Does breast milk stain clothes?

Susan Fernandez February 02 2022

Does breast milk stains at all?

When you breastfeeding, do you ever wonder if your milk is spilling onto your white shirts and ruining them? You're not alone.

Breast milk stains are a common problem that many breastfeeding moms face at some point in their nursing careers. They can range from annoying to devastating (wear a dark shirt and no one will notice), and every mom experiences the problem differently. There is little scientific research on the topic of breast-milk staining, but mothers have written about their experiences with it after they began lactating—some even writing about how it affected their decision to continue breastfeeding. If you want to learn more about how breast milk might spot, read on!

Before we get to the heart of the matter, it's important to note that some babies do not breastfeed. If a baby is bottle-fed, they will never have a problem with breast milk stains. However, if you are breastfeeding and wondering in what way your body is affecting your wardrobe choices, here is what we know so far about breast milk spots.

Feeding moms problems

It is not the milk itself that stains, but a substance in it called bile. Bile is a digestive fluid produced by your liver and stored in the gall bladder. It aids in the digestion of fat. While you breastfeeding, bile mixes with breast milk and comes out as the baby spits up or as you leak milk from other areas (such as your breasts and nipples). The reason that breastmilk contains bile, it can easily cause stains on clothes. When your baby is finished breastfeeding, the milk is usually removed from the spot. Though, if you find that your breastmilk has stained cloth and then dried for a long time before you discovered the spot, it may be difficult to remove it.

Why does breast milk stain?

Breast milk contains two enzymes that bacteria in your baby’s mouth digest, breaking down starch and producing lactic acid. The lactic acid acts as a cleansing agent to cleanse bacteria from gums and teeth, which is why breastfed babies are less likely to get cavities than formula-fed babies. These enzymes can also break down the proteins in breastmilk, causing it to mark clothing and other fabrics that come into contact with it.

Also, such stains are more likely to appear if you eat a lot of certain foods, such as curry and beetroot. This is because these foods can cause your breast milk to develop a yellow or orange tint. Depending on the mother, milk differs in color, smell, and taste. The milk's coloring is due to differences in the diet as well as storage conditions. If the milk is stored in an airtight container in a fridge, it can last up to eight days. And all these milk types spot differently as well.

Can I prevent my breast milk from staining?

Since we know that bile causes the color in breast milk stains, there are many different factors that affect the easiness your milk will leave a blemish on clothing such as:

  • The type of fabric - Clothes made out of synthetic fabrics tend to show stains more easily than other materials do. This happens because synthetic fibers tend to bile due to static electricity; therefore, the risk of your baby's spit-up containing bile is greater.
  • How long it has been since you have been breastfeeding - The fresher the mark is, the easier it will come out. If you find a stain on one of your shirts and then wear that shirt multiple times before washing it; you should expect that the mark will become more difficult to remove. The longer the milk stays in contact with a surface, the harder it becomes to clean: especially cotton and other natural fabrics which absorb liquids easily.
  • Temperature and humidity - Excessive heat or humidity can decrease the cleaning power of some laundry detergents as well as affect their freshness. If you wash too many clothes at once or leave them sitting wet for too long, you could find yourself stuck with stains that won't come out.

How to remove baby milk stains from clothing?

Firstly, you need to choose the correct cleaning products for removing breast milk stains. Some general rules to follow are:

  • When it comes to stains removal, stay away from chlorine bleach. It can destroy the fabric of your clothes and strip them of their color.
  • Use mild soap or detergent once washing stained materials by hand (and, if you choose, try using baking soda instead).
  • If you use a washer or dryer; be sure to wash each garment separately with warm water for less than 10 minutes before placing it in the dryer on low heat settings. This will help prevent any reoccurrence of the problem after washing.

You might find that simply leaving your stained items out in direct sunlight is enough to remove even old breast milk stains. To keep the problem to a minimum, you should rinse your child's mouth after feeding. Wet bibs will also help catch milk spills before they end up on your favorite garments.

How to wash out the breast milk stains?

  1. Use soap or detergent to wash the stained area with warm water
  2. Rinse the fabric in cold water several times, squeezing it gently so that air flows through it.
  3. Repeat step 1
  4. Wash the garment with soap again but use only cold water (and if you used baking soda already; do not add more)
  5. Leave your garment to dry in indirect sunlight (if any is available) for 8 hours. However, if direct sunlight falls on your fabric, cover it with a cloth or apply some sunscreen to it beforehand! Also, be sure not to expose the clothing to too much heat when drying out in the sun otherwise this can cause additional bleaching of colors and shrinkage of materials.

Avoid breast milk stains with dry cleaning

Dry cleaners are professional spot removers that do their work by spraying or wiping various chemicals onto clothes instead of washing them in water. If the stain cannot be removed by even the most powerful detergent available (and if it doesn't want to come out with sunlight), you may need to take your items to a dry cleaner for assistance. Still, keep in mind that some materials might be incompatible with dry cleaning; so check the label first to make sure it's okay.  

Remove breast milk stains out of your bra

  1. Soak the bra in hot water for 20 minutes
  2. Rub stain-removing soap into the material
  3. Rinse with warm water and dry your clothes by laying them flat or hanging them up to dry

Warning: When attempting to remove breast milk stains from a comforter or pillowcase, you should do so immediately after it happens. Before washing the bedding items, place an absorbent cloth underneath them to prevent any further staining of your mattress or furniture.

How to get old breastmilk stains out of clothing?

If your baby clothes and other fabrics have already been washed and dried and you still see a faint white mark, try applying some toothpaste to the fabric and leave it for 30 minutes before laundering. You can also run your clothes through another complete cycle in your washer, but be sure to use either the gentle or delicate setting; as regular wash cycles are too rough for such delicate fabrics.

You should use non-allergic detergents such as baby shampoo or dishwashing liquid for the remaining steps to remove breast milk stains. For this reason here is one more method for you to remove a set-in stain of breast milk:

  1. Mix one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid into a bowl filled with warm water and stir well
  2. Add your garments to the solution and soak them overnight (between 7 and 12 hours) depending on how strong your dishes are.
  3. Rinse each garment under cold water to remove any lather from its surface
  4. Wash clothes using an unperfumed, color-safe detergent such as Zalo Baby Stain & Odor Remover (and if you use this laundry booster; don't add more than the recommended amount!) 
  5. Dry all clothes in direct sunlight whenever possible; as ultraviolet rays will aid in removing the stains

Some of the stains can be used as an advantage in disguise, for instance, if they are caused by orange juice or grapefruit. There is a trick on the ways to remove breast milk stains out of clothes that are made from the same fabric as your comforter or pillowcase.

You can use any type of shampoo to clean it all up; then rinse each garment with cold water until no suds are visible on its surface. This is because soap particles can accumulate inside cotton fibers and cause itching sensations after some time.

Vinegar and breast milk stains removal

Vinegar works well for removing breast milk stains out of the white materials only (but not colored ones). The acetic acid present in vinegar makes an effective cleaning solution for this purpose. I think you'd better try out the dishwashing liquid and baking soda instead as this is much more convenient and won't take too much of your time to prepare.

To remove a fresh breast milk spot, use a paper towel to absorb as much of the substance as possible by pressing down onto it firmly for 10 seconds. Then place the clothes into cold water and lather with mild detergent before rinsing in clean running water. Though, such treatment will only work on those materials that are colorfast; so always check first whether or not each garment can be washed normally without removing its colors or design!

You may need to even change out your own bra after a few months of breastfeeding especially if it has been rubbed against a wet nipple for a long time. When removing breast milk spots from your bra, hand wash it in warm water with detergent before rinsing and drying it by hanging it up to dry.

Is there anything else I can do to remove breast milk spots?

If your clothes are dry clean only, you'll need to take them to a professional cleaner or spot treat the mark with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. You should also consult the care instructions for any garment before deciding how to proceed - not all clothing can be washed in warm water and it may damage your clothes further if this information isn't taken into account. Also, keep in mind that certain fabrics require pretreatment before washing; so again refer to the label for more details.

For machine-washable garments that have already been through the wash cycle; try using lemon juice, vinegar (diluted), baking soda (also diluted), or dishwashing liquid as these kinds of products often work well on stains like breast milk without doing damage to your clothing. If you've tried all the above without any luck, then it's time to take your garment to a dry cleaner or contact the manufacturer for advice on the best care for it if this information isn't available.

However, getting rid of breast milk marks shouldn't be too difficult as long as you use only gentle washing-up products and if you treat the stains sooner rather than later - before it has had a chance to set in completely. Washing clothes according to the instructions is also important when trying to solve this problem because certain garments need very specific care in order not to be damaged. 

Avoid leaking breasts

That is a real problem for some feeding moms. Also, this problem may be caused by expressing (breast pump or hand expression). Breasts are made of gland cells that can produce milk for your baby. The whole gland is like a balloon that fills up by the force of a vacuum created when sucking your nipple.

This way they make milk appear on the edge of ducts. That's why you feel "empty" if no kids are around and there is no pressure on them (when wearing a bra or lying down). They are making milk all the time but most of it ends up inside ducts because babies usually don't stay at your breast and nipples constantly. So they start making more and more until some milk comes out - then pumps start.

If you have a letdown reflex, then after the letdown (when the milk starts coming out) you should feel pressure, and after that some relief. This reflex is a little bit like getting the urge to go to the toilet when the bladder is full. If you have a letdown you will notice it - maybe your tummy shakes a little bit or you are breathing faster... If there was any irritation in the gland, this leaking may happen more often because now ducts are making milk all the time so they don't have time to fill up completely. Milk just jumps out of them if there is no plug.

You should mention this problem to your doctor who can prescribe some specific medication to avoid this issue. Also do not use soap or other products on nipples because that could lead to nipple damage or nipple fissures. Those who have this problem should use water in the shower instead of soap and keep nipples dry between feeding times.

Use absorbent pads inside your bra if you don't want to wash your bra after each wear. Wash it whenever it starts feeling wet - when there is too much milk for absorbent pads or they start slipping out from position because ducts are leaking so much. If you don't have much leakage, then every other day should be enough for washing bras.