Breast milk is Mother Nature’s perfect food for your baby, but just like a sous chef, things can go wrong in the kitchen (i.e. your body) that turns your milk colors. Sometimes, those colors are normal. Other times, those strange hues are a sign that something is amiss. Before you panic, you should know that breast milk almost never looks like the cow’s milk you buy in the store. It’s perfectly normal for your milk to be a little orange, a little blue or even a little green.
Breastfeeding is the most natural act that can be done as mammals; it where humans get the name of their species, after all! However, something that feels decidedly unnatural is pumping breast milk. To have an apparatus attached to a woman’s chest feels odd and rather uncomfortable. Many women start having genuine anxiety about going back to work and how the whole pumping thing will work in their schedules and lives. There are tips that can be given, but there is so much variation in a woman’s lifestyle and work/home balance that variations are endless.
Therefore, there can’t be an exact manual each woman can follow. The old working woman and stay-at-home mom battle that used to be so intense and often bitter has settled down today it seems, as more women do a blend of both. Both the real nastiness seems to come out when it comes to breastfeeding and bottle feeding. Hopefully, this in-fighting will die out as well, because we are all on the same overworked, beleaguered team! Each mom must figure out for herself when, how long and even if to nurse her child.
The human body is a fascinating machine, and motherhood often makes that especially clear. The latest example of this comes from a woman named Mallory Smothers who shared something interesting about her breast milk on Facebook. “This is just cuckoo awesome,” she says, hitting the nail on the head before launching into the explanation.
Smothers pumped the milk on the left on a Thursday night before she and her family went to bed. A few hours later, around 3:00 A.M. Friday morning, she noticed her baby girl was “congested, irritable, and sneezing.” When Smothers pumped a few hours after that, she realized that the milk’s color was dramatically different than it had been just a few hours previous. “Look at how much more the milk I produced Friday resembles colostrum (the super milk full of antibodies and leukocytes [infection-fighting white blood cells] you make during the first few days after birth),” she says.
Her description of colostrum is right on the money. “Colostrum is the initial liquid material that comes out of breast before you actually start lactating in earnest,” Alyssa Dweck, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-author of V Is For Vagina, tells SELF. “It does have immunologic benefit, but colostrum only lasts for a few days after delivery until your body figures out how much milk to produce.”
“Not only is it possible, it’s even probable, that when a breastfeeding mother or her breastfeeding baby becomes ill, the appearance of the breast milk being produced changes,” Jamil Abdur-Rahman, M.D., board-certified ob/gyn and Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vista East Medical Center in Waukegan, Illinois, tells SELF.
To explain, he mentions a 2013 study in Clinical and Translational Immunology that Smothers also cites in her post. The study shows that up to 70 percent of the cells found in colostrum are leukocytes, those infection-fighting white blood cells. “This of course makes sense when considering that newborn babies, not having yet been exposed to the outside world for very long, are very susceptible to just about anything and everything,” says Abdur-Rahman. “They need a large initial ‘dose’ of mom’s immunity to remain healthy,” he explains.
A few days after delivery, when normal breast milk replaces colostrum, the number of infection-fighting white blood cells drops to around two percent, says Abdur-Rahman. Still, amazingly, it’s ready to spike again at signs of sickness.
“When either a breastfeeding baby or a breastfeeding mother becomes ill, the percentage of infection-fighting white blood cells found in the breast milk increases up to 94 percent, more closely resembling the white blood cell composition found in colostrum,” says Abdur-Rahman. “It should be noted that whenever any fluid from the body contains a large amount of infection-fighting white blood cells or antibodies, it will assume a yellowish color that is very similar to what many people would call ‘pus,'” says Abdur-Rahman.
As cool as that is, if you’re breastfeeding and your milk color changes, don’t immediately worry that it means your baby’s sick. Even if you and your baby are in perfect health, breast milk color can fluctuate. “You know how Benjamin Moore has a zillion choices for white paint? It’s the same with breast milk,” says Dweck.”Breast milk color can vary based on maternal factors such as hydration or dehydration, diet, vitamins, and medications.”
The four types of breast milk & their colors
Colostrum is the first milk your body produces just after your baby is born. This milk is chock full of nutrients, and may be clear or yellow/orange in color.
This milk contains antibodies that protect your baby from infection and help build up the immune system. It also has a laxative effect that helps move your baby’s first bowel movement and gets the digestive system going.
2. Transition milk
The body only produces colostrum for the first few days of your baby’s life. Transition milk is produced in between this initial stage and when you start producing mature milk.
Transition milk is more white or yellow in appearance, depending on your baby’s needs. At this stage, your baby needs a better balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
3. Mature milk
At three to four weeks of age, your breasts will start producing mature milk. At this stage, your milk will change to become thinner and more bluish in color.
If you’re pumping, you may notice that after a while of setting, your milk separates and the fat rises to the top. This is perfectly normal. Just mix or swirl the milk to restore its normal color.
Your milk may change colors here and there to accommodate your baby’s needs. And if he comes down with a cold, you might notice that your milk is a little more yellow than normal.
4. Weaning milk
As your baby transitions to solid food, your body will start producing weaning milk. Weaning milk looks a lot like colostrum.
Normal breast milk colors
Blue breast milk or clear breast milk
It’s perfectly normal for breast milk to be blue or clear. When we say “blue,” we don’t mean blue as a blueberry, but more of a bluish tint.
Clear or bluish milk usually occurs when you first start feeding or pumping, and is known as the foremilk. Foremilk is lower in fat and thinner – hence, the blue color. Once you start feeding or pumping a little more, the fat content will increase and your milk will get thicker and creamier in color.
Yellow breast milk
During your very first feedings, you may notice that your milk is yellow or even orange in color. This is called colostrum, and your body only makes a small amount of it. This is the milk that many moms call ‘liquid gold breast milk.”
Colostrum is highly nutritious and also provides your newborn with important antibodies. It can sometimes look like thin and watery breast milk, but most moms will find that it’s thick and yellow or orange in color.
What turns the milk orange or yellow? Beta-carotene – an essential nutrient.
If you’re seeing yellow or orange breast milk after the first feedings, it may be because you ate foods high in carotene, such as carrots, yams or squash.
Frozen breast milk is sometimes yellowish in color, too.
Unusual – but not harmful – breast milk colors
Green breast milk
While unusual, green breast milk isn’t necessarily harmful. If you’ve been on a health kick and upped your dose of green vegetables, this may be what’s causing your breast milk to turn colors.
If you’re juicing or drinking smoothies with lots of greens, your new healthy habit may be the reason.
The body takes nutrients from your bloodstream (which comes from the food you eat), and uses those nutrients to produce milk. So, if you’re eating more of those nutritious green vegetables, it’s not surprising that they’d wind up in your milk.
But green-colored milk can also be caused by iron supplements. Your milk may also turn colors if you’ve ingested artificial dyes, like food coloring.
Red or pink breast milk
It may be alarming to see red or pink breast milk, and it’s not as common as other colors. Typically, a pink or red tint to your milk means there’s a little blood in there. Experts say this isn’t harmful to your baby, nor is it a big deal.
Blood in the milk can be caused by cracked nipples, a ruptured blood capillary, or a bacterium called Serratia marsescens.
Pink or red milk can also be caused by the foods you eat, especially beets.
Black breast milk
Black breast milk may be even more alarming to see than red milk, but don’t panic – it’s usually not a big deal.
In most cases, black milk is caused by blood or medications.
While black milk is normally nothing to worry about, you should still talk to your doctor about it.
When should you call a doctor?
In most cases, a change in breast milk color is caused by the foods you eat. Supplements, herbs and vegetables are the most common cause of milk color changes.
Even though it’s normal for your milk color to change, you should contact your doctor or lactation specialist if you think something is wrong. Always listen to your intuition – it’s normally right.
Your doctor or lactation specialist will listen to your concerns and perform an examination if necessary to make sure you don’t have a serious underlying medical condition.
Milk color may be caused by your baby’s health
Sometimes, breast milk may change colors because of your baby’s health.
Take the story of one mom, whose milk was drastically more yellow in color than the milk she pumped the previous day. As it turns out, her newborn’s saliva alerted her body that her little one was sick. So, her body got to work, producing milk that was rich in antibodies and nutrients – just like colostrum. Doctors say it’s not uncommon for breast milk to change colors when babies become ill. It’s the mom’s way of helping heal her little one, whose immune system is still developing.
A study from 2013 found that about 70% of the cells in colostrum are leukocytes, the white blood cells that fight off infection. It makes sense for colostrum to contain such high amounts of antibodies: Your baby has just been introduced to this world, and is susceptible to just about anything. After a few high doses of immune-boosting milk, the levels of white blood cells drop down to about two percent.
But if mom or baby get sick, studies find that the number of white blood cells spikes again – up to 94%.Those antibodies, or white blood cells, are what give your milk that yellowish appearance.
One breast produces different colored milk than the other
What happens if one breast produces different colored milk than the other? Is that normal?
In most cases, yes.
Most of the time, this is caused by foremilk. If you haven’t pumped or fed from one breast in a while, foremilk may turn it a bluish or clear color.
Breast Milk Colour Guide
Normal Breast Milk
Colostrum is the first milk you will make make after birth. This milk is quite thick, like a single cream consistency, and yellow in colour. Around 3-4 days after birth you will start to produce what is known as ‘mature milk’. This milk has more of a variety to its thickness and colour depending on how old your baby is and what time of day. That’s the amazing thing about breast milk, it can be watery and whiter to hydrate baby like a glass of water (fore milk), or it can change from being thicker and creamier in colour to fill baby up like a meal (hind milk).
Expressed and stored breast milk can form a fat layer on top which is cream in colour with the white milk below. This is normal and doesn’t mean the milk has gone ‘off’. Spoiled milk has a distinct sour smell. Never shake your milk to mix the layers together as this can take away some of the benefits of the milk – similar to overcooked veggies. It’s better to swirl the milk in the bottle, ‘tornado’ style, this will also ensure it re-heats evenly.
It is not unusual for milk to have a blue, green, pink or orange tinge to it. Your diet is the most common reason. Consider if you eat excessive amount of certain colours (such as green vegetables) or even dyes used in foods. Certain medication may also cause colour changes to your breast milk.
Rusty Pipe Syndrome
Has your baby vomited pink or brown tinged milk? Is your breast milk watery and pink? Then you may have rusty-pipe syndrome. If there are no other symptoms then this is caused by increased blood flow to your breasts. This causes tiny blood vessels to break open resulting in blood in the milk. The blood is in no way harmful to baby and you can continue to feed as normal. You may also see the blood passing though into baby’s stools. This occurs in around 15% of breastfeeding mums and usually passes within 3-7 days.
If baby has swallowed blood due to sore or cracked nipples, you may want to read our tips on for dealing with sore nipples and how to help them heal.
Cause for concern
If the change in colour is accompanied by flu-like symptoms and a fever then seek medical help immediately. It may be mastitis which will need urgent antibiotic treatment.
A raised temperature or there is a pus like discharge then this indicates a breast infection. You should get medical advice from your GP at the next available appointment.
You are concerned that a colour change or associated symptoms has persisted for longer than a few weeks without any obvious cause then seek advice from your GP.
As always if at any time you are concerned with the colour of your breast milk ask for advice. Your midwife, breastfeeding support worker or health visitor will know your specific circumstances and be able to provide reassurance or referral.
More Reasons Mom Is Having Trouble Pumping Breastmilk
Being Too Thirsty!
It’s hard to produce liquid if you don’t take in enough liquid. Simple enough, but when you are a busy new mom, you might think you are drinking enough. Some just urge mothers to drink to thirst, but others recommend not allowing yourself to get that thirsty. Particularly early on, it is a good idea to have an 8 ounce glass of water at each nursing session.
Be mindful of times when you may need extra water, such as when sick, when exercising or in hot weather. It’s also important to meet the caloric needs of a breastfeeding mom, which means about 500 extra calories daily. Just be sure to get those calories wisely, from foods that don’t just add calories, but adds benefits such as vitamins and minerals. Also, keep in mind certain drinks are dehydrating, such as caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
Having A Crazy Schedule
One major problem for many breastfeeding and pumping mothers is scheduling. At first it’s hard to even know what constitutes a schedule. Do I nurse the baby before work, and pump at the same time? Do I pump only at work and just nurse when I’m home? Should I supplement with formula, and if so how much is too much? I don’t want to jeopardize my milk production. I would recommend reading up on the topic in advance, weeks before returning to work.
Come up with a working plan to attempt ahead of time. Having a schedule in place before returning to the job will take some stress off Mom. Also, it gives you time to tweak the schedule to find the right balance for you and your life. If a mother is nursing and pumping, and she doesn’t have a real schedule, her milk production could become diminished in the process. Your breasts just won’t know what you are trying to do. By establishing consistency you will get your milk production to the level you need.
Getting Easily Distracted
It’s easy to happen; you are pumping or nursing and are either too stressed out, distracted or vegging out to be on top of your game or your life. It’s not easy juggling all these very important things. If you need to pump at work, you need to have a private, quiet area to do so. A bathroom is not where you should be relegated to, either. (It’s a violation of labor law, so complain if that’s what’s offered you.)
Some women may have enough of a break to drive to a nearest park, lean back and pump, probably under a blankie, while listening to the birds sing and the wind rustle leaves. But chances are, your environment won’t be so relaxing. Use an app on your phone to have relaxing nature sounds like rain or wind and crickets, and maybe insert sounds of your own baby. Lavender is a known relaxer, so have some lavender essential oil or aromatherapy spray.
Being One Sided
When I first pumped breast milk I wasn’t even aware there were double pumps that were hospital grade. I was going old school and the milk supply I had put up was quite paltry, I must admit. When my nurse told me about the hospital double pump rentals, my life changed rapidly. I had a full store of milk for little Najilah when I returned to college in my classes and working as a grad assistant at a magazine. It made my life infinitely easier.
Having a hands-free double pump will mean much, much more efficient pumping and will enable you to drink, snack and read while pumping. If you are like me, and I suspect most busy moms, any time you can relax and multitask, it’s a wonderful thing. Double pumps that are strong enough to get the job done are expensive, but many hospitals rent them out at a reasonable rate. Also, some WIC offices have great versions available to nursing moms, so just check.
Having Poor Equipment
No, not the actual female equipment of breasts; the breast pump itself may be the problem. First of all, never buy a breast pump from a garage sale, a consignment shop or borrow from a friend. This is due to hygiene or health issues, and while hospitals or WIC clinics rent out machines, the parts that are used do not touch multiple users. Any such parts are replaced for new users.
That being said, sometimes we might want to pinch some pennies and skimp a bit. This often doesn’t work out when it comes to the world of breast pumps. If you plan to purchase a pump, get the best you can afford or check into free or low cost rentals. A weak, ill-manufactured machine will frustrate you, or possibly cause you pain or discomfort. If you have followed all directions and have continually struggled to make any real progress in breast pumping, consider ditching your model and starting anew with a recommended company or model.
Not Pumping While Nursing
Nothing is more efficient at pulling milk from breasts than a nursing baby. So while baby is busily gulping and suckling, why not take full advantage of the milk flow and attach a breast pump to the non-occupied breast opposite baby? You need not worry that you will diminish your milk supply by pumping while nursing. As you probably know, your body will adjust the production of milk according to the demand. Thus, the more you nurse, the more milk your body will produce.
When baby is done on one side, just switch. Baby will still have plenty of milk on the side you pumped from, in fact, it will likely be mostly hindmilk, with higher fat content at that point, too. Of course, it’s key to be prepared. Have your pump all ready to go and set up so when you settle in you won’t wish for another 2 or 3 hands.
Being Unsure Of The Color
It’s hard to do anything well when it’s unnaturally painful. That includes pumping breast milk. While it may not always be the most comfy thing you’ll do in your day, it really shouldn’t be painful. Positioning is a likely culprit if you are feeling discomfort. Another possible problem could be you are trying too hard, and are therefore using too high a suction setting, or perhaps you need some protection in an emollient made for nursing mothers.
If you are going too long between nursings or pumpings, that could be the issue. Allowing your breasts to be overfull can be what is causing the soreness. Avoiding mastitis is another concern, so keep hands washed, parts cleaned and take good care of yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get so run down you are not feeling well. You can’t do the important things for baby, including pumping milk, if you don’t take care of yourself.
Not Being Mechanically Inclined
Maybe you sprung for the latest, coolest and top model breast pump with literal bells and whistles. On the box it looked amazing and simple. Once the box was open, it was like you had 10 thumbs and directions in Chinese. You perhaps said, “I’ll wing it!” and jumped in feet first. Or maybe teat first. And something now just doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe it’s the weird sound you hear after the pump turns on, or perhaps it’s the weird bruises you are getting on the underside of your breast.
Or maybe you’ve actually had to wrestle the machine to the ground to release your nipple from its seemingly intractable hold. Perhaps it’s a more subtle sense of things not quite working right. If you are unsure about how your breast pump should be put together or how it should be working, contact your physician and ask for a referral to a lactation consultant. Or you could call your local WIC office for some advice and assistance.
Not Being A Morning Person
For those who crave, absolutely hunger for just another 15 minutes in the morning, I feel your pain. Never a morning person, I too started out as a night owlet myself. However, there are some truths that don’t jive well with us people of the night.
That truth is morning time is the prime time for pumping breast milk. You know this to be true when you awake with breast considerably larger than you went to bed with. They are roughly the same texture as boulders. So just set up the breast pump at your bedside and set the alarm 15 minutes early and hook it up, and nap for those 15 minutes while collecting that liquid gold. If you prepare before bed it should be a nearly painless morning activity with big dividends. You should have an easier time pulling milk if you attempt the a.m. pumping session.
Not Being All About Baby
When trying to pump milk, there’s only one real goal in mind: baby! This is all about what’s best for your precious baby. You are dragging around an apparatus to suck life juice from your personal body, you are struggling to sterilize, store and prep bottles of your liquid gold for baby. So don’t forget the goal when working on the details.
If you focus on baby when pumping, the milk should begin flowing more easily. You can look at baby’s picture, or maybe even a video stored on your phone. Bring some portion of baby’s clothing or blankie so you can smell baby’s scent. Hearing baby’s voice is often enough to get mom’s milk let down reflex going. If you want an extra motivation, maybe call home and do a video phone call. Whatever brings baby’s essence to your mind will likely bring your milk into the bottles.
Not Getting Enough TLC
One way a woman can help prepare herself for pumping and increasing the amount of milk she is able to express is to apply heat, stand in a warm shower and by massaging the breasts. Many women will do massage and showering simultaneously for max help. Dr. Sears recommends nursing moms start at the area under the armpit and use fingertips to apply pressure in a small circles, moving towards the areola in a spiral pattern, much like breast self-exam procedures.
After that you do a long stroke from outer breast to the areola, around the entire breast. This helps a woman’s breasts prepare more easily to produce milk as necessary for either nursing or pumping. It’s also helpful for overfull breasts, to relieve pressure. This works before pumping, but it can also be helpful if in the midst of pumping the milk seems to slow down to a little drip.
Not Getting Warmed Up
As I alluded to in the step with the massage, heat is often a great way to warm those girls up for pumping! You can use a rice pillow by heating it in microwave. Just test the temp before placing on your ta-tas, or there will definitely be no pumping for the rest of the day. You can also use a heating pad, a heat pack or a warm shower. Some women prefer to dampen a hand towel or clean dish towel and warm in the microwave, or just use very hot water on the towels themselves.
Just give yourself enough time to relax and let the warmth do its magic on your breasts. Icing breasts or cold packs are generally used after nursing or pumping when breasts are sore, but an occasional woman who it seemingly perpetually sore may try cold packs even before pumping to see if it is helpful. Or perhaps she could switch between warm and cold treatments, to see if that’s beneficial to her particular situation.
Having Lifestyle Issues
We all know the risks of smoking for both ourselves and our babies, but for those considering not nursing baby because they have not been able to quit, most health experts say no; breastfeeding is still better. However, it can impact your milk production in a significant way. According to a 2008 study published in Pediatrics, nicotine in breast milk seems to change the taste of milk, and it interfered with baby’s sleep patterns.
Also it was noted that with smoking more than 10 cigarettes a day decreased milk production, although it is yet unknown for certain why. Alcohol has a similar effect, despite many popular theories on having a beer or two increasing milk supplies. In fact, one study suggests something along the lines of a 23 percent reduction in milk production following a single alcoholic drink. Alcohol also inhibits our milk let down reflex.
Now, I’m not exactly what you’d call a crunchy mom, but I cannot deny the power of visualization. If a breastfeeding mom is having trouble expressing breast milk to store for baby, one simple issue could be from not using the power of the mind. As hokey as it sounds, give this a try. Close your eyes, play some white noise apps of nature sounds, and imagine a flowing stream, a rushing waterfall or river flowing over rocks.
Imagine the milk flowing just as easily from your full breasts. Some women find visualization helpful to achieve milk let down, especially imagining strong streams of milk spurting from you, filling the bottles. If it is difficult to block out other sounds in the vicinity, perhaps have earphones that are noise cancelling and listen to those watery nature sounds. Even if yoga, meditation and relaxation exercises aren’t your cup of tea, it’s always worth a try if it’s for the baby, right?
Conditions Beyond Mom’s Control
Some drugs, including over the counter ones, can interfere with a mom filling those bottles for baby with her own breast milk. One set of medications many people take regularly are allergy or sinus type medications, particularly those containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed and Zyrtec and others. Often hormonal birth control prescriptions can interfere, as well. According to the Mayo Clinic health problems such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, especially if not under control, can impact milk supply.
Women who had trouble getting pregnant due to polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS may also find themselves having a hard time producing sufficient milk to nurse and pump. If you have a chronic health condition and wish to breastfeed, and possibly pump milk when returning to work, then seek out the advice of both your physician and a professional lactation consultant early. They can help mothers get those health conditions better under control and find ways to increase milk production in order to meet baby’s needs.
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- The Best Reason Breast Milk Comes In Different Colors