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6 Reasons Why You May See Blood in Your Breast Milk

by Vannessa Rhoades 25 Jul 2023
6 Reasons Why You May See Blood in Your Breast Milk

Breastfeeding a baby comes with its own set of challenges. Many new mothers are surprised to discover blood in their breast milk at times and may not even notice it unless they’re pumping. While it can be a little alarming when you initially come across it, there’s no need to panic. You probably won’t need to stop breastfeeding, and it’s not typically a sign of a severe medical condition. That said, it can help to know more about why you may occasionally see blood in breast milk and what to do about it.

Breast Milk Color

Normally, breast milk is whitish, bluish, or yellowish in color. While the presence of blood can alter the color of your breast milk, so can a variety of food dyes. If your breast milk appears pink, brown, or orange, stop for a moment to consider what you may have consumed. If you’ve eaten something with a strong red color recently, such as beets or a red fruit drink, it may be tinting your breast milk.

At Medela, they understand that there are rarely one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to women’s bodies and the unique changes you experience postpartum and while breast milk feeding your new baby. That’s why they developed an innovative series of breast shields for pumping, known as Medela Personal Fit™ Breast Shields. Engineered for maximized comfort and efficient milk expression, Personal Fit Breast Shields are designed to work specifically with your Medela breast pump.


Causes of Blood in Breast Milk

If you haven’t eaten anything red lately and you’ve got pink, red, or brown colostrum or breast milk, there could be a number of other explanations. In most cases, blood in breast milk isn’t necessarily an indication of anything serious, but there are instances where you may need need to seek medical treatment.

1. Cracked or injured nipples

Breastfeeding is a natural process, but it’s not always an easy one. An improper latch can cause nipple cracking and pain, making nursing more difficult for both mom and baby. If you have injured nipples, your infant may ingest some of this blood as they nurse, and you may observe some blood in your breast milk as you pump.

If you find your nipples hurt at every nursing session or that they start to crack or bleed, it's essential to get help from your midwife, gynecologist, or lactation specialist as soon as possible. Try to continue breastfeeding or express milk by hand if you can. With support, nursing should soon become more comfortable again.

2. Damaged, broken capillaries

Capillaries are the tiny blood vessels in your body. The capillaries in your breasts can become injured from trauma or improperly using a breast pump. Be gentle when expressing milk from your breast, whether by hand or when using a pump. Otherwise, you may break some of the delicate blood vessels, and blood can leak into your breast milk. If you’re using an electric breast pump, adjust the speed and suction to a level that’s comfortable for you and doesn’t hurt your breast.

3. Rusty Pipe Syndrome

Vascular engorgement, a.k.a. Rusty Pipe Syndrome, can also make your early breast milk or colostrum appear a bit orange, brown, or “rusty” in color. During the first few days postpartum, your body experiences an increased blood flow to the breasts in order to jumpstart milk production. Some of this excess blood may seep into your milk ducts, slightly discoloring the breast milk. Though it can look a bit unsettling, especially for first-time moms, it isn’t painful or harmful to the baby. It typically resolves on its own, and you can continue to nurse your infant while your body clears it out of the system.

4. Mastitis

When excess breast milk accumulates in the breasts due to improper latching or missed feedings, it can lead to an infection called mastitis. Symptoms of mastitis include breast pain and inflammation, chills, fever, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms. Some people also experience nipple discharge and observe blood in their breast milk.

Mastitis is painful but treatable. Drinking plenty of fluids, resting as much as possible, and over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen can help you feel better. Soothe breast pain using a cold compress or a cloth soaked in cold water. Avoid tight-fitting clothing or bras until you feel better. Talk to your physician if your symptoms get worse or do not improve. You may need an antibiotic to heal the infection. It's safe to continue nursing if you have mastitis – it actually helps clear the infection! Conversely, suddenly weaning or discontinuing breastfeeding is likely to exacerbate your symptoms. Your doctor may direct you to a lactation consultant for help and additional support. 

6 Reasons Why You May See Blood in Your Breast Milk

5. Benign intraductal papilloma

Occasionally, bleeding is the result of a tiny, non-cancerous growth inside the lining of your milk ducts called an intraductal papilloma. These benign tumors can break and bleed into your milk. You may be able to feel a small lump next to or behind your nipple. Finding a lump is unsettling for most people, so talk to your doctor about your concerns. Having one intraductal papilloma isn’t necessarily associated with an increased risk of cancer, but the risk does increase if you have multiple intraductal papillomas.

6. Breast cancer

A bit of blood in the breast milk isn’t usually much cause for concern, and in most cases, it goes away on its own. However, if it doesn’t resolve itself within a few days, consult your physician. Certain forms of breast cancer, like Paget’s disease and ductal carcinoma, can also cause bleeding from the nipple.

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What To Do

You don’t have to stop nursing or pumping. In the vast majority of cases, it's okay to keep giving your baby your breast milk, even if it contains a little blood. Talk to your doctor or your baby's pediatrician for additional information and reassurance if you need it. If you have a condition that can be transmitted via blood, such as viral hepatitis and HIV, check with your physician. Exposure to blood through breast milk may increase the baby's risk of getting the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In the meantime, here are a few other steps you can take to address the problem.

  • Ensure that your baby is properly latching. Your nipple should rest comfortably against the soft palate at the back of their mouth. In a poor latch, the nipple is nearer the front of their mouth and can be pinched against the hard palate, causing pain and damage. Flattened, wedged, or white nipples at the end of a nursing session signal an improper latch.
  • Use a safe nipple cream or soothing hydrogel breast pads after each nursing session to help protect and heal your nipples.
  • Continue to pump as frequently as you would nurse in the event you need a break from breastfeeding. Keep the pump’s suction and speed at a comfortable level.

If you’re unable to locate the source of the bleeding, you can wait a few days to see if it resolves on its own. If it doesn’t, contact your healthcare provider for an appointment.

Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions or concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.

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