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Written by Wendy, IBCLC
Most of us are aware of the amazing benefits of breastfeeding our babies. Breastmilk provides the perfect nutritional balance for your baby; it changes throughout the day and throughout your child’s life to meet their needs. But breastmilk isn’t just a food. It contains live cells, antibodies, and hormones that work to protect and heal your baby from illness and disease.
Did you know that breastmilk lowers your child’s risk of asthma, obesity, SIDS, diabetes, ear infections, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, and childhood leukemia? And that’s not even a complete list…
Breastmilk has also shown promise in the fight against cancer. In 2010, Swedish researchers identified a substance in breastmilk called HAMLET that has been shown to kill 40 different types of cancer cells. How unbelievably cool is that?
Breastfeeding moms have been known to use breastmilk for real-life, practical purposes as well. Have you ever been told to “just throw a little breastmilk on it” when faced with something like sore nipples or an icky diaper rash?
Well, it turns out that there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Breastmilk really does work to heal many of the minor day-to-day health issues moms and babies encounter, and research supports this.
Let’s take a look.
Ever express a little breastmilk onto your baby boo-boo or even your own? 2015 research out of Brigham and Women's Hospital discovered bioactive molecules in breastmilk that decrease inflammation, combat infection, and heal wounds. And a 2003 study from the University of Helsinki found that the antibodies in breastmilk had the power to fight Staphylococcus aureus, one of the most common and serious bacteria out there, and a frequent cause of skin infections.
Breast milk has been shown to be clear up blocked tear ducts in newborns – in fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, application with breastmilk can heal blocked tear ducts even faster than antiseptic eye drops. But breastmilk application for eye care isn’t just useful for infants. A 2013 study found that breastmilk improved corneal sensitivity and visual acuity in patients suffering from corneal diseases.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a very common and irritating skin condition afflicting little ones. Did you know that breast milk is very effective at treating it? Yep, according to a study published in the International Journal of Dermatology, breastmilk is just as effective at treating eczema as hydrocortisone 1% ointment.
Almost all babies get diaper rashes at one point or another, and sometimes they can be pretty awful. Breastmilk to the rescue! A 2013 study found that breastmilk was equally effective as hydrocortisone 1% at treating diaper rash, and a 2017 study found that breastmilk was more effective at clearing up diaper rash than the simple application of warm water and drying. You can also find Motherlove’s Diaper Balm to be resourceful for irritated bottoms.
You probably had someone suggest expressing a little breastmilk onto your sore nipples at one point or another. That’s because it works! Breastmilk was found to heal sore nipples faster than lanolin, according to a study from a 2005 from researchers at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences. Motherlove’s award-winning Nipple Cream helps soothe as well and is a popular option with breastfeeding mothers.
Here’s one you may not have known. Several studies have found breastmilk effective at healing up your baby’s umbilical cord stump after birth. For example, take this 2016 study published in the American Journal of Nursing Science, which found that topical application of breast milk on the umbilical cord site reduced cord separation time and sped up healing.
Breastfeeding Is Incredible
All of this is pretty incredible, huh? It really makes you realize just how miraculous a substance breast milk is. The truth is, breastfeeding isn’t always the easiest thing in the world, so breastfeeding moms could always use a reminder of how powerful and awesome their bodies are – and that all the time and effort they’ve put into making breastfeeding work has a real and tangible purpose.
So, rock on, breastfeeding mamas. And go ahead and “throw some breast milk on it” to your heart’s content.
Experiencing a low milk supply? Click here to view Motherlove’s selecting your supplement guide.
** Of course, it should be noted that with every medical issue you encounter, it’s always best to call your healthcare provider before you proceed with any treatment or care plan.
Wendy (she/her) is a writer, editor, and IBCLC. She writes frequently about breastfeeding, parenting, and health. She believes in the power of providing families with smart, evidence-based information so they can make decisions that work best for their family. Find her at www.wendywisner.com.