It’s no secret that breast milk is the ideal food for babies. Your body prepares a perfectly balanced blend of the proteins, sugars, and fats your baby needs, along with tons of great antibodies to boost that little immune system. A lesser-known fact is that breast milk is good for more than filling your baby’s belly. These tricks have been midwives’ secrets for ages, and they’re backed by science, too!
Umbilical Cord Care
In the first days of your baby’s life, they still have a cord stump protruding from their belly button. This stump needs care to avoid infection. Your doctor will most likely advise you to keep the area dry until the cord falls off on its own. This is a widely recommended standard of care, but one study found that breast milk helped umbilical cord stumps fall off faster.
The theory is that breast milk contains enzymes and immune-protecting bodies that encourage the cord to separate and minimize infection. Want to try it yourself? Start by washing your hands well, and then apply a small amount of milk three times per day.
Baby skin is very sensitive. Linger in any new-parent forum, and you’ll see plenty of photos asking about a rash that seems to have popped up out of nowhere. One of the most common is atopic dermatitis, or eczema. This usually looks like a red, itchy, scaly rash.
A 2015 study found that breast milk was comparable to 1% hydrocortisone cream in treating short-term eczema. Since some parents prefer to limit the use of steroid ointments for their babies, and breast milk is cheaper and easier to access (no trip to the store required!), it might make more sense to use breast milk for mild, occasional eczema.
The greasy, flaky, yellowish rash known as cradle cap is also called seborrheic dermatitis. Lots of babies get cradle cap on their head or even their face. It’s often a reaction to residual hormones from your milk, or your baby’s sebaceous glands getting into gear.
There’s some indication that omega-3 fatty acids (like you find in salmon, or walnuts) may help fight this rash. Omega-3 fatty acids can transfer in your breast milk, so tweaking your diet, or taking a fish oil supplement with your pediatrician’s okay, might help. There’s less research about using breast milk topically, but I can attest to it personally. My pediatrician recommended a few drops of topical breast milk to clear up the acne-cradle cap combo on my newborn’s face.
Similarly to the eczema study, some researchers found that breast milk worked as well as 1% hydrocortisone cream on diaper rash. Interested in trying this method, but not sure how to make it work? Follow these steps:
- Wash your hands well. Grab a baby wipe and clean your nipple area, too.
- Get a small, clean container (a recently washed and disinfected baby bottle works great).
- Hand-express milk into the container until you’ve got maybe a tablespoon or two.
- Apply milk directly to diaper area and let air-dry completely.
One thing worth noting is that, while breast milk is often a safe and effective treatment for minor baby woes, it’s not necessarily the best treatment for everything. For diaper rash, a thick, zinc-based barrier cream works even better. Severe rashes, or yeast rashes that require an antifungal ointment, may also not be a good fit for the milk treatment.
At your next pediatrician appointment, if there’s a mild issue you’ve noticed, ask the doctor if breast milk is an appropriate treatment. You might be surprised at how far a few drops can go.