Many expectant mothers are spending their last weeks of pregnancy busily expressing breastmilk for their unborn babies.
Well, not exactly breastmilk. Colostrum to be specific.
Prior to a new mother’s milk coming in, her breasts will produce a thick yellow substance called colostrum. This can begin happening from as early as 16 weeks. It’s what will keep baby nourished and hydrated in the first few days. Colostrum is basically liquid gold and is known to be rich in antibodies and immune boosting properties.
Women who choose to express colostrum before the birth of their baby may do so for several reasons.
Firstly, many mothers will tell you that the first days with a new baby can be intense. Babies often want to breastfeed frequently (which assists in bringing the real milk in) but sometimes require more fluids than what is available at the breast. This can mean that babies may need extra nutrition, usually in the form of formula.
For mum's who had planned on exclusively breastfeeding, this can be very upsetting. If the mother has expressed additional colostrum before the baby is born, she is therefore able to use it as means of additional fluids, rather than to rely on formula.
In addition, antenatal colostrum may be able to assist in cases where the mother has a diagnosis of diabetes. Medical professionals know that babies who are born to diabetic women are at risk of low blood sugar. Giving a baby additional colostrum can assist in stabilising their bloods.
Having an additional supply of colostrum may also be of benefit to babies with cleft lip, tongue tie and other physical conditions may prevent traditional breastfeeding from being a success.
Furthermore there is also said to be a slight benefit in situations where there is a family history of allergies and sensitivities to cows milk. According to research, babies with a predisposition to cows milk intolerance may have an increased risk of developing further sensitivities if given formula.
For these reasons more and more mothers are choosing to undertaking antenatal expression of colostrum. So much so, that despite there not being a whole lot of research into the practice (it's currently pending), a lot of Australian hospitals are developing safe practice protocols to best guide women who wish to express safely.
One of the most emphasised points is that women need to be under the guidance of a medical professional if they choose to express prior to birth.
The primary reason for this is due to the fact that expressing the breasts stimulates a part of the brain which produces oxytocin, the same chemical which brings on uterine contractions. There are concerns that in some women, antenatal expression could contribute to pre-term labour.
Experts say that in addition to being under proper medical care in undertaking the practice, women with a history of pre term labour, threatened pre-term labour or multiple pregnancies should consider risks properly before commencing expression.
The Motherish always recommends you speak to a doctor if you need medical advice.