The byproducts of motherhood have always been considered wildly powerful medicine: People eat placenta, bank cord blood, and inject pregnant people’s urine for…weight loss? Really? It’s also long been believed that breast milk can cure conjunctivitis, or pink eye, in babies. And although that’s decidedly less gross than almost all of those other things, it’s sadly just as unproven. So can breast milk help pink eye, or is it just an old wives’ tale?
Pink eye is an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the eye that causes redness, soreness, and, well, goop. It can be the result of bacteria or blocked tear ducts, but it’s often caused by a virus that’s wicked infectious.
It’s not clear exactly when breast milk was first proposed as a cure for pink eye, though it’s probably safe to rule out the “Mom With Exceptionally Poor Nipple Aim” theory. Still, many mothers swear that a little breast milk as eye drops can go a long way in curing pink eye in babies. It would make sense that it potentially could, given that breast milk contains many protective immune components. So, does it?
Can Breast Milk Help Pink Eye?
Research seeking to prove such claims is inconclusive, but generally points to breast milk not being a significantly better treatment for pink eye in babies than traditional medication treatments.
Studies indicate that some kinds of breast milk (colostrum, as opposed to mature milk) can be effective on some kinds of eye infections (specific bacteria, as opposed to viruses). None of these studies, however, have been particularly rigorous — some have had small sample sizes, for example, and some have been performed in Petri dishes instead of with babies.
One of the best studies to date, published in 2021, compared breast milk eye drops with typical eye medication for treating pink eye in babies. They tested how the two compared in improving symptoms in more than 300 babies with eye discharge and found that the there was not a significant difference between the two.
This suggests that breast milk could be used for pink eye in babies less than 6 months of age — but wait! A couple of non-affiliated researchers published a commentary alongside that study challenging its methods and contending that it doesn’t support breast milk for pink eye in babies.
One thing most doctors seem to agree on: Breast milk probably won’t do any harm to a baby’s eyes, or yours if you catch the kid’s pink eye — which is scarily likely. Most simple cases clear up on their own within 10 days or so.
The not-so-simple cases, though, can get ugly. Doctors agree on that, too, and that you shouldn’t hesitate to call them for some non-breast milk assistance.
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