Blood in Breast Milk – Causes and Treatment

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Dr. Deepinder Kaur (Obstetrician and Gynaecologist)
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Blood in Breast Milk - Causes and Treatment

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Breastfeeding comes with its own set of challenges. Right from finding the right position for both you and the baby, to teaching the baby to latch on properly. While you might have nearly found a balance, suddenly there might be traces of blood in your breast milk. The initial sight of blood can be a cause of concern for you as you worry if your baby has consumed some of it as well. Let’s find out if this a sign of worry and what precautions need to be taken to avoid it.

Is It Normal to Have Blood in Breast Milk?

The answer to this is yes and no. As breastfeeding starts becoming a regular part of life, many women tend to find signs of blood in their breast milk. At times, this could occur due to improper pumping of the breast to store the milk for later use. These small amounts of blood are usually fine, and they disappear in a couple of days.

However, if the bleeding seems to be present for more than a week, it might be necessary to get a breast exam from a medical professional.

Is Breast Milk Containing Blood Safe for the Baby?

In certain cases, it is safe for the baby, and here are some of them:

  • Most of the times, such milk is absolutely safe for the baby and poses no problems, as long as you do not have an illness or a condition such as HIV or hepatitis, that might pass on to the baby through the blood in the breast milk. If you suffer from any such illness, you should stop nursing your baby immediately.
  • If the bleeding is in larger amounts, your baby may either spit it out or may consume a lot of it, too. This could result in throwing up blood, or clumps in the stomach, or even extremely dark poop. Do not panic in such a situation and calmly let the doctor advise you.
  • At times, it might not even be blood. Breast milk has a tendency to change its colour across a wide range. In the initial stages of breastfeeding, the milk generally has a yellow shade to it, while over time, it could become white with a light blue shade. The presence of blood can tweak it to red, or brown, or even greenish. This does not mean your baby should stop feeding off your breast.

Causes of Blood in Breast Milk

Some of the common causes the presence of blood in breast milk are as follows:

1. Presence of Cracked Nipples

Generally observed in the initial weeks after delivery, both the mother and child are learning to breastfeed at this stage. This leads to the baby not being able to latch on the breast properly and not sucking the nipple in the correct manner. Since nipples are also quite sensitive post-delivery, this rough handling of them could lead to cuts and blisters on them, which bleed when the baby feeds or when you pump them. A nursing specialist could help you move ahead from this situation with ease.

2. Presence of Rusty Pipe Syndrome

This, too, is present generally in the initial weeks of delivery. In this condition, your breast undergoes vascular engorgement. This is primarily due to a huge amount of blood heading towards your breasts. This causes the milk ducts to enlarge, and enhance the production of milk. In this scenario, some of the blood may be in excess and find its way out through the nipple, leading to the breast milk having a rusty colour. This blood tends to disappear in a few days.

3. Presence of Intraductal Papilloma

A quite rare condition, this is when there’s a tiny growth inside the milk duct of the breast, that almost resembles a wart. This could rupture and lead to the presence of blood in the breast milk, as well as cause you pain while breastfeeding. An alternative reason might be the feeling of lumpy breasts, which could be indicative of fibrocystic breast disease.

4. Presence of Damaged Capillaries

Any injury that blood vessels might be subjected to can cause them to bleed and lead blood into the milk ducts, which appears outside in the breast milk. This generally happens when a breast pump is used incorrectly, which pulls at the breast with a lot more pressure than required.

5. Presence of Mastitis

This is a serious reason since the bleeding due to mastitis is a result of an infected breast. Swelling and pain of the breast, the presence of lumps that are fluffy in nature, sore breasts and a slight fever are all signs that are indicative of a mastitis infection. This requires immediate medical attention.

6. Possibility Of Breast Cancer

This is the worst possible scenario that could cause blood to be present in breast milk. Usually, the presence of cancer in the ducts or even Paget’s disease are highly responsible for causing blood to be present in the milk. Your doctor might arrive at this conclusion based on ruling out other possibilities and take the necessary steps to confirm the diagnosis.

Possibility Of Breast Cancer

Is Nipple Bleeding During Breastfeeding Normal?

Most women face bleeding nipples in the initial weeks of breastfeeding, and that is fine. It is all a result of excessive pressure on the breasts and nipples, due to incorrect latching of the baby, or aggressive suckling at the nipples, or even using a breast pump in an incorrect manner. Nipples could be cracked, and there might be signs of redness on them. It might be best to alternate between breasts so as to give each some relief or switch to formula-based milk until they heal.

In How Many Shades Can Blood Change the Colour of Your Breast Milk?

The breast milk can change its colour over time based on the diet of a new mother. Be it natural food colours or dyes present in what you consume; these could directly affect the milk’s colour. If you have had any red fruit drinks or beetroots to eat, your milk might have a reddish, orangish, or brownish tinge to it, which may not necessarily be the presence of blood. The initial milk is always yellowish in colour, which later settles down to a bluish-white shade.

Is Pink Breast Milk a Sign of Blood in the Milk?

Yes, breastmilk with a pink shade to it could be a sign of blood being present in it. This could be from the cracked nipples or can be a strong sign of the rusty pipe syndrome, given the particular shade the milk has. The good news in this regard is that the amount of blood is quite less, giving the milk its pink colour. This should ideally return to normal in a few days by itself.

Treatments That Can Help You Remove the Presence of Blood in Breast Milk

The following treatment options could stop blood from appearing in the breast milk:

  • Presence of blood in the breast milk should not be a reason to refuse to feed the baby anymore unless you are suffering from an illness. A large quantity of blood, however, can cause the baby to vomit in rare situations. In such cases, it is necessary to shift the baby to the other breast and pump out milk from the previous one until signs of blood disappear. Time, rest, and care work together in healing the breasts.
  • At times, breastfeeding itself can get quite painful due to the blood. The best way then is to shift your baby to the other breast or make use of formula temporarily while you pump your breast. Pumping is necessary since that allows the breast to heal and maintain the supply to a constant level. If bleeding persists, let your doctor know.
  • The breast pump mask should fit your breast properly, and suction should be at a normal level. Too much pressure could cause blood vessels to rupture. If using your hands, be gentle with your breasts. In case the nipples are damaged, undertake measures to accelerate their healing and make sure your baby latches properly after that.
  • If your breasts are engorged and are bleeding as well, get your doctor’s opinion if it continues to be so for more than a week.

FAQs

1. Which Foods Can Change the Colour of Breast Milk?

Strong coloured food items such as beetroot, carrots, pumpkins, a lot of green vegetables, food dyes present in other items, medications, and even the milk cream can change the colour of the milk across various shades.

2. Do I Need to Go to the Doctor if My Breast Milk Is in an Unusual Colour?

Try adjusting your diet to see if the milk returns to its usual shade. If the colour is predominantly pink or red and continues to be so for more than a week, then do consult your doctor.

3. Can I Store Breast Milk Containing Blood?

As long as the milk is refrigerated properly to prevent the growth of bacteria, the milk is safe for the baby. Also, long-term storage changes the taste of the milk due to the iron present in the blood, which might not be accepted by the baby.

4. Is Blood in Baby’s Poop a Sign of Blood in Breast Milk?

Check your own breasts by expressing them to look for signs of blood. If there is no sign of blood in your breastmilk, then blood in your baby’s poop could signify a different reason and needs a doctor’s intervention right away.

Seeing blood in your milk and imagining your baby drink, it can be quite a harrowing experience. In most cases, with the right care and precautions, this can go away in a few days, and you can get back to feeding him normally. Do not hesitate to contact your doctor if you feel something is not right.

Also Read: Breast Milk Colour

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