Most parents today have a good idea about the vast nutritional benefits of breast milk and how it can help their babies achieve optimal health. Breast milk is the food the the American Association of Pediatrics recommends babies eat exclusively for the first six months of life. This highly touted "liquid gold" has properties that stave off ear infections, can reduce respiratory illnesses, and strengthen your baby's immune system.
But did you know breast milk has uses other than feeding babies? It's true! Most of them can be considered folk medicine or old wives' tales, but the antibacterial properties of breast milk are proven, so it makes sense that mother's milk might be able to help out with other mild health concerns. We asked Cassaundra Jah, IBCLC, CPM, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based lactation consultant and Certified Professional Midwife, to explain some of the alternative ways breast milk can help babies and kids.
1. Cracked Nipples: Breast milk is one of the best ways to heal cracked or sore nipples, according to Jah: "If you have a cracked nipple, you have a higher likelihood that bacteria can get in the crack and cause mastitis. Breast milk is a great way to keep the bacteria content down. After you're done nursing, just squeeze a few drops out and rub it in, then let it air dry."
3. Blocked or Inflamed Tear Duct: Breast milk, applied topically, is a well-known way for moms to treat a baby's blocked or inflamed tear duct. A blocked tear duct itself is normal for a newborn and will self-regulate in time, but a little bit of breast milk can help, too!
4. Chapped Lips: You can apply a little milk on baby's lips if they seem chapped or dry. It works for children and adults, too!
5. Diaper Rash and Baby Eczema: A 2013 paper in the Journal of Pediatric Dermatology found that breast milk was as effective in treating diaper rash as hydrocortisone. Similar results were found in a 2015 International Journal of Dermatology paper that compared breast milk to hydrocortisone for the treatment of atopic dermatitis (eczema). So yes, you can totally rub some on your baby to soothe her inflamed skin.
5. Insect Bites and Stings: Expressed breast milk can easily help a mosquito bite, bee sting, or other insect bite, likely in the same way it works to help other skin conditions. Remember this the next time you're camping with baby!
6. Sunburn/Poison Ivy: Sunburn and poison ivy are two other irritations that can benefit from a little breast milk. Older kids and adults might be grossed out by using breast milk on their skin, but the benefits more than likely outweigh any ick factor.
Skeptical or skeeved out about using breastmilk "off label?" Consider this: "Breastmilk is not going to do any harm, whether it helps or not," Jah says. "It's really not weird to use your breast milk to help your baby (or yourself!) in other ways." But if you're concerned, you should always ask your pediatrician, nurse practitioner, or other health care provider before trying these breast milk remedies.