Collecting breast milk before birth can help give babies the best start

A newborn baby asleep in its mothers arms

Published on 16 September 2019

Mums-to-be across east Kent are being encouraged to ‘harvest’ breast milk produced before birth to give their babies the best start in life.

Staff at East Kent Hospitals have introduced special packs for women to use to collect colostrum – the first breast milk produced during pregnancy.

Colostrum is very easy for babies to digest and high in nutritional value, and can be particularly useful for babies who may have challenges with breastfeeding or maintaining blood sugar levels.

Kate Lynch, one of the infant feeding co-ordinators at the Trust, said: “Colostrum is the perfect first feed for babies because it is so nutritionally rich.

“It is packed with proteins, vitamins, and minerals and helps prevent dehydration and boost babies’ immune systems.

“By harvesting colostrum before birth, mums can make sure their babies can receive this vital first food if they have any difficulties breastfeeding in the early days.”

Funds from the Friends of William Harvey Hospital have been used to buy a new freezer for the hospital in Ashford to store the frozen breast milk so mothers can bring it with them when they come into hospital. There is already a freezer at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate.

The milk can be kept frozen for up to six months so women can freeze it at home and bring it with them in a cool bag when they come to hospital to give birth. It is then defrosted and used for their baby in its first hours and days.

Women whose babies are expected to be particularly small, or with health problems such as a cleft lip or palate or a heart condition are particularly encouraged to collect colostrum.

Mothers who are diabetic, have had breast surgery, are on medication for high blood pressure, or who are planning to give birth by caesarean could also find their babies benefit.

Kate said: “Using colostrum can help stabilise a baby’s blood sugar effectively and may reduce the amount of blood tests that are needed.

“It can also help to avoid admission to the neonatal unit, as well as helping to encourage babies to feed and get breastfeeding off to a good start.

“Even if a mum has successfully breastfed before, they may find their next baby has different complications such as tongue tie, or they may need a top-up on top of breastfeeding to keep blood sugar levels stable.

“Although formula feeding will also raise blood sugar levels, research suggests colostrum has a better effect.”

Women can start collecting colostrum – which can be expressed by hand and collected in a sterile syringe – from around 36 weeks pregnant.

For more information, visit https://www.ekhuft.nhs.uk/patients-and-visitors/services/pregnancy-and-childbirth/infant-feeding-team/?entryid103=466214