Should I Do Anything About the Fluid Coming From My Breasts?

Kathleen Tackett's picture

QUESTION

Dear Lactation Consultant,
This is my first pregnancy. I've been having a little bit of clear/white fluid from my breasts. This began when I was starting my 6th month of pregnancy. Is this pretty normal? Is there anything I should or shouldn't be doing to release it?

ANSWER

Your body is producing colostrum, which means that your breasts are doing exactly what they are supposed to do in preparation for breastfeeding your baby when he or she arrives.

Colostrum is a very interesting substance. Your breasts begin producing it during the latter half of pregnancy, and it is the first food available for babies immediately after birth before your milk actually "comes in." It contains lots of antibodies and helps protect the vulnerable newborn from infection by coating his intestines and protecting him from viruses and bacteria. It also has a laxative effect, which helps him excrete meconium (the black tarry fetal stool he is born with), thus reducing the incidence of jaundice. It contains growth factors that help prepare his digestive system for absorbing and digesting milk. It is very easy for the newborn baby to digest, and is exactly what he needs to eat during the first days after birth.Colostrum is different from mature milk in other ways as well. It contains more salt and protein, and less sugar and fat than mature milk. It even looks different. It is ranges in appearance from clear and watery to thick, yellowish and sticky.

Some expectant mothers find that they leak lots of colostrum during pregnancy, while others are able to express only a drop or two. The amount of colostrum produced prenatally has no relationship to the amount of milk the mother will produce later on. Colostrum is very concentrated, and the volume produced is very small. Most mothers will have teaspoons rather than ounces.

During the first 24 hours after birth, an average of 37 ml of colostrum is produced (an ounce contains 30 ml). Babies take in an average of 7-14 ml at each feeding. When the mother's milk comes in a few days after birth, it is called "transitional milk." This mixture of colostrum and mature milk is produced from 4-10 days after birth. As the volume of milk increases, the protein content decreases and the amount of sugar and fat increase. Transitional milk may look yellowish due to the colostrum content. After 10-14 days, mature milk is produced. It still contains lots of valuable antibodies and immune factors, but no more colostrum. That's one reason that early breastfeeding is so important. Even if a mother nurses her baby for only a short time after birth, she is giving her newborn a precious gift that won't be available to him later on.

Good luck with the new arrival!

-- Anne, IBCLC