Breastfeeding and Blood In Breast Milk

Information, Safety, Causes, and Treatment

Bottle of milk with pink background
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Blood in breast milk is a common breastfeeding problem. It's something that you wouldn't even notice unless you're pumping, your child spits up a bit of blood-tinged milk, or you see a little blood in your baby's bowel movements. And, while it can be scary when you first notice it, there's likely no need to worry. Blood in your breast milk isn't usually a serious medical problem.

Blood and the Color of Breast Milk

Blood can change the color of your breast milk to shades of pink, red, orange, or brown.

Certain food dyes can also tint the color of your milk. So, before you think its blood, try to remember if you recently had anything red to eat or drink such as beets or red fruit drinks. Either way, try not to worry. Your breast milk will most likely return to its whitish, yellowish, or bluish hue within a few days.

What Causes Blood in Breast Milk?

Damaged Nipples: The most common cause of red or pink streaks in breast milk is cracked nipples. Blisters, cuts, and scrapes on the areola and nipple can also cause bleeding. If your nipples are bleeding, your baby will take in some of that blood as she breastfeeds, and you'll also notice the blood going into your breast milk as you pump. But, once your nipples heal, you should no longer see blood in your breast milk.

Rusty Pipe Syndrome: During the first week or so after you have your baby, there's more blood flowing to your breasts as your body quickly begins to make breast milk.

The blood from this stage of  vascular breast engorgement can seep into your milk ducts causing your breast milk to look brown, orange, or a rust color. It may remind you of the water that comes out of a rusty pipe, which is where it gets the name. And, while it doesn't look appetizing, it's OK to continue to feed your baby while your body is clearing out its milk ducts.

Rusty pipe syndrome is seen more often in first-time moms. It's not dangerous, and it usually goes away on its own in a few days.

Broken Capillaries: There are small blood vessels in your breasts called capillaries. These capillaries can become damaged from not using a breast pump correctly, or any type of trauma to your breasts. The blood from broken, damaged capillaries can then leak out into your breast milk.

Mastitis: Mastitis is a breast infection that can produce blood-tinged breast milk from the infected breast. Other symptoms such as redness, swelling, pain, and fever are usually present with mastitis.

Benign Intraductal Papilloma: An intraductal papilloma is a small growth in the breast that is not cancerous. It can grow inside of a milk duct or break a milk duct causing a bloody discharge from your nipple.

Breast Cancer: Even though most of the time, a little blood in the breast milk or a small amount of bleeding from your nipple is nothing to be concerned about, if it does not go away on its own in a few days, contact your doctor. There are some forms of breast cancer, such as ductal carcinoma and Paget's disease, which can cause bleeding from the nipple.

Can you Breastfeed if Your Nipples are Bleeding or There's Blood in Your Milk?

Yes, it's safe to continue breastfeeding and giving your child pumped breast milk even if your nipples are bleeding or you notice blood in your breast milk.

A small amount of blood in your breast milk is not harmful, and it will not affect your baby or your breast milk. As long as your baby is nursing well, it's safe to continue to breastfeed. The problem should go away on its own within a few days. If it doesn't resolve after a week, you should check with your doctor.

How Blood in Breast Milk Affects Babies

Blood in your breast milk may not have any effect on your little one at all. But, some children may encounter the following issues:

Breastfeeding Problems: While a little bit of blood is not likely to cause any problems, a larger amount of blood could change the flavor of your breast milk, so your child may refuse to breastfeed.

Vomiting: Again, some blood is usually not an issue, however, your child may throw up if there's an excessive amount of blood in your breast milk. 

Bowel Changes: While drinking blood-tinged breast milk, your baby's poop may be a little darker than normal, or you may see a little bit of noticeable blood in his or her diaper. If you know that the blood is coming from your breast milk, then it's ok. However, if there is more than a tiny amount of blood in your child's diaper, or you see bloody stools, and you haven't seen any blood in your breast milk, contact your baby's doctor right away.

What to do if There's Blood in Your Breast Milk

  • You do not have to stop breastfeeding or pumping. It's OK to continue to give your child your breast milk if there's a little bit of blood in it. And, of course, you can always call your doctor or your baby's doctor for reassurance and more information if you need it.
  • If you can see that the bleeding is from a cracked or damaged nipple, care for the problem. Make sure that your child is latching on correctly and use a safe nipple cream, your breast milk, or soothing hydrogel breast pads to help heal and protect your nipples.
  • If breastfeeding is too painful and you need to stop breastfeeding for a little while to allow your nipples time to heal, you should continue to pump as often as you would be breastfeeding to maintain your milk supply. Just remember to be gentle with your pump by keeping the suction and speed at comfortable levels.
  • You can continue to give your child the milk that you pump by using an alternative feeding method.
  • If your breasts are swollen and hard, treat engorgement.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of an infection such as fever, redness, swelling, and tenderness. If you notice any of these signs, call your doctor for the proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • If the cause of the bleeding is not obvious and you can't see where it's coming from, you can give it a few days to see if it goes away. But, it does not go away within a few days, contact your doctor for an examination.

Can you Store Breast Milk if There's Blood in It?

Blood can change the flavor of your breast milk. The taste may be even stronger after a period of storage in the refrigerator of the freezer. If you use the blood-tinged breast milk while it's fresh, your child is less likely to refuse it.  

Sources:

Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM clinical protocol# 20: Engorgement. 2009.

Hussain, A. N., Policarpio, C., and Vincent, M. T. Evaluating Nipple Discharge. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey. 2006: 61(4): 278-283.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Nelson, R. S., & Hoehn, J. L. Twenty-Year Outcome Following Central Duct Resection for Bloody Nipple Discharge. Annals of Surgery. 2006: 243(4); 522.

Sauter, E. R., Schlatter, L., Lininger, J., & Hewett, J. E. The Association of Bloody Nipple Discharge with Breast Pathology. Surgery. 2004: 136(4); 780-785.

 

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