Have you noticed some blood in your breast milk when you are pumping? Maybe baby has spit up some pink breast milk or has some streaks of blood in their poop. If so, you could be alarmed and left wondering why there is blood in your breast milk.
Don’t panic! This is a common problem in breastfeeding moms and there are several reasons it can happen. It usually isn’t anything serious and you can carry on feeding your baby.
We’ll look at some of the reasons you might have blood in your breast milk. We will also cover how it can affect your baby and what you should do about it.
Signs of Blood in Breast Milk
The first time you might notice there is something amiss is seeing a change of color in your milk. It could be any variety of shades, including red, orange, brown, or pink breast milk. You might even be alerted by seeing some blood in your baby’s stools or if their stools are darker than normal.
Before you rush your baby off to the emergency room, think about what you have been eating. Some foods and food dyes can change the color of your breast milk. Have you been eating beets or drinking anything red in color, such as fruit drinks?
I know I panicked once after eating a lot of beetroot salad and seeing reddish stools, but then I realized it was the beets. If this is the case, then it will pass in a day or so.
So, you rule out the food-induced pink breast milk. What’s next? It’s still possible your breast milk will return to its normal color in a few days.
If it doesn’t, then consult your healthcare provider who can investigate further.
Causes of Blood in Breast Milk
As we’ve mentioned, it’s not usually a serious problem, but you will want to put your mind at rest by figuring out the cause. Here are some of the reasons you might see bleeding during pumping or feeding.
1. Your Nipples Are Damaged
One of the more common reasons you might have pink or red streaks in your milk is cracked nipples. Your baby may not be latching properly, or you’re not pumping correctly. It may also be the result of dry skin or eczema (1).
You might see bleeding during pumping or notice blood when baby spits up. Once your nipples heal, there should be no blood in your breast milk.
This video explains some of the ways you can treat sore and cracked nipples.
2. Rusty Pipe Syndrome
This syndrome is more often seen in first-time moms and causes your colostrum to appear pinkish, brown, orange, or rusty-looking. While alarming to look at, it goes away in a few days, and it’s fine to carry on breastfeeding your baby.
It’s caused by something called vascular engorgement. This describes the process of a part of your body filling with blood or other fluids.
When you’re pregnant, your breasts go through many changes, in preparation to feed your baby. An increase in the blood flow to your breasts means the glands and milk ducts develop and grow quickly. Some of the blood stays in the milk ducts and is then released with the colostrum and milk as you start your breastfeeding journey (2).
3. Broken Blood Vessels
There are lots of tiny blood vessels in your breasts, called capillaries. Any trauma to the breasts, or incorrect use of a breast pump, can damage these delicate vessels. When they break, the blood from them can leak into milk (3).
Mastitis is an infection which can happen in the breasts when breastfeeding. It’s triggered by a build-up of milk in the breasts. This could be because of missed feeds or your baby not latching on properly.
It can cause streaks of blood in your milk. The condition is treatable with rest, hydration, and possibly over-the-counter pain medication. If it persists, a doctor might prescribe antibiotics.
You can continue to breastfeed until the mastitis clears up (4).
5. Benign Intraductal Papilloma
An intraductal papilloma is a small non-cancerous growth in the breast. It can develop in a milk duct. If it breaks, it will release discharge from the nipple which has blood in it. If you see bleeding from your nipples and they aren’t sore, this could be the cause (5).
6. Breast Cancer
On most occasions, a little blood in your milk is not a cause for concern. On the other hand, if it doesn’t clear up in a few days on its own, then you should see your doctor.
Although very rare, some breast cancers may cause discharge from the nipples which can be bloody (6). But don’t go there yet, mama! It’s most likely nothing to worry about.
Frequently Asked Questions
Seeing blood in your milk can be scary and there are questions a mom will want answers to.
Is It Safe to Breastfeed with Blood in Breast Milk?
You can absolutely continue breastfeeding when you have bleeding nipples or notice some blood in your milk. It won’t harm your baby and as long as they’re still nursing well, then keep on doing so.
Remember, if the issue persists, see your health care professional for advice.
There are times when you might not be able to continue feeding. These include moms who have hepatitis B or C. It might be alright if you have these conditions to breastfeed when there is no blood present, but not if there is.
If you have that condition, wait until your milk is blood-free before commencing breastfeeding again. In the meantime, remember to express or pump and discard your milk to keep your supply flowing (7).
When it comes to viral hepatitis and HIV, the advice is different. These diseases can be passed through blood and bodily fluids to your baby, which includes your breast milk. In these circumstances, you should not breastfeed (8).
Does Blood in Breast Milk Affect My Baby in Any Way?
On the whole, blood in your milk will not affect your baby at all. There are some associated issues you might come across, which include:
- Blood in your breast milk has the potential to change the flavor of the milk if there is a lot of it. Your baby might not like this and refuse to feed.
- Baby might vomit more than usual. Again, this will generally happen only when there is a lot of blood in the milk.
- You might notice your baby’s poop becomes darker in color or has some blood in it. As long as you know this is as a result of the blood in your breast milk, then it’s fine. If you see blood in baby’s diaper and there is none in your milk, you should contact your baby’s health provider as soon as possible.
What Can I Do About Blood in My Breast Milk?
As we have already mentioned, breastfeeding and pumping can continue, in most cases, even if there is some blood in your milk. If you need reassurance, then speak to your doctor for advice and information.
If it’s obvious your nipples are cracked and bleeding, then address the problem. Make sure your baby is latching on correctly and use a nipple cream which is safe for baby. You might want to apply soothing breast pads to help protect and heal your nipples.
If it becomes too painful for you to breastfeed, then stop while your nipples take their time to heal. Just make sure you pump on a gentle setting as often as you would be feeding your baby. This will keep your milk supply up, so you can start feeding again when you’re ready (9).
Baby can still be fed the pumped milk from a bottle in the meantime.
If the cause of the blood in your milk is engorgement, then this can be treated. You can apply chilled cabbage leaves (really!) or cold packs which may help relieve the symptoms (10).
Keep an eye out for any signs of infection, such as redness, fever, tenderness, and swelling. If you see any of these signs, or the cause of the bleeding isn’t apparent, see a doctor.
Can Breast Milk Be Stored When There Is Blood in It?
Yes, it can, but be aware that the longer it’s stored, the more the taste might change. It’s better to use it as fresh as possible to reduce the risk of your baby refusing to drink it.
Carry on Breastfeeding
Seeing some traces of blood in breast milk is quite common. There are many causes, the majority of which will clear up quite quickly and are not a reason to worry.
Keep breastfeeding baby — the traces of blood are not going to harm them, they might just spit up a bit more.
If you are in any way concerned if this happens, then see your doctor sooner rather than later. If nothing else, it will put your mind at rest and give you some reassurance.