Is it Safe to Express Colostrum During Pregnancy?

You’re not expecting your little bundle of joy for a few more weeks but already your boobs are leaking.

What gives??!! Should you ignore the wet patches on your shirt, open your stash of breastfeeding pads early or try and collect some of this liquid gold?

The general consensus around expressing colostrum (or that pre-milk goodness) during pregnancy was that it should be avoided as it could trigger early labour. But studies confirm this isn’t always the case. In some instances, it may be safe, and even necessary to express during pregnancy.

What’s the go with colostrum, anyway?

Colostrum is that pre-milk liquid that babies need at birth. It’s loaded with antibodies and designed to protect bub during those first days earth side. Usually breastfed bubs will only need colostrum for the first couple of days before your body starts to produce breastmilk.

Some mums-to-be find that their breasts are SUPER excited about having a baby and decide to get ready for this bubba much earlier than needed. Their breasts produce colostrum during pregnancy rather than waiting until bub is actually born. This won’t happen with everyone but many do find this to be the case.

To express or leak? 

It is recommended that new mums express colostrum if:

Mumma has diabetes, whether it’s existing diabetes or gestational diabetes

In most cases, when you give birth, bub will be able to transition to this new world without many dramas, taking itty bitty bits of colostrum until your milk comes in. However, if mum has diabetes, the glucose levels for both mum and bub can drop.

The findings of a world-first study (published in the Lancet back in 2017) have paved the way for clinicians. They can now safely recommend that low-risk pregnant women with diabetes in pregnancy can express and store breastmilk to give to their newborns in the event they develop hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels) – a condition that can cause serious health problems in newborns.

Lead researcher Professor Della Forster says, “The practice of antenatal expressing has become increasingly widespread, especially among pregnant women with diabetes, which occurs in about one in ten pregnancies.

“Many health professionals have been encouraging women, most often those with diabetes (pre-existing or gestational) to express and store their breast milk in late pregnancy, however, there has been a lack of evidence to guide this practice.

“For the first time, we have evidence that shows in this low-risk population, antenatal expressing is safe and does not cause harm to babies.

“Our research fills a significant global gap in knowledge and provides much-needed guidance to pregnant women around the world and those providing maternal care.”

La Trobe University co-researcher and senior lactation consultant at the Women’s Anita Moorhead explained that in the study, 40 percent of babies whose mums had diabetes in pregnancy developed low blood sugar levels soon after birth.

“The research showed that not only is expressing breast milk before birth safe, but it increased the proportion of mothers who exclusively breast milk fed their child within the first 24 hours of birth and up to seven days after birth,” Ms Moorhead said.

Mum feeding milk to baby through a syringe

Bub has a medical condition

You may discover during a routine ultrasound that baby has a medical condition that could make breastfeeding tricky, such as cleft lip/palate, or a neurological or cardiac condition.

In these instances, baby may not be able to breastfeed, especially during those first few days/weeks. Expressing during pregnancy can ensure a bit of a stash to give to baby through a bottle or syringe.

What if I have leaky boobs but no medical concerns? Should I express? 

Many studies confirm that there is no risk in doing so in low-risk pregnancies but it’s best to ask your doctor or midwife just to be sure. And don’t start to express until after 36 weeks!

pregnant woman holding breast pump looking confused

When NOT to express

Even if you have leaky breasts, expressing before the birth may be off the table. This is because there is a risk of bringing labour on when you express. Women are advised to avoid expressing if:

  • They will require a c-section
  • They’ve had preterm births in the past
  • If there are any issues with bub’s growth 
  • If there is too much fluid in the womb 

When (and how) can I express? 

Hand express only – Avoid an electric breast pump at this stage as it can be a little too intense for your pre-baby breasts. Instead, use your hands to bring out the colostrum.

Press, compress, release – Use your thumb and fingers above and below the areola to mimic the rhythm of a baby sucking.

Time it – Start around 36 weeks. Express for no more than 5 minutes per breast, three times a day.

Have a syringe on hand – Suck up the colostrum drops with a syringe. Or, if you can get several drops, use a small sterile jar.

Store in the freezer – Store the syringes and jars in the freezer with labels on them. Bring them to the hospital with you to give to bubba after the birth.

Expressing during pregnancy may be something you want to consider. Or, you may be happy to let your leaking boobs lie and wait until bub is born. Just be sure to check with your doctor either way.

Preparing for baby? Have a look at our Pregnancy Checklist: What to Do, When to Do it and What to Shop, When!


Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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