Can breast milk really help cure ear infections, conjunctivitis, and more? We got the scoop.
If you Google "breast milk cures," you’ll find an endless number of websites dedicated to the many ailments this "liquid gold" can supposedly heal, including diaper rash, blocked tear ducts, conjunctivitis, eczema, and ear infections. But do these home remedies actually work?
I decided to put my own breast milk to the test. I’ve been breastfeeding for about a year now, and many fellow moms have told me they've had success using breast milk to treat various health issues, from flushing out baby's nose when he or she had a cold to using it in their eyes to get rid of discharge. But while I've been curious about breast milk's so-called healing powers, I've never tried them for myself. So when a scratch recently appeared on my son's face, I thought, "Why not put some breast milk on it?"
I gently applied a small amount to half the scrape using my fingers (the other half was near his eye, and I was nervous to touch it). The next morning, I was surprised to see that the half I'd treated with breast milk had nearly vanished; the other half had healed somewhat, but was still visible.
The next day, I got a bad oil burn on my forearm while cooking fish. I was in a vacation rental with no first aid kit on hand, so I decided to test breast milk's magic on myself. The pain immediately diminished, and the burn seemed to get less red. I continued to apply breast milk to the spot for the next few days, and while I still have a scar, I do think it helped the injury heal faster.
But was my breast milk really the remedy in both of these situations, or was it just a coincidence? I reached out to Charles Serhan, PhD, director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Center for Experimental Therapeutics and Reperfusion Injury in Boston. Serhan co-authored a 2015 study published in the journal Mucosal Immunology that detected high levels of specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) in human breast milk. The researchers found that these bio-molecules helped improve immune response and ease inflammation in mice. Although the study was only done on mice, Serhan believes the results would be similar in human infants.
These anti-inflammatory properties are at their peak in the first month postpartum, Serhan says. "From what we know about SPMs in breast milk, they're at their height within the first 30 days, then they drop down." His theory: The high SPM levels in the first month after baby is born may be an evolutionary response to protect baby from infection and help heal the mother's nipples.
But what about my year-old breast milk? I told Serhan I'd had some success using it as a topical treatment. While the SPM levels in my milk would have been lower, he says, "mature milk still has some anti-microbial properties."
More research is needed on the infection- and inflammation-fighting powers of breast milk. But in the meantime, Serhan says it's fine to apply a little breast milk to superficial cuts, although he advises against using it on open wounds or sores. "As long as the milk has been handled properly and is sterile and free from bacteria, it's okay to use," he says.