by Melissa Portunato MPH, IBCLC
You finally got the hang of breastfeeding. You perfected baby’s latch, you’ve mastered the football hold while texting, and baby has a ton of poop diapers so you know your milk supply is right on track. But since you’ve started pumping, you’ve noticed variations in the color of your breastmilk. Your breastmilk went from yellow in color after delivery then to white when you came home and your milk came in. Now you started to pump and noticed the color of your milk seems off. Is this normal or have you started to produce milk for a tiny Martian? Before you totally freak out, we’re here to tell you color changes in breastmilk is a normal occurrence. Don’t pump and dump just yet mamas. Get the true story, bust the myths and breastfeed on.
Here are a few important facts to know about breast milk color variations and to assure you that your milk is perfectly safe for your baby.
Understanding the stages of breastmilk
During the first few weeks after delivery, your breastmilk will change rapidly in amount and in color. In the first few days, your body will produce colostrum, also called “golden milk” because of its deep yellow or even orange color. Colostrum is highly concentrated and nutritious. You will only make a few teaspoons of colostrum at first because that’s all that baby really needs to fill up their tiny belly. After about a week your milk will start transitioning and start to come in. During this time, moms will sometimes experience engorgement as their bodies begin to produce mature milk. Transitional milk will get less yellow and more white in color. You will notice your milk is not as thick as before and you have much more now. You might even be able to hear baby chugging while nursing. Gulp! The last stage of breast milk is when your milk supply has been established and is now in sync with baby’s demand. You are now producing “mature milk.” At this stage, you may notice when you first turn on the pump or maybe even drip a little before nursing, that your milk is clear and thinner which is called foremilk. And behind the foremilk, your breast milk is creamier which is your hindmilk (higher in fat). Both foremilk and hindmilk are essential to baby’s development. Research tells us that if baby is breastfeeding well and nursing sessions are not getting cut short, there is no reason for concern. Overall baby will receive a balance of both foremilk and hindmilk throughout the day and get exactly what is needed for an appropriate growth trajectory.
Colors and variations of breastmilk
Most color changes are caused by diet but things like herbs, nutritional supplements or medicine can also alter the color of your breastmilk. Taking a close look at what you’ve been eating can often pinpoint where the color change is coming from. A green or bluish tint can come from eating foods that contain dyes or overloading on dark leafy greens. Baby is literally tasting the rainbow when drinking breast milk. Research says breastfed babies are less picky eaters as toddlers because they try different foods through mommy’s milk. Keep with the healthy eating. You are opening baby’s palate to healthy nutritious foods and they will be more likely to eat them as they get older.
Brown or pink colored milk or even blood tinges in breastmilk can be coming from a variety of different reasons like cracked nipples, damaged capillaries in the breast, or even hormonal changes. The evidence shows, if you and baby are healthy, occasional breast milk streaked with red or pinkish in color, is perfectly safe to be given to baby. It is important to note small amounts of blood ingested by baby are likely not to be of concern, but larger amounts can cause baby to have an upset stomach and have blood appear in their stool. If you have an infection such as Hep B or C, or baby is immune compromised breastfeeding may need to be interrupted. Reach out to your doctor to discuss the best plan of action.
Rusty pipe syndrome is a temporary condition that can happen during the first few weeks of breastfeeding. This condition typically only lasts a few days and is caused by colostrum mixing with transitional milk. Don’t panic if you notice your milk looks like dirty or “rusty” water. It shouldn’t bother baby or affect breastfeeding whatsoever. If it doesn’t clear up in the first few days of breastfeeding or if it starts to happen later along your breastfeeding journey something else may be going on and it’s important to talk to your doctor.
Stored breastmilk and changes in color
Pumping and storing milk can alter the color of breastmilk. When storing breastmilk in the fridge you will notice it will separate into those 2 layers of foremilk and hindmilk. Fat rises to the top, so that’s why you will see the separation. The foremilk on the bottom might even appear bluish or grayish and this is normal! No need for concern and safe to be given to baby. Give the bottle a gentle swirl and it will combine again. Breastmilk will also change color in the freezer and can appear more yellow. This is also completely normal and your milk has not gone bad. Check out the CDC guidelines for proper milk storage to maintain the safety and quality of expressed breastmilk.
When to scream and call the doctor
Pain is not subsiding and you are seeing some pretty large amounts of blood in your breastmilk when you pump or in baby’s mouth after nursing. Call the doctor! Along with blood, you have hard lumps, fever, body chills and aches that are progressing. Call the doctor! Mastitis or “inflammation of the milk ducts” can be either infectious or non-infectious. Most of the time it’s non-infectious and can be treated with simply rest, frequent nursing or pumping, and lots of fluids. But when it’s infectious, you may see large amounts of pus, blood, or other wacky substances leaky from your nipples. Call the doctor!
Although changes in the color of your breastmilk is usually not serious, it’s always best to talk to your healthcare practitioner if you are concerned. Keep in mind there can be contraindications with some medicines, herbs, or supplements while lactating and they can also alter the color of your breastmilk. Download the free LactMed app! Review the evidence behind medications and breastfeeding with your doctor and make the best decision for you and your baby. It’s unlikely breastfeeding will need to be interrupted and in that rare occasion that it might be, it will almost always only be for a minimal amount of time. Trust your body. Trust your breastmilk. And nurse on mams!