Terms & Conditions

What is colostrum and why are my breasts leaking?

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling, a midwife for over 25 years, is the Director of Midwifery Studies at UTS. She believes research, innovation and good quality midwifery are pivotal to the well-being of mothers and young families. Christine has extensive experience in antenatal education, policy development and research, and has published on workforce issues, homebirth, vaginal birth...
Created on Oct 10, 2023 · 4 mins read

Your body is a truly remarkable thing! Not only does it create and nurture your growing baby, but it also prepares you to care for your little one once they enter the world. Pretty amazing, right? As you approach the later stages of your pregnancy, you may notice that your breasts begin leaking what appears to be milk. Rest assured, this is completely normal and, actually, a pretty wonderful thing as it means your body is getting ready to nourish your little human. However, it’s important to note that what you’re experiencing isn’t technically milk leakage; it’s colostrum. While the name may sound strange, colostrum is an extraordinary substance that holds immense significance for your baby’s well-being.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first milk produced by a mother’s breasts during pregnancy and in the early days after giving birth. It is a thick, yellowish fluid that is rich in essential nutrients, antibodies, and immune-boosting properties, making it extremely beneficial for newborns.

Colostrum is high in protein, low in sugar and fat – making it easily digestible for your new bub.

All of those incredible antibodies and nutrients will protect them from any nasties on the outside world while their little body builds up its defense mechanisms. Colostrum is often referred to as “Liquid Gold” for all the incredible qualities it possesses.

Why does the colostrum leak?

Some, but not all women may find their breasts begin to leak colostrum, usually in the third trimester. Your body is making sure you are all ready to look after your baby as soon as they arrive, so some women find this kicks in a little earlier. If you haven’t noticed it, you might try squeezing your nipple gently and some might come out. Don’t worry if it doesn’t though, it doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t indicate you are going to have a low supply. If you find however that yours does leak, you may want to bust out those nipple pads you have packed in your hospital bag.

Should I do anything about it?

Embrace it! It’s a wonderful thing and leaking breasts will become the norm once you are breastfeeding your baby so get used to it.

Even if you aren’t planning on breastfeeding (or your breastfeeding journey doesn’t go as you would have hoped) giving your baby this colostrum in the first few days can be hugely beneficial for their immunity and beneficial for their ongoing health.

Some women even start to express colostrum in the final weeks of pregnancy in preparation for feeding their baby or in case any complications arise for either them or the baby in those precious first few days.

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How can I safely express colostrum?

If you want to try expressing colostrum before your bub arrives – and have been told by your doctor that it is safe to do so – here are some steps you can follow:

  1. Begin expressing colostrum around 37 weeks of pregnancy or as advised by your healthcare provider. It can be collected by hand or by using a breast pump specifically designed for colostrum.
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before expressing.
  3. Choose a clean container or sterilised breast milk storage bag to collect the colostrum.
  4. Gently massage your breasts to stimulate milk flow. Applying warm compresses to the breasts or taking a warm shower beforehand can also help.
  5. Using your fingers and thumb, form a “C” shape around the breast and gently squeeze the milk ducts towards the nipple. Avoid pulling or stretching the nipple to prevent discomfort or damage.
  6. Collect the expressed colostrum in the container or storage bag. Start with small amounts, as colostrum production is usually limited in the early days.
  7. Label the container with the date and time of expression and store it in the refrigerator or freezer immediately.
  8. If freezing, use small storage bags or containers to allow for convenient thawing and avoid wastage.
  9. Clean and sterilise all equipment used for expressing colostrum after each use to maintain hygiene.

It’s important to note there are some circumstances where it may not be safe to express colostrum while pregnant, such as if you are at risk of pre-term labour or have a high risk pregnancy. If you have any concerns, it is always important to speak to your healthcare provider.

When will my milk come in?

Typically, your milk will start flowing in around two to five days after giving birth. You’ll notice a colour change from that yellow-ish colostrum to a whiter, creamier fluid that looks more like cow’s milk. Along with this change, your breasts might get bigger and feel a bit engorged as they fill up with milk. But don’t worry, they’ll eventually settle down as your supply adjusts to your baby’s needs.

Now, here’s a pro-tip: those early days are crucial for establishing a good milk supply. So, it’s important to feed your baby as frequently as possible. The more you nurse, the more your supply will increase. This helps your little one regulate their feeding patterns and prevents any painful build-ups of milk in your ducts that could lead to mastitis.

Remember, every breastfeeding journey is unique, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant or healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions along the way. They’re there to support you and your baby on this incredible breastfeeding adventure!

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