It can be shocking to learn that there are adults who drink breast milk.
Why do some people drink breast milk beyond infancy? What are the purported health benefits of breast milk for adults? In this article, we discuss all that and why some adults can't seem to get enough.
When do we stop drinking breast milk
On average, babies stop being breastfed at around one year old, but it’s not unusual to continue for longer. Weaning begins at the age of 6 months but according to WHO, children should be breastfed milk up until two years of age, while supplementing with the regular food.
It should be noted that after six months of age, breast milk alone is not enough to meet the nutritional needs of a child, which is why children do not just exclusively feed on breast milk after 6 months.
In western societies, breast milk weaning or even stopping altogether begin as early as 6 months of age, as most babies get their first teeth by then. It probably not a coincidence then that it is also the time when complementary foods are introduced, with the hopes of eventually weaning and switching the child to cows milk.
Health benefits of breast milk for babies
Breastfeeding is extremely essential for infants. In fact, it forms the basic immunity in an infant.
Following are some of the many health benefits of breast milk:
- A breastfed baby is not only getting the correct nutrition but also the antibodies that prevent many infectious diseases in infancy and early childhood.
- Additionally, the health benefits of breast milk for babies include a reduced risk of developing asthma in early childhood. Also, babies who are breastfed are less likely to get eczema later in life.
- Even the longstanding claim that breastfed babies are smarter might not be a myth. Studies identified a positive correlation in those who were breastfed for at least one year and longer with on average 4 extra points on their IQ. With every increase in the length of breastfeeding, there was a slight rise in IQ.
- Moreover, people who are breastfed in infancy are less likely to develop other chronic non-communicable illnesses like diabetes and heart diseases as adults.
So what's that got to do with adults? Why are they trying to drink breast milk?!
Breast Milk For Athletes
The discussion of breast milk for adults is prevalent in online forums claiming that breast milk is good for cancer patients and athletes, but there isn’t any scientific evidence to back it up.
Human Milk Oligosaccharide supplements, which is a probiotic in breast milk, are even available on inking it for the growth hormones like Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) and colostrum, which is said to repair muscles quicker and make recovery time shorter. However, both colostrum and IGF are also present in animal milk and have a similar effect on growing children as growing infants. Additionally, although ignored it needs to be taking into consideration that the benefits of pumped breast milk vs breast milk from will differ fundamentally.
In short, a lot of the purported claims about the health benefits apply the benefits of breast milk for babies to adults. Evolution has modified the breast milk to suit for your infant’s need, and not to support an adult’s health.
Breast Milk Cures Cancer?
No, it does not. So far, breast milk is not a treatment option for cancer, but there is research being conducted on the health benefits of breast milk for cancer patients.
Studies on a protein found in breast milk, alpha-lactalbumin, as a cancer treatment have been underway for the past 30 years. However, these studies are using replicas of alpha-lactalbumin and not the real protein.
Some potential may be there for prevention, but breast milk alone, just like a regular diet rich in antioxidants, cannot treat cancer.
The drug made from the replicate of the protein, HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells), appears to kill tumor cells without harming healthy cells. It induces spontaneous tumor cell deaths and prolongs survival.
It’s essential to keep in mind that HAMLET is not the result of fresh breast milk, but a drug made of a replica of a protein in human breast milk and oleic acid which is a fatty acid.
Can I Drink My Breast Milk If I’m Sick?
Many mothers have asked if they can drink their breast milk if they’re ill, but there isn’t any evidence to back up any claims that it helps.
But logically, it won’t make a difference if you drink your own milk when you are sick.
Breastfeeding entails passing on your antibodies and immunity to your baby. So you won’t gain anything new from your milk, as it’s the antibodies produced in your own body are the antibodies also present in the milk. Ingesting it does not give any new antibodies.
While breast milk won’t ward off your cold, it can otherwise benefit your health in the long run. Moms who breastfeed their children are less likely to get breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease later in life.
Is It Safe For Adults To Buy Breast Milk?
Traditionally, websites selling breast milk were used by mothers to sell breast milk to other new moms who were not lactating. However, today a lot of men are using these sites to score breast milk for the supposed athletic advantage.
Regulated milk banks have drawn a line, and make sure they are only available to parents who intend to feed their child breast milk. This means buyers are left to buy it from unregulated sources.
Bacteria grow really well in milk. Therefore, storage of breast milk at appropriate temperatures, even when you are feeding your own expressed milk to your baby, is extremely essential.
Unpasteurized breast milk runs the risk of being contaminated with food-borne illness. A study into breast milk purchased online found detectable bacteria in 93% of samples, and gram-negative bacteria in 74% of samples. This can be the result of inadequate sanitation and sterilization, as well as improper storage and transport. This risk is not there when it comes to animal milk, because the animal milk available in the market is always pasteurized.
When breast milk is bought from unregulated, unscreened sources there is always the risk that the breast milk bought could be contaminated with diseases such as HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, as those can be passed through the milk. These diseases are screened in breast milk banks before the milk is put up for sale.
Environmental contamination such as tobacco, caffeine, toxins, etc, can enter into milk as well if proper care is not given while processing the milk. This can render the “clean eating” appeal of breast milk useless
The Bottom Line
Although there are many health benefits of breast milk for infants, these don’t hold up for adults who still want to drink breast milk.
Athletes can benefit just as well from other animal milk, at a ratio of 3 grams of carbohydrates to 1 gram of protein after a workout for recovery. In fact, a good quality protein powder might do a better job than human breast milk.
Speaking of cancer, while HAMLET is promising for cancer treatment, drinking breast milk for cancer might not yield the same results.
Considering the associated health hazard, it’s not worth buying unregulated breast milk online for adults as the risks outweigh any potential health benefits.
It cannot be ignored that selling breastmilk online is a business, dubious sellers looking to make money can and will purposely dilute the breast milk with water, cows milk, or soy milk to increase the volume. In this case, there are pretty much no benefits in drinking this milk.