A mum’s picture of her colour-changing breastmilk has gone viral after she posted it to Facebook, saying the extreme colour change is down to ‘customised antibodies’.
In 2016, Mallory Smothers uploaded a picture of 2 pouches of her expressed breastmilk to Facebook. She says she expressed the white one on the left before her baby got a cold, and the more orangey-coloured one after.
And, after reading an article from a medical journal, the US mum concluded that her milk changed colour because, when her baby was ill, her body automatically loaded it with antibodies to help fight her baby’s illness.
“It is believed that mammary gland receptors interpret the ‘baby spit backwash’ for bacteria and viruses and, if they detect something amiss (i.e., the baby is sick or fighting off an infection), Mom’s body will actually change the milk’s immunological composition, tailoring it to the baby’s particular pathogens by producing customized antibodies,” she wrote on the post.
Now, in October 2017, another mum’s taken to Facebook to say she’s experienced the same thing. US mum Ashlee Chase was shocked to see her milk change from white to dark yellow.
So, she called her pediatrician, who also said the change was due to the milk “having more antibodies and fat” in it.
Amazingly, the change took place over the course of a few days, when Ashlee’s 7-month-old daughter was fighting an infection.
She added on Facebook:
“‘Why do you still let your 7month old nurse?’ ‘She’s too old’ ‘She’s just using you as a pacifier’ ‘You need to put her in her own bed’
“100% why. Top milk is from 3 days ago when a healthy Elliot was nursing. Bottom is from today, after sick Elliot with a fever comfort nursed all night. This.”
But can antibodies really make breastmilk change colour?
We asked the experts at La Leche League GB about this – and they hadn’t heard of this before. “We have no specific information about the effect of antibodies on the colour of milk,” a spokeswoman told us.
“However, new things are being discovered about breastmilk all the time, and we know that some components, and the way they interact with the baby, have yet to be discovered. Mothers are very in tune with their breastfeeding babies and may well notice things that have not yet been documented.”
So, can anything else can change the colour of your breastmilk?
Fascinatingly, breastmilk can be tinged a whole variety of colours – usually influenced by the food or drinks we have ingested. Examples include:
Yellow. Vegetables such as squash or carrots contain carotene that can turn breastmilk yellow or orange.
Pink or orange. Some carbonated drinks, fruit drinks and gelatine desserts contain food dyes that can cause milk to be pink or orange.
Green. Some coloured sports drinks, seaweed and many green vegetables can turn milk a greenish colour.
Breastmilk can also look a little pink if there is a small amount of blood in the milk – perhaps because you have cracked nipples. (Blood in the milk is not harmful to babies – but do seek help from your GP or health visitor if your nipples don’t heal, and continue to bleed for over 2 weeks.)
What about the consistency of breastmilk: does that change?
Yes. “Breastmilk samples expressed at different times may not look the same as each other, as they may have differing amounts of fat in them,” the La Leche League GB spokeswoman says. “The amount of fat can fluctuate from day to day, and even within a single nursing or expressing session.”
Indeed, breastmilk experts often use the terms ‘foremilk’ and ‘hindmilk’ to describe the slightly lower fat content of your breastmilk at the beginning of a feed, compared to the higher-fat content of breastmilk towards the end of a feed.
Also, if you express milk and then freeze it, it can separate, making a yellowish fat-rich layer rise to the top, leaving thinner, watery white layer below. This doesn’t mean it has spoiled; a gentle shake will all it takes to make the layers blend together again.
Images: Facebook/Mallory Smothers, Facebook/Ashlee Chase