Herbal medicine to support breastfeeding
Written by Alana Mulhall
During my pregnancy I’ve been asked so many times, “Are you going to breastfeed?”, like it’s something women can always choose to do. BUT from my clinical experience, I know that breastfeeding isn’t a choice, it is a learnt skill. For some women and bubs, breastfeeding comes easily. For others, breastfeeding can be a challenging journey. My response to anyone that asks is, “I hope I can!”. There is so much pressure on women to breastfeed and at the end of the day the truth is, fed is best.
Why is breastfeeding beneficial?
I am sure we have all heard that breastfeeding is beneficial for both baby and mumma but do you actually know all of the positive health outcomes? Just a few of these health benefits include:
- Reduces risk of allergy and infection
- Supports growth of beneficial bacteria
- Possible reduction in risk of developing chronic health conditions like diabetes mellitus
- Increased levels of oxytocin (our “feel good” hormone!)
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis (a medical conditions which involves weak and thin bones) in postmenopausal period
- Reduced risk of developing ovarian and breast cancers
Common reasons for early breastfeeding cessation:
The world health organisation recommends, when possible, infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and continue to receive breast milk along with nutritionally adequate foods for up to two years or beyond. One of the most common reasons for early cessation of breastfeeding is reports of inadequate milk supply.
Some reasons which can cause inadequate breast milk supply:
- Infrequent milk removal due to poor latch, infrequent feeding, insufficient feeding durations.
- Maternal health complications during/post birth e.g. blood loss, trauma, placenta not removed properly.
- Emotional or psychological stress
- Rapid weight loss
- Certain medications or herbal medicines that inhibit milk supply.
- Possible undiagnosed or unmanaged medical conditions.
Professional lactation support should be the very first step for mothers trying to navigate through breastfeeding challenges. I recommend seeking out a lactation consultant or speaking with your midwife if you are concerned about breastfeeding. Herbal medicine can also be beneficial to support with promoting milk supply.
Herbal medicine to support breastfeeding:
Herbal medicine to support lactation focuses on a group of herbs and foods known as galactagogues. Galactagogues are substances known to promote milk supply in breastfeeding mothers. Herbalists also use nervine tonic herbs in conjunction with galactagogues when stress is a contributing factor to lowering milk supply.
Some herbs that I commonly use in my clinical practice include:
Fenugreek Trigonella foenum-graecum
Fenugreek is one of the most common herbs used to support lactation. Many studies have shown a positive improvement in milk production, but the exact mechanism is still unknown. Some research suggests that fenugreek may be most effective in the first few days postpartum and then after two weeks postpartum.
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
A beautiful herb, which is not only a great option to support milk production but also used to relieve colic and dyspepsia in infants.
Shatavari Asparagus racemosus
Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to support milk supply in nursing mothers. Shatavari has been shown to support prolactin secretion, the key hormone in regulating breastfeeding and milk secretion. Traditionally Shatavari means “she who possesses a hundred husbands”. It was used as a female tonic to improve vitality and increase libido.
Goats Rue Galega officinalis
A herb, which name was formulated from the Greek words “gala” meaning milk and “agein” meaning to drive. Traditionally the leaves of goat’s rue were used fresh in salad or dried and infused. Herbalists often combined Goat’s rue with fenugreek, fennel or aniseed to further support milk stimulating actions.
Please always speak with your naturopath or herbalist before starting herbal medicine as some herbal medicines can interact with medications.
Adequate nutritional intake also supports healthy breast milk production by supporting overall health. At Mothers Mylk our recipes are designed to support optimal health and nourish you in the postpartum period. You can check out our lactation slice video here to use food as medicine.
Other great resources to support breastfeeding include: