Obviously an infant with conjunctivitis needs to be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Also consult your doctor if symptoms persist as untreated as reoccurring eye infections can cause damage to the eye.
Before I talk about breast milk, I’ll quickly go over the different causes of common eye infections…
Viral conjunctivitis usually presents as an excessive watery discharge. Viral conjunctivitis will normally take a week or two to clear up on its own.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is when you see the more pussy discharge and the white of the eye may also be red. It is recommended that this type of conjunctivitis is treated and when it is treated it should clear up in 1 to 3 days.
Allergic conjunctivitis is seasonal and is mostly experienced in spring. Symptoms include itching, redness and swelling. This can be managed by ensuring your hands are clean when you touch your eyes, avoid rubbing your eyes, and rinse your eyes with a saline solution regularly (or breast milk if you have some handy!!).
The wonderful power of breast milk…
Apart from being kinder to sensitive eyes, each drop of your breast milk contains millions of infection-fighting white blood cells and natural antibacterial substances called antibodies. One particular antibody found in tears, Immunoglobulin A or IgA, is also found in breast milk. (I’m sure there would be other common antibodies but this seems to be the one the literature concentrates on). Breast milk is sterile and ready to treat any number of ailments, including your babys eye infection.
So this is what you need to do. Wash your hands and squirt a couple of drops of milk onto your finger, or, if you’re a good aim, you can squirt directly into the babys eye. I did try this method but ended up with milk going everywhere over my daughters’ face, so on the finger was good for me!! Drop the milk into the nasal corner (that’s the one next to the nose!) of your babys eye each time you breastfeed. If your baby closes her eyes then gently lift the eye lid to allow the milk to seep in.
The information I have found shows that breast milk is most effective in treating bacterial conjunctivitis as it helps stop the bacteria taking hold of the surface of the eyelid, therefore limiting bacterial growth. Also you really can do no harm by putting breast milk in your infants’ eyes; in fact doing so may even prevent bacterial eye infections, although the limited research done to date does not show this.
More technical stuff…
If you want to get really technical the IgA antibody is water soluble. It is present in colostrum and will be more prevalent in the foremilk rather than the hindmilk. So if you are solely using breast milk to treat conjunctivitis then I would suggest using the “squirt first, feed next” system, since your foremilk has a higher water content. But this may be going just a little over the top.
There has only been one study done using breast milk to treat eye infections and it was not very well controlled and therefore the results were inconclusive. There have been no clinical trials or follow up studies of children who have been treated for eye infections with breast milk to see a comparison of the prevalence of eye infections throughout childhood.
Written by Helen La Fontaine
Founder – Top Secret Maternity
Bachelor of Applied Science – Food Science and Nutrition | Master of Public Health