What is this trend or fad around hand expressing colostrum in pregnancy?
My baby isn’t even born yet and I am squeezing my breasts to get milk! What a strange sensation it is!
Have women been doing this for long throughout history?
The answer to this last question is yes and no! History has changed and mothering has changed.
We have all heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”. In this modern society, we often don’t have a village, living independently of our families, often in different towns and countries. How do we learn how to care for our babies and children without family around? How do we learn about something so instinctual but which needs to be seen often?
Without immediate families, women are learning from books and online. We have lost the ability to learn from our community environment! As a child, I was the second youngest of 13 children. From the age of 7, my sisters started having babies and were always visiting the house for words of wisdom and support from my wonderful Mum.
From this early age, I was able to see my nieces and nephews breastfed and thought it was just how you fed your babies, much like a village. As I grew older and starting training as a midwife, I could not figure out why women didn’t just breastfeed, or why they found it so hard?
I remember talking to mum about it at the time, and wondered how she managed with all of us and her 20 years of breastfeeding. Mum simply said, “I just did it, I had no choice!”
Are we simply missing the network of family and friends around us? I think so! We need women around who will let us know what’s normal, and that it is a learned skill…
I have worked as a midwife for more than 20 years in different countries and different hospitals.
I am also a mother of 3 children, who I breastfed for a combined total of 5 years.
In my early years as a midwife, hand expressing in pregnancy was not the done thing.
I remember being pregnant with my first child Joel, and being obsessed with the changes my breasts were going through!
As early as 20 weeks into the pregnancy, I was able to get a golden drop of colostrum! (Which made me ecstatic). My husband used to think I was strange and say I would run out if I didn’t cut the habit. It never occurred to me that I was going to feed any other way, and I was so excited that my body was already doing exactly what it needed to prepare me for breastfeeding journey.
I didn’t make a concerted effort to express and store EBM until I was in pre-labour. I remember Jan telling me to do it to try establish my labour. When I did give it a go, I got 40mls, which amazed me! I believe it helped my labour intensify, which was the main aim, but also instilled so much confidence into my ability to BF my boy.
Since joining MAMA almost 4 years ago, I have been able to spend more time with women and able to teach them the art of hand expressing in pregnancy. I feel so lucky to be able to instil so much confidence in women at the start of their BF journey! I love the look of shock on women’s faces, when they realize “my boobs work!…I had no idea there was any milk there!..” In our busy life, going back to the basics to learn this invaluable skill can only be positive!
At that first session when we show women the knack of hand expressing, it also gives us another chance to chat about what is normal with regard to all things breastfeeding. It gives us a chance to have a chat about their expectations with regard to their BF journey, which may be influenced by stories relayed to them by family and friends.
It is never about how much colostrum you are able to express, but about learning the skill. At the first session, we may get one golden drop, but often days later I will get a picture sent to me of their first filled syringe. We send you away with that gentle determination to figure out how to work your breast!
It is about being comfortable with your own body, which includes your breasts.
In the months before we start hand expressing, personal experiences from the past may impact how comfortable women are to show their breasts! As midwives, we don’t push the point, but give women the chance to talk about anything which may affect their BF journey. We can never assume women are comfortable with it, and never judge if they find it difficult to do!
At MAMA, we are lucky to be able to develop a relationship with our clients throughout the pregnancy. Pregnancy, birth and parenting is such an amazing emotional journey.
Practical advice from Marita:
Learning how to hand express and store your breast milk is invaluable when it is your first baby, and I recommend you are taught the skill by your midwife or primary care giver from 37-38 weeks. Ask for a supply of syringes so you can store at home in your freezer and take to hospital when you go in to give birth. If you Birth at home it’s easy, your golden stash of milk will be next to all those frozen meals you have prepared! Depending on how much you manage to express, don’t take all the syringes with you, leave some at home and your partner can always bring in if needed. It is important you tell the hospital midwife so it is stored and labelled correctly (if not labelled they will throw it out.. that would be devastating after all your work)… In general I will also make suggestion to second or third time mums but leave it up to you? If you have successfully BF a baby before, the confidence is already there, but you may still want to have a stash just in case!