Monique’s story – green milk
Monique is beside herself. She says, “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! “
What is happening?
The thing is, if your baby is feeding directly from the breast, you probably wouldn’t notice what colour your breast milk was and, as long as your baby is happily feeding, it’s unlikely there is a problem. Breast milk colour can naturally vary from white to orange to green and many hues in between and 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 can also alter the colour of your breastmilk.
Blood in your milk?
If your milk looks rusty/reddish brown, this can indicate blood in your milk. Reassuringly, this is unlikely to be anything serious eg breast cancer, but it’s always important to get this ruled out. Blood in your milk is most likely due to bleeding from a cracked or damaged nipple. Also, according to an Australian Breastfeeding Association article, it is common to have blood stained colostrum or milk in the first days after giving birth. This is thought to be as a result of the growth of the ducts and milk-making cells in the breast and does not persist beyond about 7 days. A less common condition that may cause blood in breastmilk is an intraductal papilloma — a small benign wart-like growth on the lining of a milk duct, which bleeds as it erodes.
What’s a mum to do?
Of course, if you are worried about the colour of your breastmilk and it seems there may be something wrong with either your breasts or your baby (if there is blood stained milk or blood in your baby’s poo, for instance), it’s always sensible to get checked by your health carer. 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 had gone off.
Amber’s story – smelly milk
“I had a stash of expressed milk in my freezer,” says Amber, “but when I thawed a bag the other day, my baby refused to drink it. I checked and it smelt and tasted ‘soapy’, so I thawed another bag and this one was ‘off’ too. I don’t get it. I followed the storage guidelines to a tee. And I need to express milk and have my baby drink it because I am going back to work in a couple of weeks.”
What is happening?
If breast milk has actually gone ‘off’ it will smell rancid like sour milk but what Amber is describing sounds as though she could have an excess of ‘lipase’, an enzyme that naturally occurs in breast milk with some important beneficial functions, from breaking down fats in breast milk so fat soluble vitamins (eg Vitamins A and D)are more available to the baby to helping keep the fat particles well mixed with whey and keeping fat globules smaller so they are easily digested.
However, when a mum has an excess of lipase in breastmilk will mean that the fats in her milk will break down more quickly, giving the milk this soapy taste after it has been expressed. Although it won’t harm your baby, it’s very common for babies to reject this soapy tasting milk.
What’s a mum to do?
Before Amber decides there is no point expressing her breast milk or she ditches her entire freezer stash, there are some answers. Firstly, for mums like Amber with a high lipase content in their milk, the lipase enzymes can be inactivated by scalding breast milk as soon as it is expressed: heat breastmilk in a pot (at about 82 degrees ) until you see little bubbles appear at the edges of the pot – don’t boil the milk. Cool it quickly and freeze.
To deal with that freezer stash – if your frozen milk is out of date or if it’s sour (it will smell and taste rancid, not just soapy), you will need to ditch it. But if it’s just soapy, you can try mixing some of this thawed milk with freshly expressed milk. Start with half thawed and half fresh and adjust from there. If your baby is older and eating family foods you can try mixing thawed milk into food or smoothies.
If your baby rejects the thawed milk even mixed with fresh milk and the thought of throwing out your liquid gold sees you literally crying over spilt milk, please don’t despair. You could make this marvellous mummy milk into a healing lotion that can help with dry itchy skin, sunburn, psoriasis, rashes and grazes. It will be gentle on delicate, sensitive skin and the antibacterial properties in breast milk can reduce secondary infection due to scratching.
- 100 ml grapeseed oil
- 1 tbsp beeswax (don’t overload the spoon)
- Few drops of Vitamin E oil
- 100 ml breast milk, at room temperature
Mix the oil and beeswax together and gently heat on low until the beeswax has just melted – this will take about 3 minutes in a microwave. Add the Vitamin E oil.
Slowly pour in the breast milk while whisking the oil mixture rapidly. The mixture should thicken as you whisk and will thicken more as it cools. Pour into a lidded container and pop it in the fridge. You can store it for up to three months in the fridge.