What Is Rusty Pipe Syndrome?

woman breastfeeding

Tatyana Tomsickova / iStockphoto

During the first few days of breastfeeding, you may notice rust-colored milk. This is known as rusty pipe syndrome. Specifically, rusty pipe syndrome is a breastfeeding condition where the color of the breast milk looks pink, orange, brown, or rust-colored, almost like the dirty water from an old rusty pipe. The rusty color comes from a small amount of blood that mixes with colostrum, or first breast milk. Although it can be scary to see blood in your breast milk, rusty pipe syndrome is a temporary condition, and it's not dangerous for you or your baby.

It's painless, and although it can happen on only one side, you are more likely to see it in both breasts. It's also more common in first-time parents. You do not have to wait until it runs its course to breastfeed your child. Your breast milk is still good, so go ahead and breastfeed. The small amount of blood is not likely to bother your baby or to have any effect on them.

On occasion, a larger amount of blood may not sit well with the baby. It could cause an infant to spit up more often or even have a little bit of blood in their bowel movements.

You can talk to your baby's doctor, but as long as you know that the blood is coming from your breasts and not from your child, there is no need to worry.

How Long Does It Last?

Rusty pipe syndrome lasts a few days. It should start to get better as the production of breast milk picks up and colostrum turns into ​transitional breast milk. Complete clearing of the rusty-colored breast milk could take a week or so, but you should see improvement as the days go on.


Rusty pipe syndrome is the result of old blood left inside of the milk ducts from vascular breast engorgement. Vascular engorgement is when a part of the body fills with blood or another fluid. When you're pregnant, your breasts go through many changes to prepare for breastfeeding.

There is a great increase in the blood flow to the breasts as the milk ducts and the glands that produce breast milk grow and develop very quickly. Some of this blood stays in the milk ducts and makes it way out during the first few days of breastfeeding.


Rusty pipe syndrome goes away on its own within a week, so you don't have to do anything. There is no treatment necessary.

During this time you can:

  • Continue to breastfeed or pump your breast milk for your baby.
  • Monitor your newborn for vomiting or stomach upset.
  • Keep an eye on the situation to be sure that it's getting better.
  • Call your doctor if it does not begin to clear up within a few days.

Other Causes of Blood in Breast Milk

Other than rusty pipe syndrome, there are a few other reasons why you might see traces of blood in breast milk (either in the first days of breastfeeding or later). These include:

  • Bleeding nipples: Sore, cracked nipples are the most common cause of blood in the breast milk, and they are often the result of a poor breastfeeding latch.
  • Breast or nipple damage: Any trauma to your breasts or nipples from your baby, a breast pump, or an injury can damage the blood vessels in your breast, causing blood to leak into the milk ducts and your breast milk.
  • Mastitis: Mastitis is a breast infection that can cause pain, swelling, and bloody nipple discharge.
  • Papillomas: These small growths in the milk ducts are not harmful, but they can cause blood to enter your breast milk.
  • Breast cancer: In most cases, blood in the breast milk is not a cause for concern. However, some forms of breast cancer can cause blood to leak from the nipples.

The color of your breast milk can also change depending on your diet. Beets or foods and drinks that contain red, orange or yellow dyes can add a tint of these colors to your breast milk. It may look like blood or rusty pipe syndrome.

When to Contact Your Doctor

It's always OK to contact your doctor right away if you are concerned, but if you want to wait a few days to see if it clears up, that's OK, too. As long as you see improvement in a couple of days, you should not have to worry.

If you only see bleeding from one breast, or if it doesn't seem to be getting better and you continue to see rusty colored breast milk or blood in your breast milk after a week, contact your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

While a little bit of blood in your breast milk is not usually something to worry about, bleeding that continues for more than a few days could be a sign of something more serious. It's always better to have an exam with your doctor to be sure everything is OK than to wait and find out that you should have gone in sooner.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding, A Guide for the Medical Profession. Elsevier Health Sciences.

  2. Mazzarello S, Arnaout A. Nipple dischargeCMAJ. 2015;187(8):599. doi:10.1503/cmaj.140633

Additional Reading

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.