Colostrum harvesting is a new pregnancy trend on TikTok—but not all your patients should be doing this

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published June 15, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Some people are harvesting their colostrum and posting results on TikTok.

  • Harvesting colostrum during pregnancy can allow for the substance to be frozen and later thawed to be given to newborn babies.

  • The innovation can benefit newborn babies’ brain and microbiome development but may pose risks to the parent and fetus during pregnancy.

Some people are harvesting colostrum during pregnancy and sharing their results on TikTok. Harvested colostrum can provide a wide array of benefits for newborn babies, but pregnancy specialists warn that early collection methods come with risks and are not suited for everyone.

It can be important for doctors to educate patients on the risks and benefits of harvesting colostrum and work together to promote a healthy pregnancy with or without this process.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first type of breast milk a person produces during and after pregnancy. It is a thick, yellow substance that contains multiple nutrients, antibodies, and antioxidants. These nutrients provide benefits to the immune system, microbiome, intestinal wall, and skin.[]

According to Laura Fletcher, CD (DONA), a certified doula, colostrum is so “incredibly important that they call it the golden milk, the golden mixture.” 

Colostrum typically appears around 12 to 16 weeks into pregnancy and continues to be produced for two to four days after the baby is born. During pregnancy, some birthing people naturally secrete colostrum from their breasts. Others may not but can remove it—or harvest it—via certain hand-breast exercises or by using a breast pump.[][]

How do people harvest colostrum?

People can harvest colostrum by extracting it from their breasts during pregnancy or in the few weeks after birth. They can do this by gently squeezing the areola and nipple or by using a breast pump.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, people can extract colostrum from the breast by cupping their breasts with their hand in a “C” shape, with four fingers below the breast and the thumb above the nipple. The thumb and index finger is then used to gently squeeze the areola and nipple. Flow may take a few minutes to begin and will come out in thick droplets.[] 

What do people do with harvested colostrum?

Harvested colostrum can be kept in a fridge for about two days and then frozen in small batches, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It should be stored in sterile containers or syringes. After a baby is born, colostrum can be thawed and fed to the baby in small doses, such as a few drops to an ounce. Newborn babies only need about an ounce of colostrum a day in the first few days after birth, which translates to about a teaspoon per feeding if feeding ten times a day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A tiny amount of colostrum can go a long way in newborn babies, and adding extra colostrum to a baby’s diet isn’t typically recommended or necessary, the clinic says.[]

Babies who are breastfed will naturally consume colostrum during their first few days of life, even if it is not harvested beforehand.

Are there risks to harvesting colostrum?

There are risks involved in harvesting colostrum, and not everyone who is pregnant should try to extract the substance from their breasts, says Fletcher. Expression methods like breast pumping or squeezing/massaging may, in some cases, induce contractions, increasing risks of early or premature birth. 

Fletcher says that she would not recommend harvesting colostrum during pregnancy for those with histories of premature births or miscarriages, or before someone has reached 37 or 38 weeks of pregnancy.

“Expressing breast milk in advance of 38 weeks can actually be a little bit risky because it can cause uterine contractions, which can cause preterm labor,” says Fletcher. “I would be cautious of expressing any type or having any type of nipple stimulation, any type of breast stimulation.”

Colostrum harvesting and breastfeeding

Over-expressing colostrum can lead to challenges in breastfeeding, too, as the birthing person's body relies on the baby’s feeding schedule to tell it how much milk to produce, says Fletcher. Over-expression can trick the body into thinking that the baby needs more milk than they are realistically taking in, causing overproduction;  this might then result in metastatic infections or swollen glands, she says.

“Breastfeeding, in general is a supply and demand scenario,” says Fletcher. “When we are expressing milk, or pumping milk, or breast feeding, that gives our body a signal to continue to produce more. So, if we are expressing, and pumping, and not using the baby's hunger cues, we're actually overriding our biological ability to determine that and produce naturally.”

The best way to help the body supply the right amount of milk for the baby is by “‘feeding on demand’ once the baby is born,” she adds.

Still, that’s not to downplay colostrum’s values, she adds. The substance can be extremely beneficial, particularly if a child is underweight or dealing with illness. Furthermore, harvesting colostrum can allow babies not breastfed to receive the substance.

“If your baby is born prematurely or is born in a scenario in which they [are] require[d] to stay in a newborn intensive care unit, it can be super beneficial to have expressed milk,” says Fletcher. “It's going to go a long way toward developing the baby's microbiome, helping establish that really healthy gut flora, boosting the brain, and getting essential nutrients and fatty acids.”

“In a lot of ways, it's really great that the topic of colostrum is trending; it encourages education and knowledge around what colostrum is and about how impactful it can be in those early days of childbirth,” says Fletcher. “But I also want to caution everybody that there are safe ways to do things and [that] our bodies do things generally the right way.”

What this means for you

Doctors may want to talk to pregnant patients about the risks and benefits of harvesting colostrum before and after pregnancy so that a patient can develop a routine that is best for them and their baby’s feeding schedule.

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