Colors Of Breast Milk: What They Mean And How They Change

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Did you know that not only the composition but the breast milk color also varies from time to time and person to person?

The breast milk typically looks just like a cow’s milk as either completely white or white with a bluish or yellowish tinge. But it can sometimes change due to various reasons, including the mother’s diet (1).

Although the change should not be alarming in most cases, it may sometimes indicate underlying morbidity. Thus, being aware of the change and why and when it happens can help you prevent any complications.

Read through to know more about the change in the color of breast milk and the factors causing it.

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 whiter but often still with a yellow tinge.
  • 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 the milk fat content increases. This so-called hindmilk therefore appears creamy white or yellowish.

These changes in the breast milk color are normal, indicating your baby is getting healthy breast milk balance 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.

Yellow color

  • 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 as pumping progresses.
  • 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 (fat and watery components) 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 gently to mix the layers and feed it to your baby.

Green color

  • 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, usually benign, 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 a few days. You can continue breastfeeding the baby during this period (8).

Black color

  • 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. When breastfeeding, always consult your doctor before taking any medicines.

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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Why is breast milk watery in the morning?

The milk-producing hormone (prolactin) is responsible for increased milk volume, low-fat content, and higher levels of lactose in the morning breast milk. Prolactin levels are high during sleep and when you wake up. Therefore, breast milk can be watery in the morning after you wake up. Early morning milk can quench a baby’s thirst and provide extra lactose (milk sugar) for energy (12).

4. How do I know if my breast milk is nutritious enough?

According to the La Leche League International, you may look at how often the baby is feeding and their growth in understanding the nutrition in breast milk. Ensure that your baby is fed enough milk appropriate for their age. A well-fed baby will be happy and often stop feeding by themselves (13).

You may notice a change in your breastmilk color throughout the day and over the weeks. It is not alarming in most cases as certain common color changes such as turning yellowish or bluish are normal and occur due to harmless reasons. However, the appearance of other breastmilk colors may indicate an underlying condition such as an infection that could require medical intervention. Do not panic and stop breastfeeding in such cases. Instead, staying aware of the different breast milk color changes and consulting with your doctor can help you get the support and treatment required.

Key Pointers

  • Variations in the breast milk color during the initial days are not a cause for concern.
  • The color of the milk may change through the day due to diet, intake of herbal supplements, etc.
  • However, understanding which colors are concerning is important.
  • Seek timely help from a lactation consultant in case of any abnormal breast milk colors.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Karen S. Bastianelli and Lydia Henry; Variations in the Color of Breast Milk; Wiley Online Library
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
12. Milkology Prolactin Blood Test; PeaceHealth
13. Is my baby getting enough milk?; LLLI
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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

Regina Kincaid

(RM, IBCLC)
Regina qualified as a midwife in 2005 in Germany and has since worked in maternity care in England and Ireland. She achieved stage 1 of the UNICEF Baby Friendly accreditation as infant feeding lead midwife at Ealing Hospital in London and worked in the lactation team of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, Ireland. She did her Neonatal Examination Course... more

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