Breastfeeding: Rusty-pipe syndrome

When I had my first baby, two years ago, my milk was red in color, and I did not have a good supply. The lactation consultant at my hospital called it "rusty-pipe syndrome" and said it should not affect my ability to feed. Now that I am pregnant with my second child, I'm eager to find out more so I can confidently breastfeed this time around.


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Rusty-pipe syndrome--literally, reddish milk-- is a condition, seen mostly in first-time moms (some notice it as early as the fourth month of pregnancy). It's most commonly seen in the early stages of breastfeeding.

Rusty pipe syndrome may result from vascular engorgement of the breast. As your milk-producing glands, or alveoli, go through a period of rapid development the blood flow increases to your breasts. As a result there may be some internal bleeding.

This condition is not painful, and it will usually resolve on its own within about a week. Nursing can continue (blood in your milk will not hurt your baby) If bleeding does last longer than a week, schedule a visit with your doctor.

Rusty-pipe syndrome should not, on its own, affect your ability to feed your baby. Possibly you experienced severe engorgement following your baby's birth, leading to this syndrome. Unresolved engorgement can lead to a diminished milk supply.

It is very important to nurse early and often as breastfeeding is being established in the first six weeks. If your baby is having difficulty breastfeeding in the early days, give him lots of time time. Don't be surprised if he starts out just licking and nuzzling at your nipple. This is very normal. Shortly, with encouragement, he'll begin to latch-on. See a lactation consultant if you have concerns or questions.

If your baby is still not feeding well at your breast, express your milk, with a hospital-grade electric breastpump, for any incomplete or missed feedings. Frequent feedings (or milk expression) should keep any engorgement to a minimum, helping you to stay comfortable while safeguarding your milk supply.


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