Mother of a newborn, Monique, called me in a state of anxiety. She said, “I think I am going to have to wean, I expressed some milk this morning and it’s green. What the hell is happening? I can’t feed my baby this!”
The thing is, if your baby is feeding directly from the breast, you probably wouldn’t notice what colour your breast milk is. As long as your baby is happily feeding, it’s unlikely there is a problem or that your baby is at any risk, regardless of the colour of your milk.
Your breast milk is perfectly suited to your baby’s stages of development and it changes composition – and colour – over your breastfeeding journey and even throughout an individual feed. At first, during late pregnancy and immediately after birth, your breasts will produce colostrum, a sticky, yellow or orange tinged liquid. High levels of beta-carotene give your colostrum this yellow colour.
Over the next few days, as your hormones and baby’s suckling stimulate your milk to ‘come in’, this ‘transitional’ milk can look creamy and yellowish gradually changing to white. Over the next week or two your breasts will produce ‘mature’ milk. Mature milk can change colour from a watery ‘bluish white’ to a more ‘creamy’ white colour, depending on the fat content of your milk.
The fat content of your milk increases over the course of each breastfeed as the higher fat milk (hind milk) is released by your letdown reflex as this is stimulated by your baby’s sucking.
What makes my milk change colour?
One of the factors influencing the colour of your milk could be the foods you are eating. For instance, your milk may look pinkish if you have been eating beetroot; orange if you have had pumpkin soup or green if you have been guzzling green smoothies loaded with spinach. Some medications, herbs and vitamins can also alter the colour of your breastmilk.
After a chat with Monique, it turned out she had been taking a multivitamin. When she stopped the multi vitamin, she no longer had greenish coloured milk. And because the vitamins were safe to take while breastfeeding, Monique was able to continue taking her vitamins without worrying that her milk would harm her baby.
What if my milk is bluish and watery?
Some mothers worry that the ‘bluish’ and ‘watery’ milk is not ‘good quality’. This myth is often perpetuated by older women who used to be told this by health professionals. A generation ago, many women were advised to wean their babies because their milk was ‘poor quality’ or ‘not strong enough’ if their baby wasn’t gaining ‘enough’ weight. Sadly, the issues with infant weight gains were more likely due to rigid feeding regimes that were popular at the time and comparisons to baby weight charts that were based on formula fed babies.
Fortunately, we now know that rigid feeding regimes are not compatible with breastfeeding: women have different breast milk storage capacities so may need to feed more frequently to maintain a healthy milk supply. Babies who are allowed to regulate their own feeding patterns will also determine the composition of milk that they need. For instance, on hot days babies will have more frequent short feeds of lower fat milk to quench their thirst. If they are hungry, they will suck for longer and get more higher fat hind milk.