Human milk comes in a variety of colors. If you pump your milk you may see lots of variation in color: whereas formula milk always looks the same, the composition and appearance of human milk changes throughout the day, and even throughout a pumping session or feed.
Breastmilk may be white, yellow, clear or have a blue tint to it. Ingredients in many foods and beverages that you might ingest can also tinge your milk in a variety of ways. The following are possible variations:
- Diets high in pureed or mashed yellow-orange vegetables (yams, squash, carrots etc) lead to high levels of carotene in milk, which can turn it yellow or orange. Carotene is completely harmless to babies – read our post on carotenemia.
- Food dyes used in carbonated sodas, fruit drinks, and gelatin desserts have been associated with milk that is pink or pinkish orange.
- Greenish milk has been linked to consuming green- colored sports beverages, seaweed, herbs, or large amounts of green vegetables (such as spinach).
- Frozen milk may look yellowish.
- Pinkish milk may indicate blood in your milk. This could occur with or without cracked nipples. If cracked nipples are the cause of blood in your milk, contacting a La Leche League Leader for suggestions on healing sore nipples can help: find support here. Seeing blood in your milk may be alarming at first, however it is not harmful to babies, and if you experience it you can continue breastfeeding – in most cases it will stop within a few days. If it does not cease, or if you are at all concerned, consult your healthcare provider.
- Brown milk may be caused by what is known as rusty pipe syndrome. During pregnancy and in the first few days after birth the ducts and milk making cells in your breasts grow and stretch, extra blood flows to your breasts and sometimes leaks into your ducts – this can make your milk look brown or rust-colored (like water from a rusty pipe, hence the name). It should clear after a few days as more milk flows through your breasts, and it’s fine to continue feeding your baby your milk.
- You may see blood in your baby’s vomit or poo – this can be very scary, however this is usually not your baby’s blood but from your breastmilk. If you are concerned about the appearance of blood in your baby’s vomit or poo please contact your healthcare provider.
Occasionally blood in breastmilk is caused by one of the following:
- Mastitis: An infection of the breast that can cause a bloody discharge from the nipple – read more here
- Papillomas: Small growths in the milk ducts which are not harmful, but can cause blood to enter your milk
- Breast Cancer: In the vast majority of cases, blood in human milk is not a concern. However, some forms of breast cancer can cause blood to leak from the nipples. If you are concerned contact your healthcare provider.
Breast milk can also turn pink if a bacteria called Serratia marcescens is present, although rare this bacteria can be extremely harmful to young babies. The American Journal of Perinatology states that “Although, the actual number of organisms excreted in milk is unknown, it is unlikely that an infant taking milk directly from his mother’s breast will ingest enough organisms to cause disease. However, improper handling and storage of milk may enable organisms/pathogens to multiply to numbers sufficient to cause disease, especially in infants at higher risk for infection, such as those born preterm”. They continue ” Although, there are no clear recommendations for women with S. marcescens colonization, and due to high risk of sepsis associated with this bacteria, treatment with antibiotics is highly recommended. Returning to breastfeeding is safe after cultures of both the mother and the baby are negative.”1
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Your healthcare provider will be able to support you with treatment; an LLL Leader can help you with information about how to protect your milk supply if you need to stop breastfeeding temporarily.