"Help! There's blood in my breastmilk!"
What should you do if you find blood in your breastmilk? Should you throw it away or is it okay to feed your baby with it? The answers to these questions and more on the topic of bloody breastmilk can be found right here...
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.
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, although sometimes, direct-latching mums may spot some blood in their baby’s stools, or in his/her spit-up.
The causes of blood in breastmilk
1. Cracked nipples
Nipple damage is usually the most common cause of blood in your breastmilk.
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 on the breast, which will in turn help heal any damage to your nipples, stopping the 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 are harmless and don’t 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 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.
Is it okay to give your baby “strawberry milk”?
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 breastmilk, 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.
When should you avoid giving your baby “strawberry milk”? Find out on the next page, as well as what you can do to stop the bleeding, and information about storing blood-tinged milk.
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.
Storing breastmilk with blood in it
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.
Preventing and stopping bleeding from your nipples
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 8-10 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 initial latch-on is the most painful.
- Try out different breastfeeding positions to find out which one is the most comfortable for you.
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 blood got into your breastmilk, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Sometimes, infections such as mastititis 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.
**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.