Some people wonder what the deal with herbs for breastfeeding is when this is a natural process which should run its course.
However, they are only partly right. Breastfeeding is a natural process, indeed. However, we are all naturally different.
We also live a much different life than our even our most recent ancestors – different diets, various kinds of work, and different stress levels, all of which can affect breast milk supply.
For example, did you know that “dietary trans fatty acids can lower the fat content of mothers’ milk?” (source) Babies need high-quality fats, and definitely not trans fats, especially for brain development!
Also, after years of breastfeeding being something not talked about, women do not get the chance to understand how to eat and supplement well for nutritious breast milk. After all, we all have muscles.
This does not mean that we are all shaped the same way and are equally strong. Therefore, some mothers may have abundant supplies of milk, others may have less, and there are also those who struggle.
So before putting the kettle on, here are some important things you need to keep in mind.
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DO YOU NEED TO INCREASE YOUR MILK SUPPLY?
It is very hard knowing what to do once your baby arrives. You read and prepare, ask around, and have your mother and mommy friends around you to help.
It is tough to assess something your body is going through for the first time. Moreover, the cues are different for every person.
No wonder many mothers fear the worst and feel they need to increase their milk supply. However, before doing this, they must make sure that this is the case.
“These are additional important signs that indicate your baby is receiving enough milk:
- The baby nurses were frequently averaging at least 8-12 feedings per 24-hour period.
- The baby is allowed to determine the length of the feeding, which may be 10 to 20 minutes per breast or longer.
- The baby’s swallowing sounds are audible as he is breastfeeding.
- The baby should gain at least 4-7 ounces per week after the fourth day of life.
- The baby will be alert and active, appear healthy, have good color, firm skin, and will be growing in length and head circumference.” (source)
Also, before looking for ways to boost milk supply, know that breastfeeding means meeting somewhere in the middle with your baby and trusting your body more. Your little one will become more efficient in feeding, will eat up and empty your milk supply, while your body will instinctively know how much to make.
The best thing to do is to allow your baby to eat as often as possible in the early days. This means more often than the 1.5-2 hour feedings and NO BOTTLES! Your baby sucking at the breast will naturally stimulate milk production. However, if you feel like your baby is sucking all your milk and still feels hungry, then you should consider some lactation supplements.
WHAT ARE LACTATION SUPPLEMENTS?
While most doctors recommend keeping a balanced diet, at times this is not enough because doctors are not heavily trained in nutrition, their advice is not always the best in this department. Many doctors will recommend low-fat diets not taking into consideration how important healthy fats are for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Plus, our modern, Western diet is not the most nutritious and new moms need a deep, immense nutrition to support a new baby through pregnancy and breastfeeding. Chances are, the foods you are eating don’t contain all the vitamins and minerals a breastfeeding mommy needs. This is where supplements come in.
They must be all-natural, as you cannot afford to get any chemicals into the body of your little one. Moreover, this is where information on herbs for breastfeeding comes in handy. Also, some drugs used to increase milk production are strong contributors to postpartum depression. This is a known side effect. On the other hand, many herbs stimulate milk production and soothe depression.
You may have heard the term “galactagogue” get thrown around among people looking for or recommending ways to increase prolactin production.
- Promoting the flow of milk
- An agent that promotes the flow of milk (source)
Such an agent may be a pharmaceutical product or herbal tea. The safest bet is to start with the natural supplements, especially since mothers tend to underestimate their bodies’ capacity to produce enough milk for their babies. This is preferably in the form of teas and other similar concoctions for the preparation of which you get to see and handle the ingredients yourself.
WHAT TYPE OF BREASTFEEDING TEA SHOULD YOU BE DRINKING?
Never jump to the conclusion that any breastfeeding tea will help. In reality, experienced herbalists spend much time learning about each plant, its effects, and its counter-indications. They know how each one should be used and its definite benefits.
Susun Weed is such a person. She is a Master Herbalist who has published several herbal medicine books with a focus on women in their childbearing years. This is the type of person whose expert advice you should trust. Here are some of her recommendations from her site – see sources below.
- INFUSION of red raspberry leaves (Rubus spp.) and Nettle leaves (Urtica Donica), and Oat Straw (Avena sativa L.) – Brewed as a tea or as an infusion, raspberry is the best known, most widely used, and safest of all uterine and pregnancy tonic herbs. The high mineral content assists in milk production, while nettle and oat straw improve the quantity and quality of breast milk. This combination is the mildest, safest, and the first choice of herbs for breastfeeding for many new moms.
- TINCTURE of blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) – in a dose of 10-20 drops, two or four times a day. Blessed thistle is a known galactagogue, and it is also said to lift postpartum depression of various forms. Caution: The herb is very bitter and is the reason why a tincture is better than tea in this case. You also have the option of a BREW made from blessed thistle and oat straw or nettle. You can make this drink once, half and half of each type of herb, and refrigerate it. When you want to drink it, heat it up to the point of boiling and pour it over aromatic seeds (a mix of seeds in a teaspoon, not more). It will also revitalize you, as well as stimulate milk production.
- ALCOHOL-FREE STOUT OR MALT for hops (Humulus Lupulus) – one per day. As strange as beer might seem like a breast milk production incentive, it is naturally made from hops. Keep in mind the fact that hops are such a strong galactagogue that it is recommended to the mothers of twins who need to produce more milk.
- INFUSION of comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandica x) – is ideal for some additional reasons. It improves bone health, it repairs ligaments, muscles, and tissue and it improves digestion. Caution: Use comfrey leaves, not roots. The roots have the strong liver-damaging property borage leaves have.
- A simple BREW of aromatic seeds (anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel) – will also help with digestion and soothe a colicky baby.
- WATER of fennel or barley – soak or boil the barley, then strain out the seeds. Refrigerate. When you need it, heat or boil a cup and add one teaspoon of fennel seeds per cup. Other advantages include relief for after-pains and improvement of digestion.
Other recommendations for herbs include:
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum) – is one of the strongest galactagogues out there. It can be taken as a tea or a tincture, safe consumption being of up to 3500 mg/day. Fenugreek works very fast as well. Caution: Do not consume fenugreek while still pregnant. It causes uterine activity.
- Goat’s Rue (Galega officinalis) – apart from being very helpful in stimulating milk production, this herb also helps develop mammary tissue. It is recommended to the women who have problems in producing milk on account of polycystic ovary syndrome, and it can also be consumed during pregnancy.
You do not need to become an expert herbalist yourself to push through any breastfeeding-related problems. However, you do need the help of a professional in the field.
Although babies thrive on mother love more than anything, know that the most important aspect is to keep calm and do what is best for your little one.
Panicking and comparing yourself to other mothers around is a terrible idea. Take the advice of professionals – lactation consultants and master herbalists – and try it out with patience. There are numerous types of herbs for breastfeeding, and it is important to find the one that works best for you. Always check with your doctor first before adding herbs to your routine.