We, I’m sure, are all aware of the primary function of breast milk: to nourish our babies. What we are typically not as aware of are the other uses of breast milk, and why these uses are effective.
Nutrition of Breast Milk
First, let’s talk about the nutritive benefits of breast milk. Many, if not all, pregnant women have heard the phrase “breast is best”, but do we know why breast is best?
When a woman is pregnant, her body is already preparing for lactation and the first breastfeeding session after baby is born. During this “stage,” her body is busy producing colostrum, the yellowish super-milk high in IgA (Immunoglobulin A, which helps protect baby’s gut from germs) and white blood cells. This colostrum lasts only a few days, but produces baby’s first “immunization” against any foreign germs.
Once colostrum has passed, breast milk then changes into what’s called transitional milk. Lasting around two weeks, this milk is high in calories, fat, lactose, and water-soluble vitamins. After transitional milk has passed, women begin producing the mature milk (the final milk), which is roughly 90% water and 10% carbs, proteins, and fats, helping baby grow and thrive (APA, 2016).
Now that we’ve covered the very basic nutrition of breast milk, let’s talk about how these nutrients come into play for other uses.
Loaded with antibodies, breast milk can actually be used to effectively treat ear infections, should breastfed babies get them at all. Ear infections are most common between six and eighteen months, and can last a few days to a few weeks. Even adults can get ear infections, and even adults can be treated with breast milk. Three to four drops of breast milk at the entrance of the ear canal (not directly in the ear canal) can help knock the infection out effectively.
Along with ear infections, breast milk can also be used to treat different variations of conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. Whether bacterial, viral, or allergic, pink eye can be easily treated by applying a few drops of breast milk to the affected eye(s) a couple of times a day.
Recently, I actually experienced pink eye in both eyes due to allergies and figured I would give this a try. After removing my contacts, I applied fresh pumped breast milk into each eye using a small bulb dropper and would let them rest for a few minutes. I did this a total of five times (once on day one, three times on day two, once on day three), and by the morning of day four, my eyes were back to normal.
Added bonus: breast milk can also be used as an effective contact lens solution!
*Disclaimer: Although the above uses have been shown to be effective, it is still always best to talk to your and your baby’s health care provider to discuss the safest, healthiest, and most effective treatments for any ailments.*
Breast Milk Changes as Needed
Remember when we talked about the colostrum changing to transitional milk changing to mature milk? Now picture your breast milk changing based on baby’s needs, even if it means daily. That’s right–your milk can change daily depending on what baby needs or how he’s feeling. If it’s hot or cold out, your milk will change its temperature to make sure baby doesn’t get overheated or too chilly.
Breast milk will also change its nutrition content based on baby’s health. When baby nurses, his backwash actually gets vacuumed back into the breast, where mother “reads” the saliva via mammary glands and looks for any pathogens. Should there be any pathogens present, the breast actually produces milk with the needed antibodies (Garbes, 2015).
Not only does breast milk change its content based on health, but it also changes its content based on age. For example, the milk produced for a three month old is different that the milk produced for a six month old, a nine month old, or a one year old. Since each of these ages require different nutrient compositions, breast milk will its content to provide exactly what baby needs at his developmental stage.
Other Cool Facts About Breast Milk
- Along with nutrients and antibodies, breast milk also contains different levels of melatonin at different parts of the day, helping promote calmness and sleep (who wouldn’t love that?).
- If a mother chooses to breastfeed, the money that family saves on buying formula averages out to be between $2-$4,000 per year.
- Breast milk and breastfeeding promote a healthy lifestyle for mother and baby. Short term, breast milk can help protect infants against colds, ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections, and urinary tract infections. Long term, babies and children who grow up breastfeeding have much lower risks of developing serious ailments later in life, such as obesity, type I and II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, eczema, Crohn’s disease, and leukemia.
All in all, breast milk is truly amazing, and choosing to breastfeed your baby truly does provide incredible benefits, especially if you choose and are able to extend your breastfeeding journey into toddler-hood.
What are some of the things you have learned about breastfeeding? Have you tried any of the at-home remedies for breast milk, and how did it go? Please share your thoughts!
American Pregnancy Association. (2016). Breastfeeding: Overview. Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-overview/
Garbes, A. (2015). The More I Learn About Breast Milk, The More Amazed I Am. Retrieved from http://www.thestranger.com/features/feature/2015/08/26/22755273/the-more-i-learn-about-breast-milk-the-more-amazed-i-am
Johnson-Grass, A. (2015). 15 Cool Facts About Breastfeeding. Retrieved from http://www.health-foundations.com/blog/2013/11/19/15-cool-facts-about-breastfeeding