Breastfeeding should be a happy experience for a mother and her baby, but cracking and bleeding nipples can be frightening. When a mother has a bleeding nipple, breastfeeding can be traumatic. Mothers may wonder what causes bleeding and if blood in breast milk is normal and safe. Now let's get a closer look.
Blood in Breast Milk, Why?
1. Nipple Injury
Various medical conditions can cause bloody breast milk, a common finding shows that this is usually not serious. The most common cause of blood in breast milk is trauma to the nipple due to abrasion, cuts or blisters, which makes the capillaries broken. This may be due to vigorous sucking by a healthy baby. After pumping, small amounts of blood can also appear in milk, or in your baby’s mouth or stools. However, blood in breast milk usually disappears when the nipple heals.
2. Rusty Pipe Syndrome
First-time mothers may experience vascular engorgement of the breasts, a condition known as rusty pipe syndrome. It occurs before the birth of the baby when the blood flow to the breasts is increased with the rapid development of breast tissues. No treatment is needed for this condition. Even with a bleeding nipple, breastfeeding can be done, since it usually goes away within a week after delivery.
3. Fibrocystic Breast
Fibrocystic breast or intraductal papilloma is a condition that results from the development of small, harmless growths in your milk ducts. These tumors are often found in only one breast and cannot be detected with your hand. Blood in breast milk due to papilloma will usually disappear even without treatment.
Yeast infection in the baby’s mouth or thrush may be passed on to you, causing nipple damage, bleeding and pain. Symptoms of thrush include bleeding nipple, breastfeeding pain, and itchy, red or shiny nipples.
Cracking or bleeding of the nipples can occur because of eczema or dry skin. Eczema symptoms include scaly, red and itchy patches of skin that can also be painful. Consult a dermatologist if you experience these symptoms.
6. Tongue-Tied Baby
A tongue-tied baby has a band of tissue connecting her tongue to the floor of her mouth, which can make it short or extend too far to the front. This can cause breast feeding problems, including bleeding and soreness of your nipples. Ask your doctor or local consultant to examine the baby's tongue to find out if this is the cause of your problems.
Blood in Breast Milk, Is It Safe?
Experts assure mothers that it is safe for babies to get some blood in breast milk. However,it is best not to give your baby bloody breast milk if you have HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, sepsis or any other serious illness. Consult your doctor if you have any infection before breast feeding your baby.
Experts also say that babies often reject breast milk with a significant amount of blood, which has a strong taste of iron. The taste may get stronger if breast milk is stored or refrigerated for hours. To avoid having your baby reject milk, give it to her as soon as possible.
How to Deal With Blood in Breast Milk
Consult a lactation consultant as soon as you can for practical advice, which may include:
- Check the way your baby latches. The best position for latching is off-center, which can be achieved by lining up her nose with the nipple so that her lower gum is far from the nipple base when her mouth is open. Your nipple must be far back in her mouth.
- Try various nursing positions to find out which one is more comfortable and easier for your baby to latch on properly.
- Use the uninjured breast to nurse on first. Babies will nurse more gently on the other side when they are less hungry.
- Apply a cold pack to the injured breast before nursing to dull the pain.
- Gently clean your cracked or bleeding nipples by rinsing with water after each feeding. This will reduce the risk of infection. Use a non-perfumed, non-antibacterial soap to clean the wound, and then rinse with water. Be sure to avoid using alcohol, perfumes or lotions on your nipples.
- Apply an antibacterial ointment on an open wound. Ask your doctor or lactation consultant to recommend a non-prescription ointment or a prescription medication if needed.
- Use medical-grade lanolin especially made for lactating mothers. Apply a small amount on your nipples after each feeding to relieve pain and allow wounds to heal without forming scabs.
- Use special hydrogel dressings for nipples to soothe the skin and speed healing. Avoid touching your nipples or areolas before applying the dressing to prevent bacteria from your fingers getting trapped under the pads. Change your breast pads often.
- Take painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen 30 minutes before feeding to help lessen swelling and pain.
- Stop breastfeeding if nursing is too painful. Pump milk for a day to allow your nipples to heal. Ask your lactation consultant how to use the pump correctly so you can collect a day’s supply of milk and avoid further damage to your nipples. This allows your sores to heal quickly and you will be able to go back to breast feeding.
- Consult your doctor if a cracked nipple remains painful and continues bleeding after one day, or if you develop fever, inflammation, pus, oozing or other signs of nipple infection, which can lead to mastitisor breast infection.