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

When I gave birth to my daughter, I knew one thing about breastfeeding — I wanted to try it. Literally, that was it. I had no idea how often to feed the baby, how to pump, how to store milk, nothing. Luckily, breastfeeding came really easy to both of us, so I began adding in a few pumping sessions just to have milk on hand for bottles and grandparents. But imagine my surprise that first pumping sesh at five days postpartum when I saw pink milk come out of my nipples. Why is my breast milk pink and why didn't anyone tell me my breasts could do this trick?

"Strawberry milk," my lactation consultant told me, laughing. Well, that sounds nice enough. Like a Beatrix Potter-themed snack. But then she continued, "That's what we call it when your milk gets a little tinged with blood. It's no biggie." And then I found out she also calls it "rusty pipe syndrome" which is 100 percent more horrifying. And then I fainted.

OK, I didn't faint. But I was a little skeeved out knowing that my breast milk had been colored pink by my own blood. And I was supposed to feed this to my vampire baby? In the days following my daughter's birth, blood and breastfeeding had been kind of synonymous. While breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, according to Kelly Mom, some things can cause your nipples to crack or bleed and also just feel sore in those early days of breastfeeding. A poor latch can really do a number on your nipples and sometimes, that can show up in your breast milk.

But is that pink "strawberry milk" or "rusty pipe" milk safe to give your baby? Absolutely. "It’s totally safe to feed baby," International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of Tiny Tummies Lactation Services Tori Sproat tells Romper. She explains that while it's super scary to see, there's usually a good reason why it's happening.

"There are several reasons for the bleeding, typically something small," she says, using an example of a small cut on your skin. If you take even one drop of blood and put it in water, it's bound to look worse than it is, and blood in breast milk is a similar concept. 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.

"So causes can be tiny tears from high suction, poor fitting flanges from pumping, or even a shallow latch or tongue tie," Sproat explains Larger, obvious cuts can be the cause too, but she says you'll absolutely notice something like that. Sproat also mentions that there is a worst case scenario of breast cancer, but "strawberry milk" can also be attributed to that phenomenon lactation consultants call "rusty pipe syndrome." A 2013 article in Breastfeeding Review defines "rusty pipe syndrome" as "presence of blood in the breast milk" that renders the milk a rusty or brownish color. Apparently this can be spontaneous and can, unfortunately, "act as a psychological barrier to successful breastfeeding."

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. I can remember calling my own pediatrician in a panic when my baby spit up around 4 days old and her spit-up was basically bloody breast milk. "Oh, that's probably just from your nipples being sore as you get used to breastfeeding," they said. And then I panicked because my God, what horrible thing was I feeding my baby?

Turns out, nothing — I wasn't feeding anything horrible to my baby. 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.

In short, as long as your milk doesn't look like a strawberry milkshake with every pumping session, it's most likely something small causing the pink hue. You can feed it to your baby, you can store it, and you can freeze it. Just be sure to let your lactation consultant know if it happens frequently so they can figure out exactly why your nipples seem to be bleeding so much. In the meantime, you can just pretend like you're some kind of soda jerk making malts in a 1950s diner.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.