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Um, "Rusty Pipe Syndrome" Is A Thing, & Every Breastfeeding Mom Should Know About It

Don’t panic, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

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When you begin your breastfeeding journey, you might expect to encounter some challenges here or there. But what should seem to be a given is that once your milk supply has been established, your breast milk would be white in color. After all, it’s what you see when you pour yourself a glass of the good stuff, right? So you might be horrified when you see that your liquid gold isn’t pearly white, but, um, pink. Don’t freak out, it’s a pretty normal postpartum thing. Here’s what you need to know if you’re asking yourself “why is my breast milk pink?”

You might panic if you see pinkish breast milk, and that’s absolutely understandable. You’ll wonder if your super tired eyes are deceiving you (they’re probably not), or if the lighting in your room is somehow casting a pinkish hue over everything, including your boob milk (probably not, either). Yes, your breast milk is most likely pink — and here’s why.

Why Is My Breast Milk Pink?

Pink breast milk is something completely based in biology. “Having pink milk is entirely possible and should be expected at some point throughout the nursing journey,” Charity LaRae, a certified breastfeeding educator, tells Romper. “Usually, when we experience engorgement, it’s a vascular process that causes blood vessels to swell, which can cause some blood to get left behind in the milk ducts.” That’s right. What’s tinting your breast milk pink is your own blood.

But swollen blood vessels aren’t the only reason for pink breast milk. “Causes can be tiny tears from high suction, poor fitting flanges from pumping, or even a shallow latch or tongue tie," Tori Sproat, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of Tiny Tummies Lactation Services, tells Romper. It could also be attributable to larger lacerations in your breasts, (particularly around your areola and nipple), but obviously, you’d be able to see those sooner.

What Is Rusty Pipe Syndrome?

Pink breast milk and Rusty Pipe Syndrome are often used interchangeably, and that’s because they refer to non-white breast milk. In the case of Rusty Pipe Syndrome, though, your milk will be more brown than pink, according to La Leche League. It’s due to the extra blood flow to your boobs that can leak into your ducts, which causes breast milk to turn brown or rust-colored. It happens most often either later in pregnancy or during your first few postpartum days, when your breasts go into overdrive to make milk for your baby.

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But Is Pink Breast Milk Safe For Baby?

If you think that you’re going to have to pump and dump pink breast milk, think again. "It’s totally safe to feed Baby," says Sproat. The amount of blood mixing with your breast milk is probably minimal at best. And the Infant Risk Center noted the same thing on its website — a tiny amount of blood is fine to ingest and even the smallest droplet can make your milk take on a much pinker hue than you would think. Sproat says feeding your baby milk tinged with blood is safe so long as "you don't have a disease passed via blood" like hepatitis or HIV. "Breast milk is full of living cells, so the teeny blood won't harm baby," she says.

Can Breast Milk Be Tinged Pink If You Drink Too Much Red Wine?

Sure, rusty brown and pink-colored breast milk might not sound too appealing, but actually, your milk can be any color of the rainbow, says LaRae. “Breast milk can change based on the chemical composition of what’s in our foods,” she says. “Just like supplements high in riboflavin or B2 can tinge our urine green, it can also cause our breast milk to have a green tint. Carotene (found in carrots, yams, and squash) can tint it yellow. Spinach, herbs, and seaweed can tint it yellow.” So now that you know that your breast milk has the capability of changing colors, will a glass (or two) of merlot make it pink, too? Nope, says LaRae. “Red wine will not typically change the color of breast milk,” she says.

Here’s When Pink Breast Milk Can Be A Problem

So here’s the good news: your baby can drink pink breast milk without a problem. “Regardless of the color of your breast milk, any change in color is entirely safe for baby to consume,” says LaRae. But honestly, Sproat says this isn't really something to worry about unless it's happening all the time. She recommends documenting the blood in your breast milk when it happens and if you see it happening more than a few times, you'll want to get it checked out.

Breast milk might also turn pink due to an infection, a study found. Researchers found in a case report that a breastfeeding mom and her infant baby had Serratia marcescens, a gram-negative bacteria, which can easily be treated with antibiotics. It’s often associated with urinary and respiratory infections, as well as eye and wound infections and meningitis, Science Direct reported. So if you have any additional health concerns in addition to pink breast milk, you should seek medical advice right away to rule out any potential issues.

If there are no other health concerns, the persistent problem with pink breast milk is not so much what it does to your baby, but how it can psychologically affect new moms. Seeing the pink breast milk (and knowing that there’s blood in it) can freak out some new nursing mommas. In the study, “Rusty pipe syndrome: counselling a key intervention,” researchers found that apart from its appearance, it can actually prevent postpartum breastfeeding. In fact, the study found that “it can be particularly intimidating for mothers and may act as a psychological barrier to successful breastfeeding.” Knowing that pink breast milk is safe for your baby should offer some reassurance, but if you’re worried that it’s too pink for too long, you should always speak with your OB/GYN, midwife, or a lactation consultant who can see what might be causing the issue, and how to fix it.

Discovering that your breast milk is pink might not be what you want to see when you’re trying to breastfeed (and bond with) your baby. After all, nursing can be nerve-wracking even when your milk supply is well established, but don’t worry if your milk is a pale pink. It’s just your body getting itself prepared to feed your baby, and soon, you’ll find things are, well, flowing fine in a whole hue of baby-friendly colors.

Study cited:

Kural, B., Sapmaz. S. “Rusty pipe syndrome: counselling a key intervention” 2020.

Jones, J., Crete, J. Neumeier, R. “A case report of pink breast milk” 2014.


Tori Sproat, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of Tiny Tummies Lactation Services

Charity LaRae, a certified breastfeeding educator

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