As a new mom, I often worried about the safety of the products I used on my babies. Soap, in particular, was a big concern, especially after my children developed dry and bumpy skin patches on their chests and arms called keratosis pilaris. In my search for gentle, all-natural bathing products, I came across a recipe for soap made out of breast milk. But with my already limited milk supply, I had to wonder, is making breast milk soap a bad idea? I'd had a difficult time nursing my babies, almost always having to supplement with formula, so there was no way I would consider using the precious drops it took me hours to express for soap.
There were a couple of ladies in the local mom's groups and on parenting message boards selling soaps they made from their own breast milk. But, personally, I was too skeeved-out by the thought of using what was essentially someone else's bodily fluid on my child. Michelle Maffei from All Parenting agreed, warning that "unless you are using your own breast milk or are getting the milk from someone you trust, the person supplying milk could be in poor health and passing on impurities or disease like strep or staph."
Maureen Groer, a professor in the College of Nursing at the University of South Florida told the Tampa Bay Times that an unknown donor's "milk could also have traces of illegal or prescription drugs taken by the mother." The FDA does not regulate the sale of breast milk or breast milk products, nor is it involved in establishing guidelines or state standards for the screening of breast milk at local milk banks. Exposing your baby to a stranger's breast milk, even milk that has allegedly been screened, can come with health risks.
Even so, many moms still swear by the healing effects of breast milk and their arguments are compelling. They are using breast milk to treat diaper rash, cradle cap, and eczema. There are even salons offering breast milk facials! Breast milk contains lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid also found in coconut oil. Josh Axe, a certified doctor of natural medicine, wrotes that "the strong bactericidal properties of lauric acid can be used to effectively and naturally treat acne." If I'd had my own supply of excess breast milk back in my lactating days, I might have been all up in this.
However, when it comes to transforming breast milk into soap, there is another issue. Because some ingredients used in making soap, such as lye, can raise the temperature of the milk, you don't really know how much of the healthy milk components are still left in the finished product. The Daily Meal reports that doctors in China believe that the soap-making process destroys the nutrients in the mother's milk, leaving you with regular soap.
Does breast milk have topical health benefits? The signs point to yes. But, altering its composition, or using breast milk from a stranger, can have limited advantages — and maybe even a whole lot of risk.