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Antenatal Expression of Colostrum - When, how and why?

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

What is Antenatal Expressing?

Antenatal expressing is the hand expression of colostrum from the breasts in late pregnancy. Colostrum is the 'first milk' - it is produced from around 16 weeks in pregnancy until 3-5 days after birth. Colostrum is highly nutritious. Designed as the first food for your baby, it coats their gut to seal up the intestinal cells and provides vital antibodies, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Antenatal expressing colostrum

Why Express Antenatally?

Expressing antenatally is a fantastic way to learn the skill of hand expression. It also helps you become familiar and comfortable with your breasts before breastfeeding begins. Any colostrum you are able to collect can be handy to have for after birth in case mum and/or baby are unwell, separated for any reason, unable to directly breastfeed or if baby requires additional milk top ups.

Expressing antenatally also releases oxytocin, which can help prepare your body for labour.

When to Express Antenatally?

For most women who are experiencing a healthy pregnancy, antenatal expressing is safe to begin at 37 weeks of pregnancy. It is important to check with your own obstetrician, doctor or midwife prior to beginning antenatal expressing to ensure it is safe for you.

How to Express Antenatally?

Spend 10 minutes, twice per day to practice expressing. Choose a time when you are calm and relaxed, not in a rush to be anywhere. After a warm shower or bath can help you relax. Massage your breasts first by gently moving your hands around each breast, using a soft pressure that is comfortable.

Some women will get colostrum easily, while others may never get anything. Colostrum is made in very small amounts - 0.1-0.5mls is quite a normal amount to collect per session. It is important to understand that the amount of colostrum you can express antenatally is not an indicator of milk supply once your baby is born. Remember, learning this skill and getting comfortable with your body is the goal - any colostrum collected is a bonus.

  • Place your thumb and forefinger opposite each other on the outer edge of the areola - about an inch away from the base of your nipple

  • Gently press your fingers back towards your ribcage, then squeeze your fingers together, without dragging them down the breast tissue

  • Keep your fingers well back from the nipple - the milk ducts are in your breast tissue, not in the nipple itself

  • Repeat in a rhythmic motion, releasing pressure in-between to allow ducts to refill

  • Collect the colostrum in syringes or small pots - antenatal expressing kits are available from most hospital clinics

Collection and Storage of Colostrum

To collect colostrum use a syringe or small cup/pot. You can use the same syringe for one-two days. Keep it capped or covered in the fridge. After one-two days pop it in the freezer. Freshly expressed colostrum can be stored

  • at room temperature for 6-8 hours

  • in the fridge for 3-5 days

  • in the freezer for 3 months

  • a deep freezer for 6-12 months

Be sure to label each syringe with your name, date of birth and date expressed. It can be helpful to keep a ziploc bag in the freezer including a small ice pack. Label the ziploc bag with your name and date of birth. Place each syringe into the bag. Then when it's time to head to the hospital just grab the bag out of the freezer!

Disclaimer: This advice is general in nature and is not designed to replace person-specific advice received from a medical professional. It is recommended you consult your own medical professional prior to beginning antenatal expressing.

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