Written by Ani Lipitz
Many, many myths about the magical powers of breast milk have made their way into the mainstream in recent years. The general public’s poor understanding of how passive immunity works has done much to fuel this “magic milk” furor. Mistaken beliefs about breast milk’s medicinal value run the gamut from innocuous (that it prevents allergies – it doesn’t) to the weird (that it e
nhances grown men’s athletic performance – it doesn’t) to the downright dangerous — that it can treat infections and other medical conditions in lieu of medication and other doctor-prescribed interventions. It cannot.
My oldest son was born with an obstructed tear duct, a relatively common and harmless condition that usually resolves on its own within the first few months of life. When he reached the age of 15 months and his tear duct still hadn’t opened, we were faced with the prospect of having to have it surgically opened. Although the procedure is quick and simple, I was nervous about putting my son under general anesthesia, and turned to the armchair experts of Google for alternative solutions. The one that turned up the most hits was, “Squirt some breast milk in his eye!” I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how breast milk could help open a membrane, but I thought, “Eh, it can’t hurt!”
I was wrong.
I expressed some milk into my son’s eye before bed, and went to sleep hoping he’d wake up with his problem solved. Instead, the next morning, his eyelid was so swollen that he couldn’t open it. We rushed him to his pediatrician, who had never seen such an infection before. The diagnosis was peri-orbital cellulitis, caused by bacteria in my breast milk, and he was put on a strong course of Augmentin.
Thankfully, the infection didn’t spread to the eye itself. We were blessed in that regard, as an eye infection of that magnitude can be disastrous. But the guilt and shame I felt for having put my son in danger by falling for the “magic milk” trope stayed with me for a very long time.
As a lactation counselor, I’m asked all the time about the immunological and “medicinal” benefits of breast milk. Busting these harmful myths is one of the most important parts of what I do. Breast milk is a great food for babies, and that is it. It doesn’t have to be magical to be wonderful.
Ani Lipitz is the ridiculously blessed mom of two hilarious and adorable little boys. She’s in the unique (and sometimes insane) position of being a working mother and a SAHM at the same time, working primarily from home in an operations position for a large university in New York. She holds a B.A. from Ithaca College, an M.S. from Binghamton University, and is a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC). Empowering mothers to be their best and healthiest selves is her biggest passion! Empowered women build healthy families, and healthy families create a healthy society. She is committed to a truly evidence-based approach to parenting, even (and especially) when that means having to critically examine deep-seated feelings and beliefs. Other interests include drinking lots of coffee, writing short fiction and personal essay, and studying Jewish law and philosophy.