• Is It Safe for Your Baby to Drink Blood-Tinged Breast Milk?

    A pediatrician and two lactation counselors and weigh in on the issue.
    by Rachel Perez .
  • We know what you're thinking. The breast milk in the photo above looks like a half a cup of blood. It's not just scary for some, it is worrisome. But the breastfeeding mama who pumped the milk assures moms she is doing fine and more importantly, it's breast milk that is still good enough to drink. 

    The mom is Meg Nagle of The Milk Meg who happens to be a lactation counselor, an author, and a mom of three. At the time of this post, she had been exclusively pumping breast milk and had a bout of mastitis.

    "Yes, your milk may turn red. It may be infected, and it may look completely different from each breast. However, it is still 100% safe (and awesome) for your baby!" Nagle wrote in the caption of her Facebook post. "Don’t be scared of how your milk looks!"

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    At the Smart Parenting "All About Baby" workshop last April 14, we caught up with local lactation counselor Sylvia Malabanan of L.A.T.C.H. Philippines and told her about Nagle's story. While she agreed with Nagle — "Your baby can take the blood-tinged milk and continue breastfeeding" — Malabanan advised moms it is important to have the bleeding checked when nursing and seek treatment. 

    Malabanan pointed out as well that a red-tinged breast milk does not mean it's blood necessarily. "How do you know it is blood? It could be something you ate, like beetroot, that made your breast milk turn red," she said.

    According to Canadian pediatrician and breastfeeding expert Dr. Jack Newman, consuming blood-tinged milk may cause the baby to spit up more, but it is "not a reason to stop breastfeeding the baby," he said.

    (As for Nagle's suggestion in her post that nursing moms who have mastitis can still breastfeed on the affected breast, Malabanan advises to "pump and dump breast milk from the affected breast" until your doctor gives you the go-ahead to start direct breastfeeding again from the affected breast.")

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    So what can make a mom bleed while breastfeeding or expressing breast milk? Here are some of the most common conditions: 

    Damaged nipple. "If the nipple is abraded, or has open blisters or cuts, then the tissue will bleed when it undergoes stress, such as for example, a healthy baby sucking it vigorously," International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Anne Smith wrote on Breastfeeding Basics. Once the damaged nipple heals, the bleeding will stop. 

    Vascular engorgement. It is also called the "rusty pipe syndrome," and first-time moms may be more prone to experience it. Smith explains it "occurs due to the increased blood flow to the breast, in combination with the rapid development of milk-producing tissue in the expectant mother." It usually resolves after a week or so and doesn't come back.

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    Broken capillaries. It is usually caused by too much suction pressure from breast pump or even rough hand expression of milk. Malabanan advises that though it can also be caused by hand expression, it's still the better choice since a woman is more likely not to hurt yourself than, say, just turning on a breast pump and not have a say in how it does its job.

    Fibrocystic breast changes. An example is an intraductal papilloma, or a condition where there's a tiny benign growth or tumor in the milk duct lining. These lumps are so tiny you wouldn't be able to feel it and again, they're completely harmless. As with other conditions associated with blood in breast milk, it usually goes away on its own after a few weeks.

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    It's normal and completely understandable to be taken aback by breast milk that's red or any color than milky white or yellowish. If you have any doubts or questions, always consider consulting a pediatrician or lactation counselor first before you throw away your liquid gold.

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