The different colours of breast milk, why it changes and when to be concerned

Breast milk colours can range from red to orange and black.
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Ronelle Richards
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June 4, 2024
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Breast Milk Colours: Why it Changes & What Does It Mean? | Kin Fertility
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Becoming a new mum is truly life-changing, and it comes with a whole new set of challenges.

One of the most natural processes in raising a baby is breastfeeding, but it's also one of the most problematic. While many new mums think it must be an innate and easy trick to master, so many parents experience problems once they've started breastfeeding.

From latching to breast milk colour, breastfeeding often isn't what they're expecting.

Breast milk is full of protein, fats, carbohydrates and vitamins for the baby.

In this article, we'll be exploring breast milk colour and the different shades that breast milk can come in, including what's considered normal and what's a little more unusual.

What colour is breast milk?

Breastfeeding provides all of the nutrition baby needs for their first six months and helps you bond with your baby.

Breast milk may help lessen your recovery time after birth and helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size.

Breastfeeding is not always easy, but there is plenty of support out there for new mums — like Kin's Breastfeeding Essentials.

But what do the colours of breast milk mean? Is it something to worry about? Unless you express your milk, you may not be aware of the different colours of breast milk.

If you are at all worried about a more serious health problem from your breastmilk colour, the best place to seek advice is through your healthcare provider like your family doctor or midwife.

The colour of breast milk varies but is typically white, yellow, cream, or white with a bluish hue or even clear.

The colour of breast milk is impacted by many things like your diet, certain foods, health, and even whether it's been frozen.

What makes breast milk white?

Most of us have been drinking milk all of our lives, so we might assume breast milk would be pure white milk. Not quite.

It takes a few days after birth for the body to produce white breast milk, and it may turn yellow or from yellow to white.

Generally, the higher the levels of fat in breastmilk is what makes it white.

If you see bright white lumps in milk this is typically the cream that rises to the top of the milk when it sits in a bottle for a period of time.

The phases of breast milk

There are three phases of breastmilk from first developing milk in pregnancy to your eventual mature milk stage.

When the body makes milk, it can be separated into two main types of milk: foremilk and hindmilk.

Phase one: Colostrum

The very first milk you produce is called colostrum. Colostrum is produced during pregnancy (usually from the second trimester) and is the very first breast milk released by our body after giving birth.

It is saturated with antibodies and antioxidants to give babies a nutrient-dense start and build their immune system.

It's often dubbed "liquid gold" for its valuable benefits such as its high protein and low fat, as well as its yellow colour.

The high levels of beta carotene in colostrum is what can make it orange-tinged or even a dark yellow shade.

Phase two: Transitional milk

Around three to four days after giving birth, your colostrum changes to transitional milk, which is also known as your milk "coming in".

This is when you will see mostly white breast milk or a blue-white breast milk colour.

This transitional milk phase will last around two weeks and contains more calories than your colostrum for the baby.

As your milk transitions, it is often a mixture of colostrum, foremilk and hindmilk, which gradually changes from yellow breast milk to more white milk.

Phase three: Mature milk

Once your milk has transitioned, it is called mature milk. The Australian Breastfeeding Association describes mature milk as a blue-tinged white colour.

It is around 90 per cent water and 10 per cent carbohydrates, proteins and fats that the baby needs to grow.

At the start of a feed or pumping session comes the foremilk, which is thinner, and appears clear or white with a bluish hue, not dissimilar to how watery skim milk looks.

Foremilk has less fat and more sweetness from sugar.

The second milk of the feeding or pumping session is the hindmilk, which has much higher levels of fat to help your baby gain weight.

Hindmilk is the thicker, creamier-looking milk that is white or whiteish with a yellow tint. The added fat content in the milk gives it a lighter, whiter or cream, yellow colour.

Can breast milk change colour?

Yes, the colours of breast milk change over time, but it can even change colour over the course of a single feeding session.

There are a number of reasons that the colour of your breast milk may change from day to day.

Several peer-reviewed studies have found that the taste and smell of breast milk can be altered by the mother's diet.

A 2021 study found that mums who ate peppery curry had the pepper substance piperine in their breast milk.

Given the impact of food on the taste and smell of breastmilk, it's not surprising that things like food dyes and other food can impact the colour of breast milk.

What makes breast milk yellow?

We've already discussed the yellow colour of breast milk in colostrum, but mature breastmilk can be yellow for other reasons.

If you eat a large amount of orange-coloured foods like pumpkin, carrot or sweet potatoes, your milk can turn yellow or orange.

Expressed breastmilk will often turn slightly yellow when frozen. Freezing breastmilk causes it to separate into layers and can cause it to turn a light yellow colour.

What are some of the other colours of breast milk (and what do they mean)?

Most colours of breastmilk are completely normal and nothing to be worried about.

Let's dive into a few of the main colours and what they mean.

Red or pink breast milk

Pink milk can be caused by eating large amounts of bright pink and red foods like beetroot.

Another reason for red milk or blood-tinged milk is cracked nipples — it's not uncommon to experience blood seeping into your milk from damaged nipples.

The nourishing Nipple Balm found in the Breastfeeding Essentials soothes and restores sore and cracked nipples.

The blend of avocado oil, lanolin and shea butter helps to build skin elasticity and prevents chafing and cracking.

There is also a rare reason why breastmilk may turn pink, which is caused by a bacteria called serratia marcescens.

This bacteria can make an infant unwell, especially if the milk is pumped and improperly stored causing the bacteria to multiply.

Very occasionally, blood in breastmilk can also be caused by a breast infection like mastitis, papillomas that grow in your milk ducts (but are not harmful) or a rare form of breast cancer.

If you notice blood in your milk and are worried or unsure, seek professional medical advice.

Orange breast milk

Breast milk that has an orange tint to it could be caused by the food dyes in orange soda, excessive fruit juice or jelly desserts.

As we mentioned earlier, eating foods high in beta-carotene like carrots and sweet potatoes can also cause an orange milk colour and is considered normal.

Green breast milk

Green breast milk is often caused by eating large amounts of green veggies perhaps in green smoothies or by taking a kelp or seaweed supplement.

Some blue food dyes can cause the colour of your breast milk to take on a green tint.

Other reasons your breast milk may turn green include consuming green-coloured sports drinks, large amounts of herbs or lots of leafy green vegetables for iron and calcium benefits like spinach or kale.

New medically reviewed research shows some breastfeeding mums had their breastmilk turn green or blue-tinged after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Images on social media have been widely shared claiming COVID-19 fighting antibodies turned breast milk green, but this has since been debunked as false.

Breast milk is more likely to be green from eating green foods and is considered to be part of normal milk production.

Blue breast milk

Blue breast milk is most commonly from the foremilk.

The bluish hue is caused by the presence of casein, which is around 40 per cent of the protein in your milk.

The blue colour is more visible from the low-fat content in foremilk at the start of your breastfeeding or pumping.

This is normal and not necessary to stop breastfeeding.

Brown or rust breast milk

Brown, rust or red breast milk is often caused by trace amounts of blood.

Also known as rusty pipe syndrome, it occurs as your milk ducts first come in and blood mixes with colostrum.

The rusty pipe syndrome only lasts around seven days.

Black breast milk

Black breast milk colour can be caused by some medications. It can also be a sign of blood in your milk.

As always, if you are unsure if something is normal, please seek professional medical advice.

When should you be concerned?

Most breast milk colours are considered to be completely normal, even if the different colours of breast milk seem unusual or feel like you're pumping a rainbow.

However, if anything seems a little out of the ordinary — from the colour of breast milk to your baby spitting up blood-stained milk or passing very dark bowel motions — it's best to get that medically reviewed by a professional like your doctor or midwife.

Spitting up blood is usually a side effect of a baby drinking milk with old blood, but it's always worth seeking some medical advice to be sure.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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