As both you and Baby get the hang of breastfeeding, you might see some of your breast milk seeping out the side of your child’s mouth. (Or, in some cases, it appears as projectile puking.) But when you’re cleaning up the spillage, you might be shocked to see that your breast milk isn’t white, like you might expect, but has a pinkish hue. So if you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why is my breast milk pink?” these are the particulars to understanding what’s causing the color changes.
One of the many things that you might not be told before starting your breastfeeding journey is that breast milk can come in a myriad of colors. That’s right, if you think that breast milk is only white like cow’s milk, well, think again. It comes in a rainbow of colors, depending on the age and stage of your baby. “Breast milk can naturally be a whole spectrum of colors, based on the phase of lactation, maternal diet, and even the baby’s health,” says Piper Grabowski, an international board-certified lactation consultant.
Still, it can be scary to see any other color than white when it comes to breast milk, and even more perplexing if your breast milk is pink. Here’s what you need to know about pink breast milk, how safe it is, and when you should pump and dump.
What Color Should Breast Milk Be?
In the early days of nursing your newborn, it’s common to see your breast milk sporting some interesting shades. And for the most part, it’s perfectly normal, according to Krystyn Parks, MS, RD, IBCLC, a registered dietitian and lactation consultant. “Breast milk can have a wide range of ‘normal,’” she says. “Colostrum in the first few days tends to be more of a yellow color while mature milk is usually whiter but can have a bluish tint to it.” In fact, if you eat a lot of foods with beta carotene in them (like carrots), it can take on yellow or even orange tones.
Why Can Breast Milk Be Pink?
Although it might look pretty, pink breast milk isn’t quite as common as the yellow-hued colostrum that your baby will eat after they’re born. “The presence of blood in the milk can be due to nipple damage or a ruptured capillary in the breast, often due to mastitis, attempts to work out a clogged duct, poorly fitting pump flanges, or asymmetrical pump suction,” Grabowski explains. How can nipple damage occur? “This can happen if there are cracked nipples,” adds Parks. “If this is the case, you should seek help because the latch is not optimal.” A lactation consultant can help your Baby establish a better latch that includes your areola and not just your nipples, which can cause them to crack and bleed.
What Is Rusty Pipe Syndrome?
Despite its totally unattractive-sounding name, Rusty Pipe Syndrome is simply the presence of blood in Baby’s colostrum. “Rusty Pipe Wyndrome is a condition that cause breastmilk to be pink, red, brown or even orange,” says Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a Brooklyn, NY-based lactation consultant. “This occurs when fragile blood vessels inside the milk ducts leak.” Rusty Pipe Syndrome has a small window in which it typically occurs with the breastfeeding parent. Adds Levine: “Women usually only experience Rusty Pipe Syndrome for the first 7-10 days postpartum as their milk is coming in.”
What’s interesting to note is that if you have Rusty Pipe Syndrome, the color of your breast milk won’t be pink, but brown. “When there is a significant increase in blood flow to the breasts and capillaries, (some of which can leak into the milk), this would not be fresh bright red blood, but more brown/copper in color,” says Grabowski. Keeping an eye on the color of your breast milk in those first few days postpartum can give you a visual aid if you’re experiencing Rusty Pipe Syndrome.
Is Pink Breast Milk Safe For Babies To Consume?
Now, knowing that pink breast milk can be caused by blood mixing into it can be scary for new moms, but, in most cases, it isn’t a cause for concern. “If breast milk is pinkened due to streaks of blood from cracked nipples, mastitis or breast trauma, it is generally safe for baby to consume,” advises Grabowski. “Remember, there is likely only a small amount of blood actually present, as it only takes a drop to make milk slightly pink.” So even though it might be crazy to think that your baby is consuming your blood, it’s only an itty bitty amount at best. A visit to a lactation consultant can help with nipple integrity, improve Baby’s latch, and assess for mastitis.
That said, there are times when pink breast milk isn’t safe to consume. “Milk with some blood is generally safe for baby to consume, unless Mom is positive for hepatitis or HIV,” she adds. “The second more rare cause would be the presence of a gram-negative bacteria called Serratia marcescens.” A bacterium, S. marsescens can turn breast milk pink and while it’s not common, it can be dangerous for Baby, according to a PubMed study.
“If the milk is significantly pink and there is no nipple or breast trauma, it would need to be tested for the S. marcescens bacteria, as this is potentially dangerous for babies to consume,” says Grabowski. “If the milk is positive, the mother would be put on a course of antibiotics, during which time she would pump and dump her milk to maintain her supply. Nursing can resume as soon as the milk tests negative for S. marcescens.” So if you find pink breast milk when pumping, call your pediatrician or lactation consultant to ensure that it isn’t due to an infection and is more likely a result of cracked nipples or increased blood flow to the breasts. And if it is because of an infection, you’ll probably need to pump and dump the breast milk with blood in it until you’re well again.
How Long Should Breast Milk Be Pink For?
At its base, breast milk should be white or slightly off white. It can change depending on what you eat, or Baby’s needs. “If a baby becomes sick at any point during lactation, the milk may turn a paler golden color again, as the mother’s body produces antibodies to help baby fight off the illness,” says Grabowski. Still, pink breast milk shouldn’t be something you see every day as you’re breastfeeding your baby. “If the breast milk is pink from Rusty Pipe Syndrome, it can last a few days,” explains Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, a lactation consultant. “If the pink milk is from food, it will likely resolve within the day and if it is from medication, it should resolve when the medication is discontinued.”
When Should You Worry If Your Breast Milk Is Pink?
“If you see some pink milk, don’t panic!” says Grabowski. “This is common for a lot of women at some stage during lactation — simply make note if it is happening more than 2-3 times over 2-3 days. If the milk is significantly bright pink in the absence of nipple/breast trauma, it would be important to see your provider and obtain a breast milk sample to test for S. marcescens.” Another reason to worry if pink breast milk is safe is if your baby seems distressed during their feedings. “You should worry if Baby rejects the milk,” advises O’Connor.
And if you pump your milk and notice a color change occurring later on, that can also be concerning, too, according to Katie Clark, IBCLC, a lactation consultant and certified lactation educator. “If your milk is white after you express it but turns pink later, this is a sign that your breast milk may have Serratia marcescens.” A medical professional can determine what the cause of it is, and determine if the pink breast milk is safe.
Can Your Breast Milk Turn Pink If You Drink Red Wine?
Now, you might be thinking that if carrots can change your breast milk to an orange color, maybe that glass of cabernet sauvignon that you had with dinner might have dyed your breast milk pink, too. Now, while it’s advisable to not drink at all while breastfeeding, having one drink isn’t harmful if you wait at least two hours to nurse your baby, per the Centers for Disease Control. So if you’re guessing that the glass of red wine tinted your breast milk, that’s probably not true. “While milk may be tinted yellow from eating lots of carotene-rich foods like carrots, yams, or spinach, no, wine should not turn your milk pink,” says Grabowski.
Breast milk comes in a bounty of colors, from off-white to white, yellow, orange, pink, and even blue. But if you’re asking yourself, “Is strawberry breast milk safe for Baby?”, it usually is. For the most part, babies can drink pink breast milk, but you’ll want to keep an eye on your baby (and your boobs) during feeding sessions to ensure that your little one gets the best breast milk possible — no matter what color it comes out as.
Del Valle, C., Salinas, E. (2014) “Pink Breast Milk: Serratia marcescens Colonization,” American Journal of Perinatology
Piper Grabowski, an international board-certified lactation consultant
Krystyn Parks, MS, RD, IBCLC, a registered dietitian and lactation consultant
Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a Brooklyn, NY-based lactation consultant
Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, a lactation consultant
Katie Clark, IBCLC, a lactation consultant and certified lactation educator