Breast milk’s color varies throughout the day or even within a pumping or feeding session. Breast milk might be yellow, white, or may have a bluish hue to it. The food and drinks that a mother consumes bring these changes to the breast milk’s color (1).
Although scary to see, blood in breast milk is not uncommon due to various reasons. However, it is not always harmful to babies (1). This post tells you all about the causes and management of blood in breast milk.
Is Blood In Breast Milk Safe For The Baby?
The presence of small amounts of blood in breast milk is not always a cause of concern. Seeing blood in breast milk could be alarming for mothers. However, in most cases, bleeding stops without any intervention in a few days. It is usually safe to continue breastfeeding when you have a little blood discharge. However, it is recommended to consult your lactation consultant or healthcare provider to rule out any concerns.
Causes Of Blood In Breast Milk
The following conditions may lead to the discharge of blood from the breast tissues, causing blood in breast milk.
1. Damaged nipples: According to The Australian Breastfeeding Association, cracked nipples happen to be the most common cause of bleeding nipples (2). Nipples may get damaged or cracked due to various reasons, such as improper positioning of the baby. The blood from the nipples may cause small traces of blood in the pumped breast milk (3).
2. Rusty pipe syndrome: Milk ducts stretch significantly during pregnancy and immediately after delivery, causing a surge in milk-producing cells. This growth leads to extra blood flow to the breasts, and the extra blood may leak into the ducts. This may make the breast milk appear red or rusty brown. The condition lasts no more than seven days (2).
3. Broken capillaries: The small terminal blood vessels are called capillaries. Improper latching or improper use of a breast pump may cause breast trauma, causing blood from broken capillaries to leak into the breast milk.
4. Mastitis: Mastitis is the inflammation of the breasts. Cracked nipples, incorrect feeding position, and breast engorgement may lead to mastitis. Mastitis may cause blood to leak from the breasts (4).
5. Benign intraductal papilloma: Intraductal papillomas are benign, wart-like tumors that grow in the breasts’ milk ducts (5). They are made of the same tissue as the milk glands and receive blood supply. It may cause blood discharge in the breast milk in some cases.
6. Breast cancer: In rare cases, bleeding in breast milk might have underlying pathology, such as a carcinoma (6). Some cancers such as Paget’s disease or ductal carcinoma have been linked with bloody nipple discharge. This discharge may show in the breast milk (7).
Is Pink Breast Milk A Sign Of Blood In The Milk?
A small amount of blood discharge may show up as pink streaks in the milk. It is usually only noticed when you express or pump breast milk.
Breast milk may turn pink if the Serratia marcescens bacteria infect the mother. Infections of these bacteria are rare but could be dangerous for the baby since the bacteria are associated with a high risk of sepsis.
Antibiotic treatment is recommended for mothers with Serratia marcescens infection. Once the culture reports of the baby and the mother are negative, the mother may safely resume breastfeeding (1).
Management Of Blood In Breast Milk
Blood in breast milk stops by itself in a few days in most cases. However, if you are concerned or the bleeding persists for many days, contact your healthcare provider. Do not wait to see the doctor if you also notice other symptoms, such as breast pain, lumps in the breast, pus-like discharge from the nipple, and fever.
If you experience cracks or soreness in your nipples, work on treating them. Correcting the breastfeeding position, improving the latch, applying lanolin, and keeping nipples dry and clean, may help avoid sore nipples and treat cracked nipples faster. You may also consult a lactation consultant to know ways to improve the baby’s latch and learn best breastfeeding practices.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I store breast milk containing blood?
The taste of breast milk with blood may change when stored, especially in the freezer. Speak to your doctor or lactation consultant to learn if it would be safe to store breast milk containing blood.
2. Is blood in a baby’s poop a sign of blood in breast milk?
Babies who consumed breast milk with blood may have a darker stool color. However, there could be other reasons for it, and you must consult a pediatrician if your baby has blood in their stools (2).
3. Can the baby spit up blood after drinking breast milk with blood?
Swallowed blood usually does not harm the baby. But it may irritate the stomach of some babies who may vomit or spit it up later. However, there could be other reasons for it, and you must see a doctor promptly if your baby is spitting up blood (2).
Blood may appear in breast milk for several reasons, and you must not panic when you notice it. If you are healthy and do not have any other issues, it is most likely a benign occurrence. Nevertheless, it is good to consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause and rule out any conditions. You must continue breastfeeding after doctor consultation since breast milk offers several benefits to the baby.
2. Unusual appearances of breastmilk; Australian Breastfeeding Association
3. Breastfeeding: Sore Nipples; C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
4. Deepak S. Patel, Mastitis; Family Doctor; American Academy of Family Physicians
5. Intraductal Papillomas of the Breast; American Cancer Society
6. Breast Cancer Symptoms and Signs; National Breast Cancer Foundation
7. Nipple Discharge; Westmead Breast Cancer Institute