Expressing Breast Milk before Childbirth

The benefits of breastfeeding and providing your child breast milk are vast.  Some mothers are anxious about their ability to breastfeed and eager to get started.  Expressing breast milk before childbirth can be a helpful step in certain situations but can also have unwanted consequences.  Be sure to ask your OB about expressing breast milk before childbirth.  Today we’re looking at the pros and cons.

Pros: Reasons to Express Breast Milk before Childbirth

Pregnant women can begin producing breast milk as early as the second trimester.  It may not be expressible at that time, but it is being brewed.  Later in the third trimester, many moms-to-be are able to hand express small amounts of colostrum, which is the earliest form of breast milk.

pumping before childbirth__1455554189_108.89.137.58Women who have type 1 diabetes or gestational diabetes are at higher risk of giving birth to babies with low blood sugar.  Typically these babies would be given formula immediately upon birth, however if the mother expressed breast milk before childbirth, that would prevent supplementation.  Also, mothers who have medical concerns about not being able to breastfeed after childbirth might want to have pre-expressed breast milk available.  Reasons may include women who have had breast surgeries, women with certain diseases or women who will have to undergo procedures separating them from their baby immediately after childbirth.

Cons:  Reasons Not to Express Breast Milk before Childbirth

Just because you can express breast milk before childbirth doesn’t mean you should.  Many women think it will be a good idea to jumpstart their milk production and ensure their baby has plenty of milk after birth.  The truth is, expressing breast milk before childbirth does not necessarily increase milk production.  New mothers produce colostrum for a few days after giving birth.  This highly nutritious early milk is typically thicker than the milk that will arrive 2 to 4 days later and is full of essential vitamins, minerals and antibodies that newborns need to thrive.  After the period of colostrum, more plentiful milk starts to flow.  This process is not likely to change even if expectant moms express milk prior to childbirth.

Additionally, the hormone released to help express breast milk is oxytocin.  Oxytocin is a natural form of pitocin, the drug that is used to induce childbirth.  Therefore, expressing breast milk before childbirth can cause preterm labor.  Depending on where you are in your pregnancy, preterm labor can be extremely dangerous for your baby who may not be fully developed.

If you are considering expressing breast milk before childbirth, consult your obstetrician and discuss the benefits and risks based on your personal situation.  Also, talk about alternatives such as donor breast milk if prenatal expression is not a good choice for you and you know you cannot breastfeed immediately after birth.