. Colostrum needs to be expressed into a sterile container and stored correctly to prevent bacterial growth. If not done properly, there’s a risk of contamination which can be harmful to the newborn.

3. The pressure and stress of harvesting for expectant mothers

The process of colostrum harvesting can be time-consuming and may add additional stress to expectant mothers. Not all women can express colostrum before birth, which can lead to feelings of disappointment or inadequacy. Remember, your worth as a mother is not determined by your ability to produce or harvest colostrum.

4. Potential for decreased colostrum availability at birth

Some people worry that harvesting colostrum before birth might deplete the supply available for the baby immediately after birth. However, most research suggests that this is unlikely. Your body continues to produce colostrum until your mature milk comes in.

It’s important to weigh these potential downsides against the benefits of colostrum harvesting. Having a discussion with your healthcare provider can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation.

Colostrum harvesting: Guidelines and best practices

To make the process of colostrum harvesting safe and effective, certain practices are recommended. First and foremost, consult with your healthcare provider before beginning. Once given the go-ahead, here are some tips:

1. Wash your hands thoroughly before each expression session.
2. Express into a sterile container to avoid contamination.
3. If expressing by hand, gently massage your breasts without causing discomfort.
4. Collect small amounts at a time; remember, newborns only need a small quantity initially.
5. Store colostrum in small amounts in the refrigerator and freeze within 24 hours.

Expert advice on colostrum harvesting

Seek expert advice, whether from a lactation consultant or your obstetrician, especially if you find the process challenging. Some women may struggle to express colostrum, and it’s perfectly fine to ask for help.

Most importantly, remember that while these guidelines can be helpful, they may not fit everyone’s situation. Be gentle with yourself. If you’re unable to harvest colostrum, that’s okay too. There are always alternative ways to make sure your baby gets the nutrition they need.

Remember, every journey through pregnancy and motherhood is unique. Don’t compare yours to anyone else’s, and always do what feels right for you and your baby. Colostrum harvesting is just one of many choices you’ll make as a parent, and there are no wrong decisions as long as they’re informed and made with love.