Pros And Cons Of Pumping Before Birth (The Process Of Harvesting Colostrum)

Pumping milk before birth is a practice known as harvesting colostrum, the golden milk one stores before the birth of their newborn. This golden milk has many benefits apart from being full of nutrition. It helps increase breastmilk production, is beneficial to babies born to diabetic mothers, develops strong immunity, helps babies recover from sicknesses such as jaundice, and is helpful for babies born with low birth weight, amongst others. Pumping milk before birth can become a con when women don’t know the right way to do it. You shouldn’t pump but only harvest it using hand expressing. If you do it before 37 weeks of pregnancy, it makes your nipples sore or induces labor. 

Pumping breastmilk is a common notion after childbirth, but pumping before birth is something many people haven’t heard of. But when they do, they become curious to know if it’s even possible. 

Pumping before birth might not be such a wild idea because many people opt for this practice, and there’s a reason for it.

Widely known as harvesting colostrum, this milk produced in women before childbirth is quite helpful and does provide the newborn with lots of benefits. But like there’re pros to something, there’re some cons as well.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of pumping milk before birth.

Pumping milk before birth

For those of you who aren’t even aware of such a practice of pumping milk before birth, this might come as a surprise, but yes, it’s possible and is known as colostrum.

Popularly known as “liquid gold,” this is the first milk your body produces. While many people think our body starts producing milk only after childbirth, it’s way before when you’re still pregnant.

Towards the end of one’s pregnancy, you might start producing colostrum which will appear as clear, golden-yellow, or light orange milky fluid. Its color and texture will be completely different from the milk you start making a few days after childbirth. 

Depending on the individual, some people start producing colostrum way earlier, and some only start making it in the last month of pregnancy. 

Harvesting colostrum

Most people don’t know that while breastmilk is considered wholesome food for newborn babies in the first six months of their life, the colostrum they produce is even more beneficial than breastmilk.

That’s why this milk is harvested, implying that many women like to collect and store this liquid gold milk and use it to feed their newborns when they arrive.

This practice of keeping the colostrum is known as antenatal colostrum harvesting. 

Pros of pumping before birth

A mom is feeding her newborn baby colostrum through a baby feeding syringe

Harvesting colostrum and storing it for when your newborn arrives is done because this milk is packed with nutrients and antibodies that nourish and protect the newborn in the first few days of their life. 

There’re a lot of benefits attached to storing this milk, such as:

1. Faster milk production

Milk production takes time after your baby is born, and it might take more than three days to produce the proper amount of breast milk to feed your baby.

Because of this, many people have to provide infant formula to the baby in the first couple of days.

People who’ve had breast surgery or have a history of low milk supply can benefit from storing colostrum beforehand as it can help stimulate breast milk.

2. Helping mothers with diabetes

Perinatal hypoglycemia is associated with transient hyperinsulinemia and is often seen in babies of mothers with diabetes.

It not only affects babies’ ability to suckle, but women with diabetes in pregnancy may also experience breastfeeding issues in the immediate postpartum period. 

Doctors encourage pregnant women who have a history of diabetes or gestational diabetes to harvest colostrum before giving birth.

Colostrum is beneficial to newborns as they might need it to keep their blood sugar levels stable.

3. Beneficial in feeding newborns

Storing colostrum before your baby arrives is beneficial when they come into this world. Then you can easily feed them the stored milk as you wait to start breastfeeding them properly. 

Some people have trouble producing breast milk due to various issues like medical conditions or having to take medications after birth which makes feeding even more difficult. 

By storing colostrum, your baby can get some of its benefits like increased immunity and extra calories they so desperately need in the first few days after birth. Babies don’t have a robust immune system, and when they’re born, colostrum is necessary.

It has antibodies, white blood cells, and immunity-boosting compounds to keep newborns from getting infections, illnesses, or diseases.

Colostrum contains high levels of secretory immunoglobulin A, which protects a baby’s guts by killing off viruses and bacteria.

4. Learning hand expressing 

Breastfeeding is easier when you’ve your baby sucking to it, but sometimes this process is complicated in the beginning, and that’s when you’ll have to learn how to hand express your milk.

Hand expressing is needed:

  • To tempt a reluctant baby to breastfeed
  • Help a sleepy baby who’s unable to stimulate milk supply at the beginning
  • When the baby is in the neonatal unit
  • To be reassured about milk supply
  • When breasts are overfull, making it difficult for the baby to latch
  • When there’s a blocked duct
  • When the breast pump isn’t helping

Hand expressing is a skill just like breastfeeding, and they take time to be learned and used in the right way. If you start practicing it in the stages of colostrum, you can store this precious milk and slowly learn this skill to use it whenever you’re faced with a difficulty or issues mentioned above.

Don’t try to harvest colostrum by using electric breast pumps.

5. Treating newborns

Some mothers might produce enough colostrum to last them a long time, even after feeding in the initial days of birth.

This milk isn’t only beneficial for the newborn when they’re born but also comes in handy in various other situations:

  • The baby has low blood sugar, shows signs of dehydration, is losing weight too quickly, or has a low birth weight.
  • The baby has a left clip palate, intrauterine growth restriction, or a congenital condition, such as a heart condition or Down syndrome.
  • You’ve twins or triplets, who mostly suffer from low birth weight or were born early.
  • Underdeveloped breasts or previous breast surgery.

6. Reducing jaundice

Another benefit of feeding your newborn colostrum is that it helps clear out that first poop from their digestive tract.

Meconium contains bilirubin, so supplementing breastfeeding with stored colostrum can be beneficial in preventing or treating jaundice. 

Cons of pumping before birth

If you’re familiar with the concept of harvesting colostrum, you might have heard about various cons regarding this practice too. This can make you doubt the whole process, which can benefit your newborn, and you might end up avoiding pumping before birth.

But most of these concerns are just myths. There are specific ways to do things to avoid bad outcomes. There’s a proper way to do anything, but it can turn out to be a wrong decision when you do something without planning or seeing the right time.

The same applies to pumping milk before birth.

Before 37 weeks of pregnancy, it can be painful and quite difficult to harvest colostrum because chances are you haven’t started producing enough of it in the first place.

When you start pumping before the right window, you might end up with sore nipples or hurting yourself in the process of harvesting it.

You must have heard widely about one particular scenario where women go into labor when trying to harvest colostrum. Your doctor will suggest you not harvest colostrum if you’ve had a history of premature labor.

If you still proceed, then nipple stimulation can produce oxytocin, which can trigger premature labor in some cases. A similar thing happens when you try to harvest it using an electric breast pump.

It would be best if you discussed it with your doctor when you wish to harvest colostrum. There are no cons, but there might be specific conditions under which your doctor will advise you not to pump milk before birth. 

Also, there are right and wrong techniques when pumping milk before birth. Visiting a lactation consultant is helpful to learn these techniques and use hand expressions to harvest the colostrum correctly. 


Why should you not pump while pregnant?

If you’ve heard about pumping milk before birth, there are some right or wrong things about it. Harvesting milk before birth is normal, and there’s nothing wrong with it if you do it right.

This golden milk that your body produces in the last stage of pregnancy is suitable for the newborn in many ways.

But this milk should be harvested by using hands, known as hand expression. Using electric pumps isn’t advised.

This way, you won’t end up hurting yourself, and should be done after completing 39 weeks of pregnancy. If you do it before, your nipples will become sore or stimulate contractions leading up to labor. 

How to harvest your colostrum?

When you want to harvest colostrum, it’s best to learn to do it by hand expressing. Any other way can make your nipples sore.

You might not be great at it initially, and it’ll require some time before you become good at it.

Colostrum can’t be harvested with electric pumps or manual pumps as it comes out in a tiny amount.

– Keep your hand clean before trying to hand express. When storing it, use feeding syringes to store from the container.
– The process of harvesting milk with hand expression is a bit complex and should be started when you are in a warm shower to help stimulate your breasts. Once you become better at it, then start storing it. 
– Don’t expect large quantities of colostrum as it’s not produced in larger amounts as breastmilk does. 

How to harvest your colostrum?

When you want to harvest colostrum, it’s best to learn to do it by hand expressing. Any other way can make your nipples sore. You might not be great at it initially, and it’ll require some time before you become good at it.

Colostrum can’t be harvested with electric pumps or manual pump as it comes out in a tiny amount.

Is frozen colostrum good for a sick baby?

Like feeding cold stored milk isn’t bad for a baby, cold colostrum isn’t bad either. But if it’s frozen colostrum like an ice cube you might have to bring down the temperature to feed it in liquid form.

Even though it’s produced in small quantities, it’s packed with nutrition. It is rich in immunologic components, such as IgA, lactoferrin, leukocytes, and developmental factors such as epidermal growth factor. 

Colostrum works as a natural and safe vaccine, and it protects and lines the baby’s digestive system and prevents the baby from developing a range of infections and illnesses. So feeding your sick baby is quite right. 

To summarise

When it comes to pumping milk before birth, many women find it controversial. It might be unheard of, but this milk, known as colostrum, is beneficial for the newborn. When it comes to its benefits, there’re many, as it’s packed with nutrition and works as a medicine for sick baby, helping them boost their immunity.

Those aware of this milk might have heard a lot of inconveniences caused by women after trying to harvest this milk before birth.

This happens when one doesn’t know how or when to harvest milk properly. Using a pump to get this milk is a big no, and the only right way is to do it with hand expression. 

At the end of the day, the choice is yours to make. But learning about the pros and cons can help you make a better decision. Discuss it with your doctor and consult a lactation consultant.

I hope you have happy harvesting!

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As a writer for 1happykiddo, Saumya wants to help new parents and older siblings help raise the newest member added to the family. Her parenting tips come from her experience of being 15 years older than her youngest sibling. When not writing, you can find her reading novels, traveling, and cooking nutritious meals.

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