Wren’s Ultimate Colostrum Harvesting Guide

Wren’s Ultimate Colostrum Harvesting Guide

Learn how to express yourself before your newborn arrives.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first milk your breasts make when you’re expecting a baby. It’s an ideal food for your newborn, as it’s packed with the essential nutrients and antibodies they need for early growth and development earth-side.

Compared to mature milk, colostrum has a much thicker consistency. It can be all sorts of colours but often has a yellowish tint, earning it the nickname ‘liquid gold’.

You’ll start producing colostrum before you give birth. When your newborn is a few days old, your colostrum will give way to mature breast milk. This is thinner and helps to fill your baby up with even more goodness as they grow.

The amazing benefits of colostrum

Colostrum has many benefits for newborns. Among other things, it:

  • Provides early nutrition for vulnerable or premature babies
  • Eases problems with latching
  • Offers supplementary feeding
  • Boosts immune system
  • Stabilises blood sugar
  • Promotes gut health.

It’s also great for soothing sore nipples, and some parents squeeze colostrum onto their baby’s tummy when the umbilical cord falls off, to help with healing there, too. Magic!

Find out more out the importance of colostrum over in The Nest. 

When should I harvest colostrum?

Midwives recommend harvesting colostrum during the last few weeks of your pregnancy (from 36 weeks) and freezing it to feed your baby.

You can also collect it once your baby is born, for at least a few days until your milk comes in. This can be useful if your baby is in intensive care or you’re having trouble getting a latch, as it means they will still benefit from your incredible milk.

How to collect colostrum

Time to see what those boobies can do! If this is the first time you’ve tried hand expressing, it can feel a bit weird, but it’s truly amazing what your body is capable of.

If you’ve never collected colostrum before, we recommend you use small, disposable syringes first, to help you get to grips with the process. We provide these in our Colostrum Harvesting Kit . Once you’re comfortable with hand expressing, move on to our specialised colostrum collector. By creating a vacuum with the bulb, it makes it easier to gather up every last drop. And when it’s time to feed baby, the pipette on the other end comes into its own.

How to express colostrum by hand: step-by-step

To harvest colostrum, you’ll have to get to grips with hand expressing. This is exactly what it sounds like - you use your hands to stimulate your milk and get it flowing. The process can feel frustrating at first (believe us, we’ve been there!) but it really does get easier with time.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Get comfortable - Find a warm, quiet space where you can relax without being disturbed. The bath is a great place to try hand expressing!
  2. Start massaging - With warm hands, gently massage your breast, stroking from your armpit down towards your nipple.
  3. Find your rhythm - Cup your boob, place your thumb above your nipple and your forefinger below it. Press your thumb and fingers together, stroking gently from the edge of the areola towards the nipple. Release and repeat in a regular pattern. It may take a few minutes, but beads of colostrum should start to appear. Remember to keep breathing deeply to help your milk flow.
  4. Begin collecting - Once drops of milk appear on your nipple, use the syringe to gather them up. It can be hard to coordinate this movement while keeping the press-and-release rhythm going but with practice this should get easier. If you’re struggling to get a let-down (when your milk appears), try moving your hands around and gently using your thumb and finger to squeeze from a different angle and stimulate different milk ducts. If you’re using your Wren collector,  either use the pipette to draw up the milk or squeeze the ball to create suction, place the cup over your nipple and allow that precious liquid to flow into the container.
  5. Swap sides - Once you’ve gathered a few drops from one boob, switch and try the other breast. When you’re ready to stop, pop the collector in the fridge ready to add to, or put it in the fridge if it’s full. Hand expressing may feel tricky at first, but the more you practice expressing, the easier it will become.
  6. Label and store - Once you’ve collected your colostrum, add a date label to the collector and pop it in the freezer.

Hand expression challenges

Finding it hard? Don’t give up! Colostrum can be really slow to flow at first. Try hand expressing in short bursts (we’re talking five minutes per boob) throughout the day to start with. As your milk ducts get repeatedly stimulated, expression should get easier. And remember, it’s very likely that you’ll only collect a couple of millilitres of colostrum at a time; newborn tummies are tiny and just a small syringe will fill them up fast!

Can’t get a let-down?

If you’re struggling to get your milk to flow, try moving your hand around your breast and using your thumb and forefinger to massage in a different place, to stimulate different milk ducts.

Syringes can be fiddly

Milk running away before you can catch it with a syringe? Try a collector cup instead and purchase a kit.  The suction cup makes it easier to slurp up every last precious drop.

Hand expressing shouldn’t hurt

You should only ever massage your breasts very gently. If they start to feel painful, change your hand position and technique. Avoid pinching your nipple; instead apply light pressure a few centimetres away from it, around the areola.

Need more support?

If you’re still struggling with hand expression, reach out to a lactation consultant or healthcare provider for guidance, valuable tips and demos to help you out.


How to store your colostrum

Store your colostrum in the fridge or freezer within an hour of collection.

You can store colostrum in the fridge for up to five days and add to it over time. It’s best to keep it in small portions of 1-2ml to minimise waste and make it easier to thaw.

Colostrum will keep in the freezer for up to six months. As well as being a perfect source of nutrition in the early days, it can be comforting to give to your baby if they are ill or to rub on sore skin or grazes to help it heal. 

Taking colostrum to the hospital

If you head to hospital to give birth or your baby is staying in for a while, you might want to take your colostrum with you. Defrosted milk can’t be refrozen, so the best way to do this is using a cool bag with an ice pack inside it, so your milk doesn’t thaw on the journey. You might just want to take a few syringes with you at a time, or leave some at home for a later date so none gets wasted.

When you get to hospital, give the milk to a midwife and they’ll label it with your name and put it in a freezer for you. You can just ask when you’d like to start using it.

How to thaw colostrum

If saved in small quantities, colostrum can be thawed very quickly. Simply hold the syringe in your hand for a few minutes to defrost it, or place the collector in the fridge or a bowl of warm water to get it ready for use.

Avoid using a microwave or direct heat to thaw colostrum, as this may affect its nutritional superpowers.

If needed, give the collector a light swirl to mix the milk if it looks like it has separated.

Feeding your baby colostrum

Your baby will let you know when they’re hungry using cues like rooting for a nipple with their mouth, sucking their hands or clenching their fists.

When you’re ready to nourish your little one, use the syringe, or the pipette on your Wren collector to feed them. Offer a couple of drops at a time, straight into their mouth. They won’t need much - it’s best to offer small, frequent amounts.

Can colostrum harvesting induce labour?

Midwives don’t recommend you start collecting colostrum until at least 36 weeks of pregnancy, however it’s highly unlikely that it will bring on early labour.

Can I use a breast pump to collect colostrum?

Colostrum is much thicker than mature breast milk and is produced in much smaller quantities, so we don’t advise using a breast pump  to collect it. Once your milk comes in, when your baby is born, it becomes easier to use a pump.

Join our waiting list to be the first one to know when our colostrum harvesting kit launches end of June / early July.

Let Wren help you find your flow

Expressing isn’t always a walk in the park. But at Wren, we’re here to make your breastfeeding journey easier. Just starting out? Here’s what we reckon every essential new mum kit should contain:

Warming lactation massager 

Make hand expressing less of a chore and stimulate your flow with our gently vibrating milk massager. Its curved design helps to stroke the breast and work out blockages. Plus, at the press of a button, it warms up, to help you achieve a let-down faster.

Bamboo breast pads 

Here’s the thing, mama. When your colostrum changes and your milk comes in, you’re prone to leaks. We’ve been there. It can take a while for your supply to regulate and it’s not unusual to find you’ve had a let-down at random times, especially in the early days. Keep your clothes dry and avoid unexpected wet patches by popping a breast pad over each nipple. Day saved.

Go-To Balm 

Planning to breastfeed? Then you need this gem on hand. Made from 100% lanolin, our Go-To Balm is a wonder worker for sore, cracked nipples. Your boobs can take a beating when you first start feeding. Slather this on to your nips to help them heal. It’s fine for baby too, so you can keep on feeding straight after application.