Breastmilk Medicine

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti /
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti /

The benefits and bonding from a breastfeeding relationship are probably the biggest parts of birth and the early years that I will miss when my babies get older.  I love snuggling and feeling their soft skin.  I love how almost everything can be fixed with my rocking in a chair and a baby at the breast.  Lazy?  Nah, just biology at its best.  I will also hate that I will no longer have the best medicine in the world on tap.  Where else can you find medicine that tastes good, comforts you, and makes the antibodies for the exact ailment you have at that time?

Breastmilk "medicine" goes beyond your nursling's immune system.  This stuff is wonderful for the whole family.  Simply put, you can use breastmilk for anything where you'd use an antibiotic or antiviral... or vitamin and immune system booster.  Non nurslings have any issues?  Just express a few ounces daily and bottoms up!  Pink eye?  A few drops helps wipe away secretions, soothes, and helps fight gunk from bacteria or viruses.  Acne?  Smooth a little on your skin each day and night and watch it clear!  Picky eater? Give them a glass of breastmilk with their meal and you're supplement with some incredibly [natural] bioavailable nutrients.

"Dosing" and Tips for the best effect:

  • "From the tap" will always have the most benefits (this goes for your nursling or otherwise - and it isn't only about bonding).  When a baby nurses at the breast, the direct transfer of antibodies/bacteria means that you receive the gunk your nursling has and you start making antibodies to kill it.  If nothing else, this is an incredible reason to nurse (or get donated milk) for 2+ years while their immune system is building.  Without it cooling down or being stored, it retains as much of its live nutrients as possible.
  • Sure, most of your non-nurslings probably won't want it from the tap - or you're not interested in nursing your teenager... so then you use the pumping guidelines for storage.  Storing kills breastmilk over time.  Yes, stored breastmilk is still healthier than formula for your nursling, but fresh is always better.  When I used to pump, I always kept my morning session out on the counter for my nursling to have as fresh and live as possible.  Then, in the fridge for as long as possible, then the freezer.  The longer it sits out, the more of the live parts of the milk die, and breastmilk isn't like a synthetic medication - we'll discuss the differences in a moment.  When it is cooled, it loses nutrients and antibodies, and when it is heated, it loses nutrients and antibodies.  So, if you're passing out this "medicine" - drink up quickly to get as many benefits as possible.  You don't need to dose it out over time.
  • The more the merrier - you can't OD on breastmilk... you may experience loose bowels, but no worries, it is just a good all around body cleansing nutrient.  I really have no clue why some company hasn't realized how much money they could make from paying nursing moms to pump.  Not that I encourage human milk factories, but I know a LOT of moms who would LOVE a job like that.  I digress...

So, why not the doses?  As previously mentioned, the longer it sits outside the body - the more of the live substance dies.  When you're used to taking medicine, you typically take a few teaspoons at regular intervals throughout the day over a course of a few days or weeks.  There are a few reasons for this, mainly that you can OD on medicine and also because antibiotics kill all the bacteria - good and bad - and you don't want to do that all at once and have some really bad side effects like UTI, yeast infections, or worse symptoms from the initial issue.  Similarly, you can't really take medicine for a virus, but your doc often has you take antibiotics just in case.  This is where breastmilk differs.

Breastmilk is a living substance.  The longer it is outside the body, the more of the antimicrobial and antivirals die.  Breastmilk has antibodies that need the breast or baby/body to live.  If it is artificially heated, this can kill the antibodies, and if it is cooled it loses value as well.  The direct transfer, or soon thereafter, is best.  Being near and around the person using the milk will help you get some of their bacteria in your system to build antibodies (because essentially, your body is intending to keep the nursing baby near you safe - so you're protecting the baby from anything you both come in contact with).  Breastmilk also has probiotics so it is naturally replenishing the good bacteria as it fights the bad bacteria.

With medicinal antibiotics, your body needs slow doses to keep things in balance as much as possible, so you take it over a course of hours/days. With medication, you have to keep up the doses to mask symptoms until your body fights the virus.  For instance, you would take day time cough medicine every 4 hours to prevent you from coughing and reduce your pain - but your body is fighting a cold virus, not the medicine... the medicine just masks the symptoms.  With breastmilk, the breastmilk is not only providing you with a decongestant and pain reliever, it is also actually fighting the virus because it has antibodies - the ones for your particular virus (if you have that close contact/direct transfer).  No other medicine can match this ability!  Likewise, you have to slowly kill bacteria with antibiotics in hopes to not kill all the good bacteria at once... which is why taking antibiotics can be so detrimental to the systems (and why using a good probiotic is imperative) - you have to take them for a long time, and you usually have a lot of other issues during the process. But, breastmilk is a live substance.... it has probiotics in it which balance the flora... and the antibodies also kill the bad bacteria.  So, with breastmilk, dosing it out like medicine wouldn't really give you much benefit because you could be losing valuable antibodies.
Personally, I'd love to see some solid research on the benefits of breastmilk in this manner; there is truely a market for it.  We have used breastmilk for suppressing coughs, decongesting, colds/fevers, scrapes, cuts, acne, pink eye...etc.  My daughter can't wait to get big enough to have her own breastmilk.  I'm so glad that is one of her goals!What have you used breastmilk for... and have you shared with other non-nurslings for the medicinal benefits?