Breast milk is one of the most beneficial sources of vitamins and nutrients for your baby.
If you decide to breastfeed, you might be curious about what is and isn't normal when it comes to the colour of your breast milk.
It's important to remember that the colour and consistency of your breast milk will change throughout your postpartum journey.
In the first few days after birth, you'll notice your first milk is a thick yellow consistency.
As time goes on, your breast milk will likely become thinner and lighter in colour as more mature milk comes in.
Colostrum (a.k.a. your first form of breast milk) is packed with nutrients and antibodies that help to establish your baby's immune system.
While it's usually thicker and more yellow than traditional milk, that's not always the case.
If you're worried about the colour and consistency of your colostrum, keep reading to find out what you need to know and what could be causing your breast milk to change colour.
What is colostrum?
As we've mentioned, colostrum is the first kind of breast milk your body produces.
In fact, your mammary glands (also known as your breasts) will begin producing colostrum during pregnancy, usually from 20 weeks.
What makes colostrum so important is the spectrum of vitamins, minerals and ingredients it contains.
Every drop of colostrum is packed with vitamins, minerals and antibodies that help to seed your baby's microbiome and establish a healthy immune system.
In fact, research has shown that breast milk (such as protein-rich colostrum) helps to transfer beneficial bacteria from your own immune system into your baby's gut and can support long-term health benefits.
Other studies have shown that beneficial gut bacteria can lower a child's risk of chronic diseases (such as asthma, obesity, allergies, and dermatitis) and can even play a role in regulating anxiety, mood, and cognition.
But let's get back to colostrum. This nutrient-dense food delivers a potent dose of vitamins and minerals to newborns, including:
- Immunoglobulin A (a beneficial antibody)
- Lactoferrin (a type of protein shown to prevent infection)
- Leukocytes (beneficial white blood cells)
- Epidermal growth factor (a type of protein known to stimulate cell growth)
Colostrum colour typically appears as yellow breast milk. You'll likely produce this milk in the first two to four days after birth.
Plus, your baby only needs to consume a small amount to reap the benefits (as colostrum is incredibly nutrient-dense and contains concentrated health benefits).
Why is colostrum important?
Colostrum plays a really important role in your baby's health. It contains a unique combination of nutrients and proteins that aren't found in more mature milk.
Specifically, colostrum offers newborns a range of benefits, including:
- Colostrum is packed with double the amount of protein as breast milk.
- Colostrum has four times the amount of zinc in breast milk.
- Colostrum is lower in fat and sugar, making it easier for newborns to digest.
- It strengthens your baby's immune system and coats their intestines in beneficial bacteria to establish a healthy gut.
- Colostrum boasts a laxative effect that can clear your baby's meconium (their first bowel movement) and reduce the chance of jaundice.
Plus, since colostrum begins to form during your pregnancy, it can be expressed by hand prior to your baby's arrival.
Hand expressing colostrum can help you understand your breasts better and gives you some extra time for breastfeeding mums to practice the movements involved in breastfeeding.
Colostrum can also be expressed and stored safely ahead of birth to ensure you've got an extra supply of food ready for when your baby arrives.
Having this frozen breast milk on hand is especially helpful as it allows others to help feed the baby in the first few days after birth.
What colour is colostrum?
What sets colostrum apart from other types of breast milk is its colour and consistency.
Typically, colostrum is yellow in appearance and is a thicker, stickier consistency to mature milk.
The yellow shade of colostrum and its potent health benefits are why many refer to this first milk as 'liquid gold'.
Is it safe to express colostrum during pregnancy?
While your body will begin to produce colostrum from 18 to 20 weeks pregnant, it's best to wait until 37 weeks before attempting to express colostrum.
Why? Well, some research suggests that stimulating your breasts through hand expressing milk can increase the chance of premature labour.
Once you reach the end of your pregnancy, you can try hand expressing two to three times each day.
The key is to start gently and slowly and increase the duration of each session to up to five minutes per breast.
Make sure to chat with your healthcare provider before giving this a try to make sure it's safe for you and your baby.
Can colostrum be different colours?
In most cases, colostrum will appear as a thick, yellow substance. However, there is a range of factors that can change the colour of your breast milk.
What you eat and the ingredients in your diet can influence the colour of your breast milk.
Plus, if you're navigating a breastfeeding issue or breast infection such as mastitis you might notice your breast change colour (or even contain small amounts of blood).
In most cases, you'd expect to see your milk ducts producing thick, yellow colostrum in the first few days postpartum.
If you're concerned about your milk or feel like something isn't right, make sure to chat with your doctor or get in touch with a lactation specialist.
Why is your colostrum clear and watery?
As we mentioned, your first breast milk will typically be a thicker consistency before it thins out in the mature milk stage. However, that isn't the case for everyone.
In some instances, you might notice your colostrum is clear, thin and watery.
Plus, the first milk produced might not be the slightly yellow shade you were anticipating.
The truth is that milk production rates vary from woman to woman.
If your flow of colostrum takes a little longer than usual, your breast milk may be thinner and lighter in colour than you'd expect.
However, by three to four days after giving birth, your should notice your milk ducts producing thicker milk that is a light yellow shade.
Again, clear and watery colostrum is nothing to worry about, but make sure to chat with your doctor if something doesn't feel right.
What is the colour of breast milk?
The answer to this question really depends on what stage of your breastfeeding journey you're at and even what kind of food you're eating.
That's right: a change in breast milk colour can actually be influenced by the nutrients, ingredients and food dyes you're consuming.
While mature breast milk is usually a cream or white colour, here are some of the other colours of breast milk you might experience:
Pink breast milk
If you've consumed a large amount of red-coloured foods (such as beetroot), you might notice you're producing pink milk.
Yellow or orange breast milk
This shade of dark yellow or orange is usually caused by eating orange-coloured foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin or even orange soft drinks.
Green breast milk
Green breast milk can be caused by consuming large quantities of green vegetables or green foods, kelp or even vitamins containing seaweed. Plus, you might even notice blue breast milk if you consume foods with a green tint or blue tint food dyes.
Black breast milk
This breast milk colour can be caused by certain types of medication or can also be a sign of blood-tinged milk.
Red breast milk
This breast milk colour usually means there is blood or broken down blood products in your milk ducts.
Is it normal for breast milk to change colour?
In most cases, a change in breast milk colour is harmless. That's because your milk goes through a number of different stages, including:
- Colostrum: the first milk your breasts will produce.
- Transitional milk: your milk transitions begin within four days of giving birth and last for roughly two weeks.
- Mature milk: once your milk supply has come in, you'll experience a more consistent colour and consistency in your milk until you decide to stop breastfeeding.
However, it's important to know what might cause your milk to change.
Blood staining in your breast milk is common and doesn't necessarily hint at a more serious health problem (like breast cancer).
Often, you'll notice blood in your colostrum in the first few days after giving birth.
This is known as rusty pipe syndrome and is usually caused by the growth of your ducts and milk-producing cells.
Another common cause of blood in your breast milk is cracked nipples or even an infection like mastitis.
However, this blood and red milk is harmless to your baby and shouldn't be a cause for concern.
When should you be concerned?
Usually, any changes in your milk colour or the presence of blood will clear up within a few days.
However, if something doesn't feel right or you continue to notice blood in your breast milk, it's best to chat with your doctor and seek professional medical advice.
We know that many mothers experience discomfort or breastfeeding challenges.
Along with learning about the changes in your breast milk, taking care of your breasts is one of the best things you can do once you've started breastfeeding.
Photo credit: Helena Jankovičová Kováčová via Pexels