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What are Uses for Human Breast Milk (HBM)?

human breast milk

The invention of milk formula and a greater number of women in the workforce resulted in bottle-feeding becoming preferable to breastfeeding. In fact, formula was promoted to mom’s in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as a better alternative.

Since then, the numerous health benefits of human breast milk (HBM) has been promoted to a greater extent and seen an increase in breastfeeding from 22% in the 70’s to 79% in 2011.

It’s not just breastfeeding that has grown in popularity. There are a number of alternative uses for breast milk that are now being explored and used to a far greater extent. While the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding for up to 2 years of age, it is generally recommended to breastfeed a baby for a minimum of six months for the following reasons:

  • Breast feeding stimulates the release of prolactin and oxytocin which calm and relax both the mother and baby while encouraging a bonding and nurturing instinct in the mother.
  • Breast milk contains the mother’s antibodies which protects the baby from diseases and establishes a strong immune system.
  • Breast milk contains the ideal balance of nutrients to ensure optimal development in the first few months or years of life.

It is these and other properties that make breast milk so beneficial for use in other areas. Four scientifically proven uses of breast milk include:

Wound Care

Breast milk has traditionally been used to treat wounds for centuries in multiple cultures. While conventional medicine basically eliminated the use of breast milk in wound care, it is making a resurgence. Breast milk is being used to treat minor cuts, abrasions, small burns, and other minor wounds.

  • The antibacterial properties of breast milk have been proven to reduce the risk of infection in wounds and is a viable alternative treatment to conventional or synthetic antibacterial agents.
  • Breast milk encourages cell regeneration and therefore promotes faster healing.
  • The antibody IgA prevents bacteria and therefor aids in preventing infection as well as increasing healing time.
  • The soothing properties of breast milk help reduce pain and discomfort associated with the wound.

Breast milk can be applied directly to the wound using a cotton pad or gauze swab. The milk should be left to dry entirely to be most effective and can then be removed using warm water on a cotton swab and a repeat application of the breast milk.

The healing and antiseptic properties have been found to be highly effective in wound care and in some cases, more effective than conventional treatments.

Eye and Ear Infections

conjunctivitis in baby

In some cultures, breast milk has been traditionally used to treat eye and ear infections. While these remedies have largely been held to be ineffective in the past, latest scientific research provides evidence of the effective use of treating eye and ear infections with breast milk.

The antibacterial and antiseptic properties of breast milk are largely responsible for the effectiveness in treating both ear and eye infections.

A couple of drops of breast milk placed directly in the eye or ear on a regular basis (every few hours) is recommended.

Fewer studies have been conducted on the efficacy of breast milk in treating ear infections. The research is mainly results based taking into consideration reduced infections in babies treated with breast milk as opposed to those receiving conventional treatments.

Breast milk has been found to more effective than common conventional medicine in treating the following eye infections or conditions:

  • Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
  • Corneal Epithelial Wound
  • Dry Eye Syndrome

Cancer

Recent research has shown evidence that breast milk may prevent the formation of cancer and delay the development of some forms of cancer.

HAMLET, the Human Alpha-Lactalbumin made lethal to cancer cells, has been introduced as an effective treatment for reducing the size and spread of cancerous tumors in some forms of cancer.

Currently, breast milk and HAMLET are still undergoing research and animal trials to further investigate the prohpylactic and preventative benefits.

To date, breast milk has been found to be effective in delaying the development of colon cancer and bladder cancer.

Diaper Dermatitis And Eczema

Traditionally, breast milk has been used to soothe and calm the burning and itching associated with diaper dermatitis (diaper rash) and eczema. Studies have shown HMB to be an effective treatment option for these maladies and not just to alleviate the symptoms.

The antibacterial properties as well as regenerative properties of breast milk both contribute to the reduction of diaper dermatitis and eczema. Breast milk also provides a calming and soothing effect to combat the discomfort, itchiness and burning associated with either condition.

Breast milk can be applied directly to the affected area using cotton or gauze swabs. The milk should be left to dry and then removed with warm water before being reapplied.

In both cases, breast milk was found to be as effective as 1% Hydrocortisone. However, breast milk is not an effective preventative measure for diaper dermatitis and barrier cream was found to be a more effective treatment option.

Final Thoughts

While some of the alternative use of breast milk have been around for centuries, others are still being researched as to the benefits that this treatment can provide. These studies are not only looking at the well-known benefits of breast milk and how they can be applied as alternative medical treatments but also into whether they are more or less effective than conventional medicine.

References

Summer Clarke
Summer is a mother of two: Jackson and Molly. The overarching goal of Birthing for Life is to share practical and actionable Momming advice at all stages of child development.