AHE Too Soon: Why You Shouldn’t Express Too Early

If you have clicked on this blog, you are most likely preparing for your breastfeeding journey- Congratulations!!  What an exciting time full of new things and for most, a huge learning curve. Breastfeeding may be natural- in that our bodies naturally produce breastmilk, but it most certainly isn’t always easy.  I found that out the hard way with my first baby, and wish that I new then what I know now about breastfeeding and preparing for all the ups and downs that can come with it.   Don’t get me wrong, breastfeeding my babies was so rewarding, but it was so very difficult at times too.   My passion is helping parents navigate the waters of parenthood starting with pregnancy and right through school-age.   Antenatal Hand Expression (aka AHE) is such an amazing way to set yourself up for success with breastfeeding, while you are still pregnant. 

WHAT IS COLOSTRUM?

Colostrum is literally a “super food” for your baby.  Your body starts producing it in the second trimester and continues until around 3 days postpartum when breastmilk comes in.   Colostrum is nutrient dense and everything your baby needs in the first few days of life.  Colostrum is the easiest substance for your baby to digest. It’s made for your newborn’s first feed while he or she adjusts to life outside the womb. It’s low in volume and fat but high in carbohydrates, proteins and antibodies.

WHAT IS AHE & WHY IS IT BENEFICIAL?

AHE is when you express (by hand) and collect your colostrum in late pregnancy.  By doing this you become comfortable with handling your breasts, which makes it much less awkward when it comes to breastfeeding your newborn babe.   Research is showing us that AHE at the end of pregnancy can have long term positive effects on the hormone that helps in milk production (prolactin) as you continue to feed your baby.  By hand expressing at the end of pregnancy you can build up a freezer stash of colostrum that you can take with you to the hospital.  If your baby needs supplementation, as they sometimes do after birth, you have your nutrient rich personal supply of colostrum to use!

WHEN IS AHE NOT RECOMMENDED?

Like everyTHING, Antenatal Hand Expression isn’t for everyONE.  It is important that you discuss it with your Doctor or Midwife prior to starting.  You may be wondering why this is so important?   When we massage or stimulate the breast & nipples we are sending a signal to the brain which increases the Oxytocin hormone levels.  Oxytocin is a hormone which is important for contracting the uterus both during and after birth.  When you are hand expressing if you feel any cramping it is important to stop, rest and speak to your health care provider.  

AHE is NOT recommended with any of the following:

  • Under 37 weeks gestation (we want your baby to be at term)
  • Low lying placenta or placenta privia
  • History of preterm labour
  • History of a shortened cervix
  • If you have had a stitch placed in your cervix to prevent preterm labour
  • Reduced fetal movements
  • Vaginal bleeding

WHY NOT START COLLECTING EARLIER?

Ultimately your baby needs to be at term size before you hand express.  The reason is because we don’t want to trigger the increase in oxytocin and have any risk of preterm labour.  It is always safest to wait. After a discussion and the “okay” from your Health Care Provider, once you are 37 weeks of pregnancy you are set to start Antenatal Hand Expression.  

If you are looking for some guidance and support on this journey, reach out to your local Mama Coach, or sign up for our Online Antenatal Hand Expression Course.  When you sign up we will send you all the supplies you will need to collect your “liquid gold”, and you will get access to the course online which will guide you through all of the steps for AHE.  Best wishes on your new journey! 

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Click here to purchase our Antenatal hand expression online course and kit