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We all know about the amazing nutritional and immunity-boosting benefits of breastmilk for feeding babies, but what about other surprising practical uses? There are some astonishing applications to treat everything from mom's sore nipples to baby’s goopy eyes.
We’re not calling it a cure-all for any ailment (when in doubt, you should always check with your doctor), but if Swedish researchers are trying to kill cancer cells with the stuff, some of these age-old, everyday remedies could be onto something, no?
“It’s an incredible, astounding bodily fluid," says board-certified lactation consultant Shery Leeder. “If in doubt, try it, because it’s not going to hurt, and you might actually stumble upon something that is actually quite helpful.”
Here’s a rundown of the most popular and unexpected ways to use breastmilk.
1. Teething Breastmilk ice lollies, anyone? OK, we draw the line at breastmilk cheese and other grownup culinary delights, but when it comes to breastfed babies who are teething, these “momsicles” are a pretty genius idea. They work best with baby ice pop moulds (don't waste your liquid gold on full-size ones), but you can also use an ice cube tray and top each one with a pacifier for the handle. Brilliant, right? They can last in the freezer for about six months!
2. Eye discharge It’s quite common for newborns to get blocked tear ducts and they usually resolve on their own, but they can also lead to infections and unsightly eye discharge on your beautiful baby’s face. Some doctors will recommend gently massaging the tear ducts to help open the nasal passages that are clogged and cause excess tears to well up in the corners of the eye. Most important, it’s recommended to regularly wash the area using a clean, soft washcloth or cotton pad, and clear, warm water. But a little-known midwifery secret is to directly treat the affected eye with breastmilk a few times a day, as needed. “If the baby has a bit of an eye infection or a goopy eye, it can help to clear that up,” says Esther Willms, a registered midwife at The Midwives' Clinic of East York. “Usually, I just tell people to squirt it in, but if that seems weird, you can take a little eye dropper and have some expressed milk and draw it up in the eye dropper.”
3. Stuffy noses A nasal aspirator or rubber bulb syringe is a must for helping to clear mucus and relieve congestion in newborns. Either device calls for a couple drops of sterile, moisturizing saline solution in baby’s nose before sucking the snot out, but some breastfeeding moms and lactation consultants use breastmilk instead. “It’s high in anti-infective properties and anti-inflammatory properties, so why wouldn’t you shoot this totally amazing product up their nose? It’s fantastic,” says Leeder, who works at Toronto paediatrician Jack Newman’s International Breastfeeding Centre. Unlike salty saline, babies also recognize the taste of breastmilk, so they aren’t as disturbed when they swallow some of it in the process. Leeder recommends that moms hand-express some breastmilk into a cup and then use a syringe to collect and dispense it. “Sometimes these babies get this quizzical look on their face, like, OK, that’s a weird way to get the breastmilk, but sure.”
5. Diaper rash We’ve seen breastmilk hailed as a panacea for any number of mild skin irritations, and some of the remedies are actually proven. (Yes! Science!) A 2013 study in the journal Pediatric Dermatology found that breastmilk was just as effective as hydrocortisone on babies with diaper dermatitis, a.k.a. diaper rash. If you're trying this out on your baby’s bottom, Leeder recommends patting the breastmilk into the skin, then making sure it dries before putting on a barrier cream and diaper.
6. Sore nipples Chapped, raw and sore nipples are a common problem in the early days of breastfeeding. There are various creams and prescription ointments on the market, but many midwives, lactations consultants and moms swear by breastmilk instead. “Express a bit of milk onto the nipple at the end of a feed and then let it air-dry there, because there are good antibiotic properties in the breastmilk,” says Willms.
7. Eczema Breastmilk was found to be an equally effective treatment for mild to moderate atopic dermatitis, a.k.a. eczema, compared with hydrocortisone in a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology. The researchers estimated that half of all infants are affected by atopic eczema, which causes itchy, red, swollen and cracked skin.
8. Insect bites Thanks to breastmilk's soothing and antibacterial properties, you’ll also find parents using it to treat pesky bug bites. Why not? Take a few bags of breastmilk out of the fridge or freezer and add the breastmilk to some water to make it "cloudy." You can also apply a breastmilk ice cube directly on the affected area for some cool relief.
9. Sunburn Aloe vera gel is probably the most popular home remedy for mild sunburns, but other natural skin soothers, such as honey, oatmeal and milk (cow’s or human), might give aloe a run for its money.
10. Other skin irritations There are mixed reviews about applying breastmilk directly on the face—some parents find this clogs pores in babies with acne, while others have had positive experiences. For cradle cap, if you've already tried the likes of olive oil and coconut oil on your baby's scalp, you might want to give breastmilk a go as well.