Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Breastmilk as Medicine?

on April 25, 2016

If you have hung out with a group of breastfeeding mothers for any length of time, you will have heard someone suggest using breastmilk as a cure for rashes or eye infections or any number of other childhood maladies. Is this just crazy talk or is there science to back up using breastmilk as medicine?

The most common suggested “medicinal” use of breastmilk is to treat children’s eye infections. This is not a new idea as an 18th century quote, referring to human breast milk said: “It is an emollient and cool, and cureth Red Eye immediately.” Studies show that most conditions that cause gunky eyes in babies (blocked ducts and the common cold) will resolve on their own without any treatment. For bacteria caused pink eye, evidence shows that mother’s milk is unlikely to be effective against the bacteria that cause this infection. And certainly, in a newborn, genuine pink eyes need to be evaluated by a physician because there is the potential for long term irreversible eye damage.



So what did the studies say?

Verd, in 2007, published an account of his clinic’s switch from treating infants with blocked tear ducts with antibiotic eye drops to mother’s milk drops. The study is retrospective and descriptive rather than quantitative, but it suggests that routinely using mother’s milk is probably safe. Blocked tear ducts, we know, get better without any therapy at all. But if you want to do something, instilling mother’s milk seems safe.

In 2012, Baynham and colleagues published a letter  in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, looking at the in vitro inhibitory effects of donated fresh breast milk against common ocular pathogens. (Translation: they squirted milk into petri dishes of eye germs to see what would happen.) They found that 100% of their donated milk samples contained bacteria (including, in some cases, bacteria that could cause human disease). Though there was some inhibition of bacterial growth against some bacteria, the inhibition wasn’t strong, and the authors concluded that “… human milk is unlikely to be effective against the most common causes of paediatric conjunctivitis.” There was one interesting finding: of all the bacteria tested, human milk was most effective against the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, which is the same bacteria that causes most serious neonatal eye infections, world-wide. Now, it wasn’t as good as an antibiotic, but for resource-poor communities in the developing world, human milk may be much better than nothing.

Ibhanesebhor, in 1996, also did an in vitro (in the lab) study  looking at the effects of human milk against bacteria. He found that while colostrum had some inhibitory effects, mature milk did not—presumably because colostrum has a much higher concentration of antibodies. In any case, even colostrum was effective against only some bacteria, and it wasn’t nearly as effective as an antibiotic.



Another commonly suggested use of breastmilk is to treat ear infections. Most ear infections are middle ear infections, that is to say they are behind the ear drum. Breastmilk in the ear canal will not cross the barrier of the ear drum to reach the bacteria. Breastmilk in the ear canal may be effective against bacteria if the infection is in the outer ear canal such as a “swimmer’s ear” infection. Most inner ear infections clear up on their own. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting 48-72 hours after diagnosis before trying antibiotics. Warmth is soothing to an inflamed ear so mothers who have tried putting breastmilk in baby’s ear may have found that it gave some relief. Warm compresses or warmed oil drops or ear drops will also have the same effect.

Infant atopic eczema is a skin condition that affects about 50% of infants in the first years of their lives. Mothers often try breastmilk as a treatment. One study looked at the short-term efficacy of breastmilk versus hydrocortisone 1% ointment in infants with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis (AD). There were no significant differences between these two groups at days 0, 7, 14, and 21, and the interventions of both groups were found to have the same effects. As breastmilk and the hydrocortisone 1% ointment provided the same results in the healing of AD, the study’s authors support using breastmilk to treat infant atopic eczema because of low cost and accessibility.

Need help sorting out the myths from facts about breastfeeding? La Leche League Leaders are available by phone, e-mail and at group meetings.

If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to an accredited La Leche League Leader. In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally
If you have found this article helpful, La Leche League Canada would appreciate your support in the form of a donation at so we can continue to help others breastfeed. Thank you!


LLLC Spring Appeal Campaign for the support of breastfed babies: Help LLLC Grow – If you, or someone you know, has benefitted from the support of LLLC, a donation is one way you can “pay it forward”.

Donate Today

Over 385,000 babies are born in Canada each year and we want to ensure every mother has access to La Leche League Canada support whenever she needs it. We are working hard to grow and we need your support. Every donation helps us provide more support to more families!

Thanks to past donations, we have been working hard to grow our services:

Our volunteer Leaders are the cornerstone of LLLC and the support we provide. We have increased our Leaders by 10% in the past year and Leader Applicants by 40% over the past 2 years!

More than 13,000 mothers attend LLLC meetings and another 20,000 receive one-to-one phone support from Leaders.

We have doubled our community and health professional outreach in just one year!

5 new Information Sheets in various languages were made available free of charge to mothers and health professionals

A new Communication Skills program was developed to strengthen health professional and breastfeeding peer support skills and our Best for Babies pre-natal program continues to grow.

Our Leaders are a vital part of LLLC’s breastfeeding foundation. They freely devote their time to help other parents give their children the optimal start in life. You, the donor, make up the other part of the foundation on which the LLLC breastfeeding services rest. Your gifts mean that our Leaders can carry out the valuable help families need. Frankly, we would be unable to deliver services to families without you or our Leaders so please take a moment to consider how valuable your support is and make a donation, either online or by using our pledge form. If a one-time donation is not suitable for you, perhaps spreading your gift over a year would make sense. Our pledge form has the monthly donation option for your convenience.

We are proud of our growth – but we want to do so much more! We need your support to help us serve even more mothers. Please donate today so we can grow to serve the mothers and babies of tomorrow.

Thank you for taking the time to consider supporting La Leche League Canada and our continued efforts to support all breastfeeding families who need us.






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