Blood In Breast Milk: Is It Safe For Your Baby?

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The appearance of blood in the breast milk may be scary when you first notice it. But it is common, especially for new moms. In most cases, it does not indicate any serious medical condition.

In fact, blood in mother’s milk often goes unnoticed, unless it is pumped out or the baby spits blood-tinged milk or blood is seen in the little one’s stool. So, do not panic, read this post at MomJunction to know why traces of blood appear in breast milk and what you can do.

Blood In Breast Milk, Is It Safe?

Image: iStock

According to La Leche League’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”, breast milk containing blood is usually safe!

  • According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, breast milk has a broad range of colors and keeps changing. While colostrum is typically yellowish, mature breast milk is bluish-white. Blood traces can change the milk’s color to shades of red, pink, coffee/chocolate brown, orange or olive green. It is usually not harmful to the baby and does not require weaning.
  • The little one may spit out the blood-stained milk. Or the blood passes through the digestive tract and appears in his bowel.
  • At times, your baby may vomit a lot of blood or has a dark poop because, if he has drunk a lot of blood, it forms a large clump in the stomach. Seek medical advice.
  • Ensure that you do not have any medical condition or illness, which could pass on to your baby through breastfeeding. For instance, if you are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS (1) or any systemic infection like sepsis, stop nursing and consult a doctor.

Also, the color change of the breast milk does not always mean blood in it. Certain foods consumed by the mother may alter it too!

Causes For Blood In Breast Milk

Blood may appear in the breast milk for many reasons. Most of them are not very serious and can be resolved soon. You will not observe blood in breast milk for more than a month, unless your nipple damage continues. If you notice spotting even after a month, speak to your doctor. Various causes for blood in breast milk include:

1. Cracked nipples

  • Cracked or damaged nipples can lead to the appearance of blood in the breast milk.
  • This condition is common during the first few weeks after delivery, when the infant is unable to latch on well, or you do not place the nipples properly in the baby’s mouth.
  • In the case of abraded nipples, or open blisters like milk blister or cuts, tissues bleed due to stress. A little blood is seen even after pumping.
  • If the problem is with your baby latching on, seek help from your doctor or a lactation consultant.

2. Rusty pipe syndrome

  • Rusty Pipe Syndrome or vascular engorgement is another common reason for the appearance of blood in breast milk, usually during the first few days after your delivery.
  • The syndrome is named so because of the rusty color of the milk.
  • Engorgement happens when a large amount of blood or some other fluid flows into your breasts.
  • The rush leads to enlarged milk ducts, besides promoting growth among the cells responsible for milk production in your breasts.
  • Some blood remains in the ducts and comes out along with milk. It is usually painless and can happen in both or just one breast.
  • In most cases, blood spotting would disappear without any medical intervention. If you notice some blood in your breast milk even after a week, make sure to speak to your doctor.

3. Intraductal papilloma

  • An intraductal papilloma is an uncommon reason for blood in your breast milk.
  • It is small and benign growth, which almost looks like a wart and forms in the milk duct.
  • It can cause bleeding and ends up in your breast milk. Such bleeding subsides on its own and does not need any treatment.
  • At times it is painful but does not cause lumps.
  • Another less common cause is fibrocystic breast disease, a benign condition where the breasts feel lumpy.

4. Broken capillaries

  • Injury or damage to small blood vessels or capillaries in the breasts, either due to the incorrect usage of a breast pump or trauma to the breasts causes blood to leak into the milk ducts and your breast milk. Be gentle while massaging your breasts for expressing milk.
  • Sometimes, the pump itself might exert too much pressure on the strained nipples, leading to damage.

5. Mastitis

  • Mastitis is a breast infection, which causes bleeding. A lot of fluffy lumps may indicate early-stage mastitis.
  • If you have mastitis, you will also notice swelling and pain in the affected breast, besides redness, soreness, and high temperature. Speak to your doctor immediately if you notice any of these symptoms (2).

6. Breast cancer

  • Breast cancer is the rarest of causes for blood in the breast milk.
  • Certain forms of breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma and Paget’s disease lead to bleeding from the nipples. Your doctor will be the best person to diagnose these conditions and suggest suitable treatment.

Note: Talk to a doctor to rule out any serious medical issues.

What To Do If You See Blood In Breast Milk?

Given the fact that most of the above-listed conditions are almost always self-limiting, there is no treatment. Do not panic and follow your instinct.

  • Continue nursing or pumping even if you see a little blood.
  • As long as the baby is not vomiting and is nursing well, you may keep feeding expressed milk containing blood.
  • Consider talking to a lactation consultant to deal with poor latch and improper positioning of the baby during breastfeeding.
  • Watch for any symptoms of infections like a high fever, swelling, tenderness, and redness.
  • Infections like mastitis require antibiotics. If not treated properly, there is a possibility of temporary closure of milk ducts, making breast feeding almost impossible.
  • To ease the dryness and cracks, apply lanolin or breast milk to nipples.
  • If it is painful to breastfeed, give some time for your nipples to heal. Use soothing hydrogel breast pads or safe-to-use creams. To maintain the milk supply, continue pumping (eight to ten times a day) and go for alternative feeding methods.
  • If you are unable to figure out the obvious cause of bleeding and if it does not subside in a week, do not delay to book your doctor’s appointment.
  • Be gentle with breasts while hand expressing
  • Make sure your pump is at a comfortable speed and suction level.

It is evident that breast milk containing blood does not usually harm a baby and thus, breastfeeding can be continued. But, it can be reassuring to take your doctor’s advice to find the exact cause and ways to deal with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which foods can change the color of breast milk?

Here are a few examples of how pigments in various foods can change the color of your breast milk:

  • Strong-colored foods like beetroot — pink breast milk
  • Orange-colored foods like carrots, pumpkin, or squash — yellow/orange breast milk
  • Green vegetables, kelp, types of seaweed in tablet form or concentrates of natural vitamins — green breast milk
  • Blue dyes in foodstuffs — green ting
  • Some medications — black breast milk
  • The cream that rises to the top of the milk if put for a long time in a container — bright white lumps

According to Linda Palmer, the author of ‘Baby Poop: What Your Pediatrician May Not Tell You’, the pigments from natural foods are usually healthy antioxidants and need not be avoided because of the change in milk color. Palmer says, the pigments color the milk if passed undigested through mother’s system and may go the same way through the baby’s system.

A bacteria called serratia marsescens may also cause pink/red milk. It does not harm the baby but can cause an infection in premature babies. Improper handling of breast milk may cause the bacteria to multiply. If the baby consumes such milk, there are chances of the little one developing the disease. Refrigerate breast milk and breastfeeding equipment to avoid Serratia to multiply.

2. What can I do if my milk is in unusual color?

It is advisable to seek doctor’s advice if you notice unusual color change.

3. Can I store expressed milk containing blood?

Blood in the expressed milk does not make it unsafe to offer to a baby. But it gives the milk a strong iron taste, due to which most babies reject. The taste gets even stronger due to storage and refrigeration. It is advisable to feed the little one right away.

4. Does blood in baby’s poop mean blood in breast milk?

If you observe a tiny amount of blood in your little one’s diaper, or poop, check if is due to the blood in your breast milk, or else contact the doctor right away to figure out other possible reasons.

Moms, did you ever spot any blood in your breast milk? What did you do about it? Did you visit a doctor or did it go away by itself? Tell us here.

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