Breastfeeding successfully can take time and effort. Then, just when you think you have the hang of it, your body throws you a curveball. Especially if you’re pumping, you may notice changes in how your milk looks over time. From cloudy to a blueish color to stringy pumped breast milk, your bottles can definitely represent an array of textures.
But don’t let stringy milk throw you off your feeding game. Stringy breast milk could signal several things, but it’s nothing that can’t be addressed with some help. Plus, you don’t have to worry about dumping any of that hard-earned liquid gold.
Why Breast Milk Textures Change
Although it may seem shocking at first to see lumpy, thickened, or stringy texture when you pump, it’s actually pretty normal to notice changes within your milk. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and Motif Medical Lactation Director, Ashley Georgakopoulos tells Romper that your breast milk having different textures is “not only normal, but expected.”
Depending on when you’re pumping or feeding, you may certainly notice that your milk looks different. “Morning breast milk tends to be watery in comparison to the afternoon, which tends to have a slightly higher concentration of fat to prepare for longer stretches between feedings at night,” Georgakopoulos says.
What Causes Breast Milk To Look Stringy?
“When fatty milk settles within the breast and is not properly transferred, it can give the appearance of being stringy or clotted,” Georgakopoulos explains. “This can be due to poor latch or weak sucking at the breast, as well as pumping techniques or sizing needing to be addressed.”
A lactation consultant can help you analyze your pumping and feeding techniques to address these issues and help resolve problems that lead to stingy milk. However, if you see stringy milk and are also experiencing discomfort, it could also be a sign of some more serious issues.
"Stringy milk is usually milk that has been static in the breast. This often happens after prolonged engorgement," IBCLC Leigh Anne O'Connor tells Romper. Both clogged ducts and mastitis are common hurdles for breastfeeding mothers that can be related to this type of engorgement, and both could result in your expressed milk looking stringy.
Often, you'll have some pain or discomfort prior to noticing the stringy milk in order to clue you in that something is not OK, but some women don't realize they've had a clogged duct or mastitis until it has nearly run its course. When that clog finally releases — often a warm compress, lots of hand massaging, and intentional nursing/pumping can help — you might notice stringy breast milk during your next pump. That is typically just the thickened milk that was remaining in your breast.
Clogged ducts and mastitis can be related (often, a clogged duct that is not taken care of can result in mastitis), but they present very differently. It's best to take a closer look at your symptoms with your doctor or a lactation consultant to see which one might be the case. They can offer solutions to address either or both issues.
Is Stringy Breast Milk Safe To Feed?
The biggest concern you probably have if your pumped breast milk looks stringy is whether or not this means that you have to get rid of all of that liquid gold you worked so hard for. Luckily, not all is lost.
Georgakopoulos says that stringy-looking breast milk “is certainly safe,” and notes that it is often “not even noticed unless pumping or hand expressing.” She also says that pumping moms may notice that these actions may be “physically difficult” due to the thickness of stringy breast milk, but says that it is still safe for your baby to consume.
If you’re concerned about the texture of stringy breast milk that you’re going to bottle feed, Georgakopoulos suggests, “Swirling may help reconstitute it, but if bottlefeeding, it may clog the nipple.” Some moms prefer to strain their pumped breast milk prior to feeding for this reason, but the milk itself is not dangerous or gross for baby to drink.
Leigh Anne O'Connor, IBCLC
Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC, Motif Medical Lactation Director
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