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You must have heard that breast milk is nature’s best food for your baby. While cow’s milk is white in colour, you might expect breast milk to be white in colour. However, there are various hues of breast milk. Sometimes, while nursing, you might find the colours and the consistency change. If you notice that the colour of your breast milk varies, do not panic. Equipping yourself with knowledge about breast milk colours, whether it’s normal or not, and when to see a doctor will assist you in overcoming your panic and taking the right step.
What are the Types of Breast Milk and Their Colours?
There are four types of breast milk, and each of them comes in different colours. The four types of breast milk are as follows:
Colostrum is the first milk that the mother’s body produces after childbirth. Colostrum is produced in small amounts, and it lasts during the initial few days of the baby’s birth. It is highly concentrated. This milk might be clear, yellow, or orange in colour. Colostrum is rich in nutrients and has antibodies. It helps babies in:
• Building their immune system.
• Getting their digestive system up and running.
• Starting their first bowel movement due to its laxative properties.
The high-levels of beta-carotene make colostrum dark yellow or orange in colour.
2. Transition Milk
Milk production normally begins to increase (biochemically) between 30 and 40 hours after delivery of the placenta. After producing colostrum for the initial few days, your body produces transitional milk. This milk marks the transition period from the production of colostrum to mature milk. It can be for a period of two weeks, and the colour of the breast milk is white or yellow. Transition milk is a combination of colostrum and mature milk. In first-time mothers, the production of transition milk can be delayed when compared to women who are delivering for the second or third time.
Transition milk has nutrients and properties of the colostrum and mature milk. Following are some important pointers about transition milk:
• Proteins and antibodies reduce in the milk.
• Fat, sugar, and calories increase.
• The increase in fat, sugar, and calories help babies gain weight.
3. Mature Milk
When the baby is around three or four weeks, and you have crossed the transition milk phase, you start producing mature milk. The colour of the mature breast milk changes depending on the fat content. Typically, when mature milk starts to flow out of your breast, it is lower in fat and has a thinner consistency. This is foremilk, and it looks clear or blue in colour. As this milk continues to flow, the fat increases and the milk becomes creamier. This is hindmilk, which is thick and white or yellow in colour.
Mature breast milk changes over time. Mature milk at one month is not the same as the milk in five months. It also changes throughout the day. The amount of protein, fats, and lactose vary during different parts of the day. The colour of the milk also changes depending on what your baby needs. If the baby is down with cold, there are chances of the milk colour changing to yellow.
4. Weaning Milk
After your baby starts on solid foods, weaning milk is produced. You will continue to produce milk until you stop feeding the baby. After you stop breastfeeding, you will gradually stop producing breast milk. This milk might appear like colostrum.
What Causes Change in Breast Milk Colour?
While the preceding sections discussed the various types of breast milk, you might have observed the change in the colour of the breast milk depending on the phases. The colour of your breast milk might also change depending on factors such as:
• The food you take
• Nutritional supplements
• Herbs or natural food colours
• Artificial food colours
In addition to the change in breast milk, these diet-related factors can also impact the colour of your and the baby’s urine. Although these changes in the breast milk colour are normal and might not affect you or the baby, it is advisable to consult your doctor for clarity or guidance.
Usual/Normal Breast Milk Colours
Most of the colour changes in breast milk are reflected by your diet. Although it might be a healthy breast milk colour, at times, it might alarm you. Following are some usual or normal breast milk colours:
1. Blue or Clear Breast Milk
When you first start feeding or pumping milk, the milk is lower in fat and thinner. This milk has a bluish tinge. When you continue feeding milk, the fat increases, and the colour changes; it changes to a creamy shade.
2. Yellow Breast Milk
Colostrum or the first feedings are yellow or sometimes orange in colour. This milk is also referred to as “liquid gold breast milk.” Beta-carotene, which is an essential nutrient, gives the yellow or orange tinge to the colostrum milk. If you notice the yellow or orange tinge after the colostrum stage, it can be related to the items in your diet. If you’ve had carrots, yam, or squash, the colour of breast milk can change. Breast milk that is frozen for storage is also yellow in colour.
Unusual Breast Milk Colours
In addition to yellow, blue, and cream shades, you might also notice unusual colours that might worry you. Although some of these colours don’t mean trouble, when in doubt, please consult your doctor. Some of the unusual colours are:
1. Green Breast Milk
If you’ve been on a healthy diet, which is loaded with green vegetables, juices with lots of greens, or artificial green colours, there are chances of the breast milk turning green in colour. The green colour can also be due to iron supplements. The nutrients in the food are absorbed by the blood. Your body takes the nutrients from the blood and prepares the milk. So, if you are eating green leafy vegetables, the milk can get the colour.
2. Red or Pink Breast Milk
You might notice pink-coloured milk if your diet includes beetroot and red or orange-coloured juices.
3. Brown, Rust, or Blood-Tinged Breast Milk
Sometimes, the colour of the milk might be dark brown, rust, or blood-tinged. This indicates blood in the milk. Blood from cracked nipples is one of the main reasons for the change in colour.
Sometimes, when blood from inside your breasts enters into the milk ducts, the milk will have streaks of blood. It can also be due to ruptured blood capillaries or Serratia marcescens, which is a bacterium.
A lot of mothers who do not express milk do not notice a change in breastmilk colour. Having blood streaks in breastmilk is also normal as breastmilk is produced from the bloodstream in the mother’s body.
Although some of them believe that milk with blood is not harmful to the baby, if the milk continues to appear in shades of dark brown or red, it is advisable to consult your doctor.
4. Black Breast Milk
While the various colours of the milk might alarm you, black-coloured breast milk could frighten you to the core. The colour can be due to the effect of medicines. Generally, the black colour is associated with an antibiotic, Minocin or minocycline. This antibiotic darkens the skin and is not recommended while you are nursing the baby. So, it is advisable to mention to your doctors that you are nursing. This information helps doctors prescribe the right medicine that does not impact the baby. If you notice the colour of the milk change to black, ensure that you contact the doctor for further guidance.
Is It Normal If One Breast Produces Different Coloured Milk Than the Other?
At times, you might notice different colours of breast milk flowing from each of the breasts, which is perfectly normal. The main reason for this could be foremilk. If you have been feeding on one breast for a while and have not used the other breast for feeding, the foremilk from the unused breast will have a different colour.
Reading about all these colours might again make you wonder what colour breast milk is when it first comes in. As discussed earlier, the first milk, colostrum, might be yellow or orange. However, in the later stages, when the mature milk begins to flow, it is clear or has a bluish tinge.
When to Consult the Doctor
Changing hues of breast milk is normal, but you might need to see a doctor for a few reasons. It is important that you note every food item, medicine and supplements you take while you are still nursing your baby. Breast milk is never unsafe for the baby so do no stop feeding the baby.
Listed below are some instances wherein you may need medical advice:
- If you have noticed that the milk expressed is black or notice an unusual number of blood streaks or the breast milk is blood-coloured, you must consult your doctor.
- If the milk colour is strange and cannot be explained by your diet, then you need to consult the doctor.
Do not forget to share the medicine names and the dosage details with your doctor. It is always recommended that you seek your doctor’s advice before taking any medication, including supplements, even if it is an occasional over-the-counter drug. Breast milk is the best food for your baby. It is tailor-made for the baby’s requirements. So, change in colour should not move you towards discontinuing breast milk. When in doubt, consult your doctor to have a better understanding of the various shades of breast milk.
Also Read: Difference between Hindmilk and Foremilk