Colostrum is easily digested and helps keep your baby’s blood sugars stable. Your breasts start to produce colostrum as early as 16 weeks into pregnancy. Colostrum is usually golden yellow in colour, thick and a concentrated food, so your baby will only need a small amount to begin with.

First milk

Colostrum is packed with nutrients and antibodies that nourish your baby and protect them from illness. Breastfeeding as soon as your baby is ready after birth gets your feeding journey off to the best start.

Colostrum contains molecules that support your baby’s developing immune response. It also helps your baby to poo frequently and get rid of all the meconium, the thick black poo, in your baby’s gut that has built up during their time in the womb.

Collecting colostrum

Your midwife may discuss collecting colostrum while you are pregnant. Expressing colostrum before birth, also known as harvesting, means it can be stored as a back-up, in case your newborn baby needs it.

Colostrum is usually collected and stored in labelled small syringes and frozen until it’s needed. 

Colostrum collecting syringe

Colostrum collecting syringe with colostrum

Expressing colostrum

If your pregnancy is straightforward, you can start expressing colostrum from around 36 weeks, provided you get the OK from your midwife or consultant first.

Keep in mind that when you express, it stimulates your nipples. Nipple stimulation encourages your body to produce oxytocin, the hormone that helps to kick start labour. In late pregnancy, there’s a very small chance that nipple stimulation could cause contractions. If you feel any tweaks, stop expressing.

Collecting colostrum will give you experience of hand expressing and help increase your confidence about breastfeeding before your baby is born. That’s why at Medway,  you may be encouraged to try and collect colostrum, even if none of the reasons listed above are relevant to you or your pregnancy.


Your midwife or doctor may recommend you antenatally express colostrum if your baby:

  • has a cleft lip or palate that makes breastfeeding difficult
  • has a congenital condition such as a heart condition or Down’s syndrome
  • is small for their gestational age.

It may also be recommended if you:

  • have gestational diabetes or a history of diabetes before pregnancy
  • take beta blockers
  • have had breast surgery in the past
  • are having twins or triplets as they are more likely to be born early and have a low birth weight.

If you don’t manage to collect much or any colostrum, there’s no need to worry. Not being able to express colostrum doesn’t mean there’s an issue with your milk supply.

Keep trying, and speak to your midwife if you have any concerns or need support during your antenatal visits.

The NHS has some useful information and tips on how to hand express and store colostrum.