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

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

Kathleen Tackett

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Research Associate Professor of Psychology specializing in women's health at the Family Research Lab, University of New Hampshire. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in both the Divisions of Health Psychology and Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a La Leche League leader, chair of the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Taskforce, and the Area Coordinator of Leaders for La Leche League of Maine and New Hampshire.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is author of more than 140 journal articles, book chapters and other publications, and author or editor of 15 books including The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood (2005, Hale Publications), Depression in New Mothers (2005, Haworth), and Breastfeeding Made Simple, co-authored with Nancy Mohrbacher (2005, New Harbinger). She is on the editorial boards of the journals Child Abuse and Neglect, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse and the Journal of Human Lactation, and regularly reviews for 27 other journals in the fields of trauma, women's health, interpersonal violence, depression, and child development. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is the "Ask a Lactation Consultant" columnist on Pregnancy.org and serves on the Board of Directors of Attachment Parenting International.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in psychology from California State University, Chico, and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University in social and developmental psychology. She has won several awards including the Outstanding Research Study Award from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and was named 2003 Distinguished Alumna, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, California State University, Chico.