So you’ve finally mastered the art of breastfeeding and pumping, and are expressing away one day… when you notice blood in your breastmilk!
This sight is enough to scare even the toughest mum. However, blood in breastmilk is actually more common than you think, especially in first-time breastfeeding mums.
Breast Milk Colour Changes
Aside from breastmilk that is colour red when there is a presence of blood, are there other breastmilk colour changes that can happen?
Yes, your body switches from producing colostrum, transitional milk, and mature milk when your milk’s colour changes from yellow or orange to white or bluish. It is solely the product of the milk’s changing composition and has nothing to do with any problem.
What is a normal breastmilk colour?
Breast milk normally appears lighter and is white, although, on rare occasions, it may have a subtly yellowish or bluish hue.
If you’ve just given birth, you might be surprised to discover thick yellow breast milk instead of white milk. This is normal as mums frequently produce yellow milk in the first few days following childbirth.
This is often referred to as first milk or colostrum because it is the first milk your breasts make after giving birth. You will produce this thicker, higher antibody milk for up to five days after giving birth.
Why Is There Blood in My Breast Milk
We tend to associate blood with something to worry about, but in the case of “strawberry milk” (which is what some mums call blood-tinged breastmilk), there’s usually no need to fret.
In fact, many mothers don’t even notice blood in their breastmilk unless they express it, although sometimes, direct-latching mums may spot some blood in their baby’s stools, or in their spit-up.
Image source: iStock
Blood in Breast Milk Causes: Why Is My Breast Milk Red
1. Cracked nipples
Nipple damage is usually the most common cause of blood in your breast milk.
Cracked, sore nipples are almost always caused by poor positioning of your baby on the breast, and attachment issues. And when your baby sucks vigorously, this can cause the tissue to bleed.
Speak to a lactation consultant/nurse for tips and information on how to improve your baby’s positioning and attachment to the breast, which will in turn help heal any damage to your nipples, stopping the bleeding.
A correct latch-on position can solve the problem of sore nipples and therefore bleeding
2. Vascular engorgement
Also known as Rusty Pipe syndrome due to the rust colour of the breastmilk, this condition occurs in mums soon after giving birth and is also more common among first-time mums.
It happens due to the increased flow of blood to the breasts soon after birth which is needed for the development of milk ducts and milk-making cells in your breasts, in combination with the rapid development of milk-producing tissue in the pregnant mum.
No treatment is needed since vascular engorgement usually disappears on its own after about a week and doesn’t re-occur. Also, experts encourage mums with this condition to continue breastfeeding.
However, if bleeding continues beyond a week, it’s best to consult a doctor for professional advice.
3. Intraductal papilloma
An intraductal papilloma is a small, benign wart-like growth on the lining of a milk duct that bleeds as it wears away. They are usually only found in one breast and cannot be felt through manual stimulation.
Breast papilloma is harmless and does not need to be treated, and the bleeding will subside on its own.
4. Broken capillaries
This can occur due to rough handling of your breasts, pressing your breasts too hard while hand expressing or incorrect usage of the breast pump.
Try turning down the suction of your breast pump if the blood in your breastmilk is due to broken capillaries (bright red blood indicates the source is most likely near your nipples), which will help reduce pressure on the area and allow it to heal.
It’s okay to give your baby bloody breastmilk in almost all cases.
Is It Okay to Give Your Baby “Strawberry Milk”
Is blood in breast milk okay for baby?
Yes, it’s perfectly fine on most occasions, according to lactation experts, save for a few exceptions which you’ll read about later in this article.
Internationally renowned paediatrician and lactation expert Dr. Jack Newman says that even though blood-tinged breastmilk may cause your baby to spit-up more and even show up as digested blood in his poo, “this is not a reason to stop breastfeeding the baby.”
Meanwhile, lactation consultant and author of Breastfeeding Answeders Made Simple Nancy Mohrbacher says “it is fine to continue breastfeeding and the bleeding will not harm your baby.”
Lactation experts at La Leche League International also concur that breast milk with blood in it usually is safe to feed to your baby.
Your baby will not be harmed in any way by swallowing blood with your breastmilk and it will just pass out with your baby’s stool. And if you see blood in your baby’s diaper, as long as you know it’s from your breastmilk there’s no reason to be worried.
However, to make sure this blood is from your breast milk, please consult your baby’s paediatrician to rule out any other causes for it, such as allergies (from your own food intake), infections and even lacerations around your baby’s anus.
Blood in Breastmilk: When Not to Feed Your Baby
While it’s generally fine to continue feeding your baby despite having blood-tinged breastmilk, there are a few exceptions to this rule, according to medical experts.
Women with HIV/AIDS should avoid giving their babies breastmilk with blood.
Also, if you have recently suffered from an infection such as hepatitis, sepsis or another serious illness, do consult your doctor before giving your baby bloody breastmilk.
Your doctor will be able to determine if there is a risk of your infection being passed on to your baby through the blood in your breastmilk, or if you can carry on nursing.
Storage and refrigeration tends to intensify the taste of iron in bloody breastmilk, so it’s best to feed this milk to your baby as soon as possible.
Blood in Breast Milk From Pumping
Some babies might refuse to drink breastmilk with significant amounts of blood in it due to the strong iron taste it might have. This taste intensifies when the milk is refrigerated or stored for several hours.
Therefore, if you have expressed milk and you notice blood in it, do try to feed it to your baby straight away if possible to prevent him from rejecting the milk.
In most cases, time will be your healer.
However, if you find it too painful to breastfeed, do keep your milk supply up by pumping at least 8 to 10 times a day.
If you are determined to continue direct-latching despite the bleeding, try out these tips to help soothe the pain:
- Breastfeed from the uninjured (or less injured) side first. Your baby will suck less vigorously from the second side offered, after his initial hunger and thirst are satiated.
- A brief application of ice on the injured side just before latching can help soothe the pain, as the initial latch-on is the most painful.
Do note that if the bleeding goes on for more than 14 days, it’s best to speak to a healthcare provider. Also, if you are not quite sure why your nipples are bleeding or how the blood got into your breast milk, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Sometimes, infections such as mastitis and nipple thrush cause blood and pus to leak into your milk — and infections such as this almost always need prompt treatment with antibiotics.
If you don’t get timely treatment, medical experts say that your milk ducts may close temporarily, making breastfeeding impossible.
Blood in Breast Milk: When Should You Be Worried?
If the cause is unclear and you cannot identify its source, you can wait a few days to see if the bleeding stops. Make an appointment with your doctor so they can examine you.
However, if the discomfort continues after a few days, watch for infection-related symptoms like fever, discomfort, swelling, and redness. If you have any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor for the proper diagnosis and care.
**The information in this article is based on the author’s own research. For all health issues that you or your baby encounter, your first point-of-contact should be a medical professional.
Updates from theAsianparent Philippines.
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