Many moms wonder whether the color of their breast milk is 'normal'. Breast milk is usually yellow, white, clear, cream, or a golden color. However, your breast milk can change color throughout your breastfeeding journey, and may be another color.
Food and drink can affect the color of your breast milk. Breast milk can also change color within one day and even within one feeding or pumping session. Here the Limerick lactation experts consider the factors which affect breast milk color.
Breast milk maturity
Breast milk changes in its composition and color throughout the first few weeks postpartum. In the first few days after birth, women produce a highly concentrated form of milk; there is then a transitional stage before mature milk is produced.
Sometimes called "liquid gold," colostrum is the first milk your body produces after birth. Women only produce a few teaspoons of colostrum, which is highly nutrient-dense. Colostrum is often yellow or orange and thick, although it can sometimes be clear and watery. The dark yellow or orange color is due to the high levels of beta-carotene.
Around five days postpartum, breast milk production increases, and mom's body begins to make transitional milk. This is often referred to as milk 'coming in' and lasts for around 10 to 14 days. Transitional milk is a mixture of colostrum and mature milk, but as the days go on, the transitional milk will become thinner and white as the proportion of colostrum reduces. Transitional milk is made up of all the nutrients that make up colostrum and mature breast milk but has more calories than colostrum. As transitional milk changes to mature milk, protein and antibodies reduce slightly while fat, sugar, and calories increase. The higher calorie content helps your baby regain some of the weight naturally lost in the first few days postpartum.
Our bodies start to produce mature milk after around two weeks. The color of mature breast milk varies depending on how much fat (lipids) it contains. Generally, mature milk is thinner and lighter colored than transitional milk. Lipids make up 3 to 5% of breast milk. As well as energy, lipids are important for your baby's growth and development. While the functions of many types of lipids in breast milk remain unclear to scientists, it is well known that the primary fats in breast milk are:
- Triglycerides - these are the main lipids found in breast milk and are responsible for energy storage.
- Cholesterol - this is important for brain and nerve development. It's also needed to make hormones that regulate bodily functions.
- DHA - An essential fatty acid that plays a role in developing the central nervous system and brain. It's also crucial for vision, especially for premature babies.
- ARA - An essential fatty acid found in breast milk whose importance is not entirely understood. It may play a role in growth.
Fat and breast milk color
The amount of fat in breast milk changes daily and over a period of time. When you begin a feed, or start to pump, breast milk is thinner and lower in fat. As your baby nurses, breast milk becomes thicker and higher in fat; the longer the infant feeds on one breast and the closer they get to emptying that breast, the more fat they receive.
The breast milk produced for premature babies is also very high in fat, containing around 30% more fat than that for full-term babies.
This is the milk that flows out from your breast at the start of a feeding or pumping session. This milk is thin and tends to be clear or bluish in appearance.
As you continue to breastfeed or pump, the fat content of your milk increases. As the lipid content increases, your milk becomes thicker and takes on a white or yellowish appearance.
Hindmilk is an important source of energy for your baby's development. Overabundant milk supply can prevent your baby from getting enough hindmilk, as they can drink too much foremilk before they get to hindmilk. Breastfeeding from only one breast at each feeding can help your baby to get more hindmilk. Signs that your baby is ingesting too much foremilk are:
- Crying, stomach pain, and colic-like symptoms
- Loose, green stools
- Being hungry more often
Other colors of breast milk
Breast milk color can be affected by diet, nutritional supplements, and medication. It's normal for breast milk color to vary; this is usually diet-related and not a cause for concern. However, here are some colors or tinges you may see and what they mean.
Eating green foods or foods containing green dyes can cause breast milk to have a green tinge. If you eat a large amount of green vegetables, like spinach or seaweed, or add certain herbs or vitamin supplements to your diet, you might notice a green tone to your breast milk.
Pink, orange or red
You might notice that your milk is orange or pink-tinged if you consume food or drinks that naturally contain these colors, such as beets and red or orange fruits.
Brown or blood-tinged milk
When blood from inside your breasts finds its way into your milk ducts, your breast milk may look brown, dark orange, or rust-colored. Blood can also get into your breast milk if you have cracked nipples. A small amount of blood in your milk is not harmful to your child, and you can continue to breastfeed or pump. In most cases, the bleeding will go away by itself within a few days. If it doesn't, check in with your doctor.
Black breast milk is caused by the antibiotic Minocin (minocycline), which also causes darkening of the skin. It's not recommended to use Minocin while breastfeeding. Remember to consult your doctor before taking any medication while breastfeeding.
Stored breast milk
When you pump and store breast milk, it can change in appearance. Breast milk can separate when kept in the fridge; there may be a thick, white or yellowish layer on the top, and a thinner clear or bluish layer on the bottom. This is normal and nothing to worry about - it's just the fat and watery layer of the milk separating. Before using the milk, mix the layers by gently swirling the bottle. Freezing breast milk can also change its color - frozen milk can take on a more yellow appearance.
Most changes in breast milk color are due to dietary changes and are no cause for concern. However, if you notice blood in your milk for longer than a week, contact a doctor who can assess the situation and arrange a consultation if necessary.