Rusty Pipe Syndrome

Information, Causes, And Treatment Of Blood-Tinged Breast Milk

What Is Rusty Pipe Syndrome?
What is rusty pipe syndrome?. Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

What Is Rusty Pipe Syndrome?

Rusty pipe syndrome is a breastfeeding condition where the color of the breast milk looks pink to orange-brown, or rust-colored, almost like the dirty water from an old rusty pipe. It appears during the first few days of breastfeeding, and it's more common for first-time moms. Rusty pipe syndrome is painless, and although it can happen on only one side, it's typically seen in both breasts.

It's something that you may not even notice unless you're pumping or your baby spits up some discolored breast milk.

Is Rusty Pipe Syndrome Dangerous?

Although it can be scary to see blood in your breast milk, rusty pipe syndrome is a temporary condition, and it's not dangerous for you or your baby. You do not have to wait until it clears up to breastfeed your baby; your breast milk is still good, so go ahead and breastfeed. The small amount of blood in your breast milk is not likely to bother your baby or to have any effect on him or her.

On occasion, a larger amount of blood may not sit well with the baby. It could cause your baby to spit up more often or even have a little bit of blood in his bowel movements. You can talk to your baby's doctor, but as long as you know that the blood is coming from your breasts and not from your baby, there is nothing to worry about.

How Long Does Rusty Pipe Syndrome Last?

Rusty pipe syndrome lasts a few days.

It should begin to clear up as the production of breast milk increases, and the colostrum turns into transitional breast milk. Complete clearing of the rusty colored breast milk could take a week or so, but you should you see improvement as the days go on.

What Causes Rusty Pipe Syndrome?

Rusty pipe syndrome is caused by old blood left inside of the milk ducts from something called vascular engorgement.

Vascular engorgement is when a part of the body fills with blood or another fluid. When you're pregnant, your breasts go through many changes to prepare for breastfeeding. There is a great increase in the blood flow to the breasts as the milk ducts and the glands that produce breast milk grow and develop very quickly. Some of this blood remains in the milk ducts and makes it way out during the first few days of breastfeeding.

What Can You Do If You Have Rusty Pipe Syndrome?

Rusty pipe syndrome goes away on its own within a week, so there is no treatment necessary. During this time you can:

  • Continue to breastfeed or pump your breast milk for your baby.
  • Monitor your baby for vomiting or stomach upset.
  • Keep an eye on the situation to be sure that it's getting better and resolving itself.
  • Call your doctor if you do not see it clearing up within a few days.

What Else Can Cause Blood In Your Breast Milk?

Other than rusty pipe syndrome, blood in the breast milk can also be caused by:

Bleeding Nipples: Sore, cracked nipples are the most common cause of blood in the breast milk, and they are often the result of a poor breastfeeding latch.

Breast or Nipple Damage: Any trauma to your breasts or nipples from your baby, a breast pump, or an injury can damage the blood vessels in your breast causing blood to leak into the milk ducts and your breast milk.

Mastitis: Mastitis is a breast infection that can cause pain, swelling, and bloody nipple discharge.

Papillomas: These small growths in the milk ducts are not harmful, but they can cause blood to enter your breast milk.

Breast Cancer: In most cases blood in the breast milk is not serious. However, some forms of breast cancer can cause bloody discharge from the nipples.

When Should You Contact Your Doctor?

It's always OK to contact your doctor right away if you are concerned, but if you want to wait a few days to see if it clears up, that's OK, too. As long as you see improvement in a few days, you should not have to worry. However, if you only see bleeding from one breast, or if there is no improvement and you continue to see rusty colored breast milk or blood in your breast milk after a week, contact your doctor.

While a little bit of blood in your breast milk is not usually something to worry about, bleeding that continues for more than a few days could be a sign of something more serious. It's always better to have an exam with your doctor to be sure everything is OK than to wait and find out that you should have gone in sooner.


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Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

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