While it is known that breast milk’s nutritional composition varies from mother-to-mother, did you know that breast milk color can also change?
Yes, that’s right, breast milk color can vary or change time-to-time. Generally, it looks the same as cow milk—plain white with a yellowish or bluish tone. However, it can appear different due to factors, such as the mother’s diet and breast health(1).
Usually, a change in breast milk’s color is harmless. However, in some cases, it may indicate an underlying health issue. Therefore, knowing when and why breast milk color changes can help you stay informed.
Read on to know when breast milk color changes are normal and the factors that affect breast milk color.
Normal Color Changes During Breastfeeding
For most mothers, breast milk color varies during the first few days or weeks after initiating breastfeeding. Here’s how you may notice the difference in breast milk color across different breastfeeding stages (2).
- Colostrum: The milk that the body makes during pregnancy and immediately after birth is called colostrum. This milk, in most cases, appears thicker in consistency and has a deep yellow color or slightly orange hue, hence the name “liquid gold.” The color of the colostrum is due to the presence of a high amount of beta-carotene (3).
- Transitional milk: Transitional milk is the milk that the mother’s body prepares from two to five days to up to two weeks after delivery. During this period, the transitional milk gradually replaces the colostrum, making the milk appear white to bluish-white.
- Mature milk: After two weeks, the body begins producing mature milk that further classifies into foremilk and hindmilk. The foremilk is the relatively thinner breast milk that comes out of the breast at the beginning of the feeding or pumping session. This milk is low in fat and high in electrolytes. Hence it may appear clear or bluish-white. On the other hand, towards the end of the feeding or pumping session comes thicker and fat-filled milk called the hindmilk. Since this milk has more fat, it appears yellowish or creamy white.
These changes in the breast milk color are normal, indicating your baby is getting healthy breast milk to feed.
Factors Contributing To Breast Milk Color Change
According to the La Leche League International, breast milk color keeps changing throughout the day, throughout pumping sessions, or across feeds (4). Here is a brief overview of the various causes and factors behind different breast milk colors.
- Pumping: At the beginning of a pumping session, you may notice that the breast milk has a bluish hue. It primarily happens due to the foremilk’s nutritional composition, which has more electrolytes and less fat. However, the milk may appear thick, creamy, and whitish to slightly yellow at the end of the session. It happens due to a higher fat content in the hindmilk, which comes after foremilk.
- Diet: The food you eat contains natural pigments and sometimes added color. These colors may affect the breast milk’s color. For instance, carotene-rich, yellow veggies and fruits, such as yam and squash, may change the breast milk color to yellow or orange.
- Breast milk storage: Pumped or expressed milk upon refrigeration or freezing can separate into layers and change its color from white to slightly yellow, blue, or orange. This change in the breast milk color is normal and doesn’t mean that it has gone bad (5). You can shake the breast milk to mix the layers and feed it to your baby.
- Diet: Consuming a lot of green veggies, such as spinach or seaweed, can turn your breast milk’s color green. Even food with green-colored dye may impart a greenish hue to breast milk. Diet-related breast milk color changes are seldom a cause for concern and are not considered unhealthy.
- Herbs and nutritional supplements: Consuming herbs or nutritional supplements, such as spirulina, can give a greenish or bluish-green tint to your breast milk (6). If you intend to use any herbs or dietary supplements while nursing, consult your healthcare provider and discuss what breast milk color changes you may expect. Even intake of vitamin supplements could cause breast milk to turn green (7).
Pink or red color
- Diet: Eating foods, such as beets, which contain a natural red pigment (carotenoids and anthocyanins) and those containing red, orange, or pinkish food dyes, such as fruit drinks, may impart pink, pinkish-orange, or red color to the breast milk.
- Blood in milk: Pinkish color in breast milk may indicate blood in breast milk. Blood can enter breast milk due to a cracked nipple, mastitis (breast infection), or papillomas (small growth in the milk duct). None of these conditions are harmful to the baby, although some are painful for the mother. You can continue feeding the baby with these conditions provided you and the baby are comfortable (8).
- Bacterial infection: Serratia marcescens is a bacterium that can also cause breast milk to turn pinkish when it infects the breast (9). Since the bacterium is harmful to babies, its early detection and treatment are necessary for safe breastfeeding.
Brown or rust color
- Rusty pipe syndrome: Several hormonal changes happen during the first few days after delivery. These changes cause the milk ducts and alveoli (milk-making cells) in your breasts to grow and stretch. Extra blood flows into your breasts, and some blood might leak into the ducts. This leakage changes the breast milk color to brown or rusty brown, which isn’t harmful to babies. The condition is self-limiting and resolves within three to seven days. You can continue breastfeeding the baby during this period (8).
- Medications: Certain medications may alter breast milk’s composition and color. Minocycline or Minocin is an antibiotic that may cause breast milk to turn black (10). It also causes skin darkening. Certain vitamin supplements could also cause breast milk to turn black. You must take any medicines or supplements during nursing after consulting a doctor.
When To Call A Doctor?
Most changes in breast milk color occur due to the food you eat. However, if your breast milk color persists to be other than the normal colors of white, bluish-white, or yellowish-white, it may indicate an adverse reason, such as an infection or a side effect of a medicine. Consult a doctor or lactation consultant to determine the underlying cause and remedy for abnormal changes in your breast milk color.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is it normal if one breast produces different colored milk?
If your baby feeds on one breast more and you don’t switch breasts during and between the feeds often, you may find the breast milk from unused breast different from the breast you use frequently. It happens due to the different hues of foremilk and hindmilk. Foremilk is lighter and looks clear to bluish-white, whereas hindmilk is thicker and has a yellowish color.
- Does breast milk change color when the baby is sick?
Several mothers report that their breast milk color changes when their baby is sick. Experts believe this happens due to changes in breast milk’s nutritional and immunological components (11). These breast milk changes allow you to accommodate a sick baby’s needs and help them fight illnesses.
Most breastfeeding mothers may not notice their breast milk color changes unless they express or pump their milk. Although these changes aren’t worrisome, they may raise the alarm for a first-time mother, causing an early cessation of breastfeeding due to undue fear. Thus, it is good to learn about the breast milk color changes during nursing. You can also discuss your doubts with your healthcare provider for relief and reassurance.
2. The Phases Of Breast Milk; USDA
3. S Patton et al.; Carotenoids of human colostrum; NCBI
4. Color of Milk; La Leche League International
5. Breastfeeding FAQs: Safely Storing Breast Milk; Kids Health From Nemours
6. Norah Naor et al.; Green Breast Milk Following Ingestion of Blue-Green Algae: A Case Report; NCBI
7. HamzaYazgan et al.; A Mother with Green Breastmilk Due to Multivitamin and Mineral Intake: A Case Report; NCBI
8. Rusty-Pipe Syndrome; Indian Pediatrics
9. CipatliAyuzo del Valle and Emilio Treviño Salinas; Pink Breast Milk: Serratiamarcescens Colonization; NCBI
10. Minocycline; NCBI
11. Breastmilk Changes During Infant Illness; IABLE