My breasts leak! Is it a sign of premature labour?
C, a 29-year-old first time mum, woke up one morning and was taken aback when she saw a small amount of yellowish fluid oozing out from her breasts. She was 30 weeks pregnant at that time. She hurriedly rushed down to my clinic as she wanted to know whether the breast discharge might lead to premature labour. Soon after the leak, she had experienced some uterine contractions. She was also concerned whether the leak would affect her milk supply after birth.
After the physical examination, I confirmed that the yellow discharge was the colostrum or pre-milk secreted from her breasts and reassured her that the discharge had no relation with premature labour and would not have any impact on her milk production. During pregnancy, the breasts are enlarged from the growth of the ductal and glandular tissues due to the stimulation of pregnancy hormones. This is in preparation for providing milk to the baby after delivery.
Colostrum or pre-milk is the first stage of milk production. It occurs between 16 and 22 weeks of pregnancy and lasts for several days after the baby is born. It is full of protein, minerals and vitamins to sustain the growth of the baby in the first few days of life. Though it is much thicker than the mature milk, it is easy to digest due to its low-fat content.
Vitamin A and carotenoids which give the distinctive yellow colour to the colostrum are important for the baby’s vision. Other minerals such as magnesium, copper and zinc are important in supporting the growth of baby’s brain, heart, bones and immune system. Up to two-thirds of the cells in colostrum are white blood cells. These cells plays a crucial role in building the immune system of the baby and help him or her in fending off infections. Colostrum also maintains the baby’s gut function by providing the “good bacteria” with appropriate nutrients.
Jaundice in the newborn, a common phenomenon, can also be reduced by colostrum. It acts as a laxative by making the baby poo frequently. The frequent bowel movements help the body remove bilirubin, the yellow pigment that causes jaundice. It is normal for colostrum to leak during pregnancy especially in the last trimester, during sexual intercourse or breast and nipple stimulation. But it may not happen in all mothers. The amount that leaks also varies. Some may leak quite a lot, soaking the bras wet while others may just have a little ooze.
Leaking colostrum can be an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience. The simplest way to deal with it is to use breast pads to absorb the moisture. Wearing breast pads inside the bra will absorb the fluid and prevent wet patches showing through the clothes.