Collecting Breastmilk Before Birth

Did you know that your body starts producing breastmilk before your baby is born? Beginning around the 16th week of pregnancy, your body starts producing its first form of breastmilk, known as colostrum. Your body will continue making this early breastmilk until the first few days after your baby is born.

This early breastmilk is thick, sticky, and usually yellow, clear, or white in color. It has protein, sugar, fats and antibodies that help boost your baby’s immune system.

Once you are 37 weeks pregnant, and have discussed it with your health care provider, you can start collecting and saving this breastmilk for your baby.

Why should I collect breastmilk (colostrum) before birth?

  • It supplies all the nutrition that your baby needs in the first days of life and is beneficial to all babies.
  • Families who have made an informed decision not to breastfeed can still provide their baby with colostrum collected during pregnancy.
  • Some babies need extra nutrition after they are born (e.g. babies with low blood sugar or jaundice). By collecting colostrum before your baby is born, you will have the ideal food on hand to help your baby if needed.

How do I collect early breastmilk (colostrum)?

  • Hand expression is the best way to collect colostrum! Hand expression is when you use your hands to massage milk out of your breasts.
  • You can hand express 2-3 times a day for 5-10 minutes each time. The amount of colostrum you get may vary from a drop to a teaspoon.
  • To learn about hand expression, watch this video

You may produce very little or no colostrum. That is ok! That does not mean that your milk supply will be low. You can still breastfeed your baby.

To learn more about collecting, storing, and preparing to use colostrum, explore the information below.

Collecting colostrum (step-by-step) (click to expand) »
(Source: Algoma Public Health)
  1. Wash your hands well
  2. Prepare a clean container, syringe, cup, or spoon to collect the milk
  3. Get comfortable! Sit in an upright position and lean forward a little
  4. Gently massage your breasts
  5. Place your thumb and index finger in a C-shape outside the dark area of your nipple or about 1-1½ inches behind the nipple
  6. Push your thumb and index finger back towards your chest and gently squeeze and release. Try not to squeeze or pull your nipple.
  7. Try compressing different areas of your breast.
  8. Collect the drops in your clean container and repeat for 5-10 minutes on each breast!
Storing colostrum (click to expand) »
  • You can store all the colostrum that you collect in a 24-hour period in the same container (sealed tightly with a lid). Put it in the fridge between expressions.
  • At the end of the day:
    • store the colostrum in small containers (3-5ml), like a syringe (find these at your local pharmacy)
    • label the containers with your name, date, and time(s) that you expressed
    • place the container/syringes in a freezer bag and put them in the freezer
Bringing your colostrum to the hospital (click to expand) »
  • When you go to the hospital to give birth, bring your milk with you in an insulated cooler bag/container with ice packs to keep it from thawing. (Learn more about storing breastmilk in the Breastfeeding Handbook).
  • Let your nurse know that you have it! The nurse will:
    • check the labels on the containers;
    • ask you if it has ever been frozen and, if so, how long it has been thawed;
    • and store the colostrum for you.
  • Once your baby is born, your colostrum will be ready to use whenever you want it.

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Last updated: 2022-08-16