Does Breast Milk Actually Have Healing Properties? I Put Mine to the Test

You may be surprised to learn what breast milk can do.

Infants get a host of nutrients from breast milk, including calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Because of these benefits, it makes sense for people to think that it can help in other ways. There are even claims that breast milk can heal diaper rash, blocked tear ducts, conjunctivitis, eczema, and ear infections.

So, I decided to put my own breast milk to the test to figure out what it could do.

Trying breast milk as a first-aid method

I'd been breastfeeding for about a year when I heard that other moms had success using breast milk to treat various health issues, from flushing out their babies' noses when they had colds to using it in their eyes to get rid of discharge. But while I'd been curious about breast milk's so-called healing powers, I'd never tried them for myself. So when a scratch appeared on my son's face, I thought, "Why not put some breast milk on it?"

Using my fingers, I applied a small amount to half the scrape; 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, while the other half had healed somewhat but was still visible.

The next day, I got a bad oil burn on myforearmwhile cooking fish. I was in a vacation rental with no first aid kit on hand, so I decided to test breast milk 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 for an answer.

The science behind breast milk

Dr. Serhan co-authored a study published in a May 2016 issue of 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, Dr. Serhan believed the results would be similar in human infants.

These anti-inflammatory properties are at their peak in the first month postpartum, said Dr. Serhan. "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 a baby is born may be an evolutionary response to protect the baby from infection and help heal the mother's nipples.

But what about my year-old breast milk? I told Dr. Serhan I'd had some success using it as a topical treatment. While the SPM levels in my milk would have been lower, he said, "mature milk still has some anti-microbial properties."

Additionally, an April 2019 Nutrients study investigated other ways that human breast milk has been used. The researchers noted that human milk has properties that could aid the immune system and could be an option for treating skin issues (e.g., irritation, cuts, scrapes). However, they too indicated that more research would be necessary for using breast milk beyond infant nutrition.

In the meantime, Dr. Serhan said it's fine to apply a little breast milk to superficial cuts, although he advised 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."

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