Breastmilk has wonderful properties that contribute greatly to an infant’s health and, in some cases, can be used to treat sticky eyes and eye infections in newborns. Although breastmilk, particularly colostrum, which is rich in antibodies, is believed to be an effective treatment, it is always best to consult your pediatrician to monitor your child’s eye health.
Eye infections are common in young children and should be treated with the utmost care, as prolonged infections can lead to permanent damage and the potential loss of eyesight.
Treating eye infections with breastmilk is said to cure most infections, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal.
Clinical studies have not proven conclusively that breastmilk is an effective treatment. Yet, studies have been conducted using colostrum which is the first or initial milk produced for several days after the baby’s birth before your mature milk comes in.
Colostrum has a much higher antibody count than mature milk, and it stands to reason that it will be effective against bacterial infections.
A newborn baby’s eye ducts do not work for the first four to six weeks of age. During this time, your little one cannot drain their eyes with tears.
Dirt particles that may get into the eye will accumulate and result in a sticky eye. A yellow-green puss will ooze from the infected eye and can result in the eyelashes sticking together as it dries.
Like any concerned mother, you will be tempted to clean your baby’s eyes, but this will only worsen the condition by irritating the eye. This eye discharge may look unsightly but rarely bothers a baby.
What is conjunctivitis?
📌 Conjunctivitis is an infection that may result in the swelling of the membrane that lines the eyelids. Typical symptoms include redness, swelling, and stickiness of the eyes.
The most common cause of conjunctivitis is a viral infection known as pink eye. Pink eye is highly contagious and spreads rapidly, especially among children.
Fortunately, viral conjunctivitis usually goes away without treatment within a week and is often associated with a blocked nose during a cold.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is less common and is often treated with antibiotic eye drops or breastmilk, as many mothers will attest to.
Allergies or irritation usually caused by soaps and shampoos can also cause conjunctivitis in children. You should try and pinpoint the cause of conjunctivitis and discuss the best treatment with your doctor.
Using breastmilk is safe, but its effectiveness will largely depend on your baby’s age. The older your little one, the less effective your breastmilk may be.
Your little one may develop a blocked tear duct, which causes excessive tearing, sometimes with thick, gooey tears.
Blocked tear ducts may come and go for the first year of life, and if it persists beyond the first year, you should consult your doctor.
Breastmilk as a cure for conjunctivitis
Sad to say, but there isn’t enough research on the subject to know for sure if breastmilk actually cures conjunctivitis.
Some studies show that using breast milk in a baby’s eye is safe and may be effective against bacterial infections and blocked tear ducts.
In this regard, colostrum appears to be more effective than mature milk, mainly because it has higher concentrations of antibodies.
It is reassuring to know that breastmilk treatments are safe, which has been supported in many studies and research papers.
Interestingly, a randomized controlled trial conducted by Acta Paediatr in 2021 showed that breastmilk contains various protective components, such as immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, lysozyme, oligosaccharides, and immune cell subsets, which are beneficial in treating eye discharge.
The trial participants were infants younger than 180 days old (6 months), all suffering from eye discharge. The first group of babies was treated with breastmilk eyedrops and the second group with sodium azulene sulphonate hydrate 0.02% ophthalmic solution (OS).
Both groups were treated for 7 days, and the recovery result was 76.8% for breastmilk eyedrops and 75.8% for the OS treatment.
This trial proves what mothers have been claiming for eons; breastmilk helps to alleviate eye discharge and possible eye infection.
Based on this study, breastfeeding mothers can safely use breastmilk as the first line of treatment for babies under 6 months old with eye discharge. It is never-the-less still advisable to contact your doctor if your little one develops any eye condition.
Using breastmilk to clean your baby’s eyes helps to wash away irritants and dirt that have the potential to fester, but it shouldn’t be viewed as a miracle cure that works for all conditions.
But we cannot ignore the many mothers who claim that breastmilk cured their little one’s eye discharge or infection.
Treating sticky eye caused by an eye discharge
Eye discharge is common in infants, and the build-up of puss on your baby’s eyelashes and the corners of their eyes will undoubtedly raise concerns.
In most cases, this looks a lot worse than it actually is, and you will be able to remedy the condition within a few days.
When treating your little one’s eyes, everything you use should be clinically clean. Step one is to thoroughly wash your hands, so you don’t have any perfume or cream residue on your fingers.
Generally, you will clean your baby’s eyes twice a day, in the morning and again in the evening. When using water, you should boil the water and allow it to cool down. Then, use a fresh piece of cotton wool for each eye.
Soak the cotton wool in sterile water and gently wipe and flush the eye with water from the inside out, using fresh pieces of soaked cotton wool as you proceed.
The proper technique for applying breast milk to a baby’s eye
If breastfeeding, you can drop or squirt breast milk into your little one’s eyes straight from your breast. This usually works best just before breastfeeding.
Squeeze your nipple to allow a drop of milk to build on the tip and position your nipple over your baby’s infected eye, then tap close to your nipple to release the drop of breast milk.
Let the milk run through the eye but don’t be tempted to wipe the excess away. You can do this as often as you like, and it’s very effective in curing the problem if treated early.
Wiping your baby’s eyes to soak up excess milk may only aggravate the eye. If you’re not crazy about “squirting” breastmilk into your baby’s eyes, you can express a little milk and use an eyedrop dispenser for a more controlled treatment.
The idea is not to flood your baby’s eyes with breast milk but to apply one or two drops at a time.
These remedies do work, but we are all aware of the fact that babies are all different. Our home environment, proximity to pets, and local industries all impact the dynamics of our health.
There could be a host of reasons why your little one regularly has an eye discharge, and once again, we recommend you speak to your doctor if your little one develops an eye condition, no matter how trivial it may seem.
Risks of using breast milk in baby’s eye
Complications can occur from the inappropriate application of breast milk to the eye in cases of bacterial conjunctivitis and ocular trauma.
Secretory immunoglobulin IgA, which is present in colostrum, helps to prevent bacteria from attaching to the mucosal surfaces of the eye.
Breast milk has traditionally been used to treat pink eye. Still, the eye could be infected with bacterial, viral, or fungal organisms that are not sensitive to the antibodies in breast milk.
Most viral and bacterial eye infections clear up naturally within about two weeks, and if breastmilk is ineffective, the infection will run its course, or complications may arise.
Breast milk will not necessarily cause or initiate an infection, but because we cannot immediately see that breast milk is working, it becomes a waiting game, and the risk of complications is ever-present.
This is why breast milk should not be viewed as a definitive cure for all eye infections.
The risk lies in waiting to see if breast milk will cure the condition. Therefore, it remains a best practice to visit your doctor for a professional medical diagnosis.
Does breast milk really help to clear up eye discharge?
The simple answer is yes, particularly in infants younger than 6 months.
Regular cleaning with warm sterile water and cotton wool or breast milk usually helps to clear up the discharge.
The antibodies in breast milk will bring a bacterial infection under control, but you should still consult with your doctor.
Can breast milk be used to clear up nasal congestion?
Yes, some lactation specialists prefer using breast milk to saline solution.
Breast milk is high in anti-infective properties and anti-inflammatory properties; besides, unlike salty saline, babies recognize the taste of breastmilk, so they aren’t as disturbed when they swallow some of it in the process.
What else can breast milk be used for?
Breast milk can be used for milk skin irritations like diaper rash. You should rub breast milk into the affected area and allow it to dry before you use a barrier cream and a new diaper. Breast milk also works well for mild eczema.
For chapped and sore nipples, you can allow some breast milk to air dry on your nipple. It works just as well as most creams. Other uses are for insect bites, sunburn, and other skin ailments.
Breast milk is indeed remarkable in every way.
If you cannot get an early doctor’s appointment for your little one’s eye infection, it is safe to begin early treatment with breast milk which, if anything, will bring some much-needed relief.