Breastfeeding nourishes both mother and baby, providing benefits on both the physical and emotional level. For our ancestors this was the primary way mothers chose to feed their offspring. In parts of the world today, this still holds true. Yet despite our long history of putting babe to breast, breastfeeding is not always easy nor does it always happen without any problems arising. For as long as women have been breastfeeding their babies, they have turned towards herbs and foods to support them through the process. Here we will touch on some of the problems and concerns that can arise during breastfeeding and learn about herbal support we can turn to in those situations.
Let’s start off with the most common concern, milk supply. Most women feel worried at some point about whether their baby is getting enough milk. Often the answer is yes, they are getting enough. Either way, it can be beneficial to supplement with herbs that support milk supply from the start, to assist our bodies in milk production. Many of these herbs fall under the category of galactagogues, which are herbs that increase milk supply, although they fit into other categories as well.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum – graecum): This herb is native to the Mediterranean region and the seed is most commonly used. Fenugreek contains phytoestrogens, can help lower blood sugar levels, is highly nutritive, and helps improve our body’s assimilation of nutrients. Fenugreek should not be taken by pregnant women prior to delivery as it can bring on uterine contractions. For breastfeeding women, it is recommended to steep fenugreek seed as tea using 1 tsp of seed per 1 cup of boiling water, steeped for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, try fenugreek seed capsules with a dosage around 1500 mg 3-4 times a day.
Goat’s Rue (Galega officinalis): Is native to Europe and the Middle East and has long been used by women to increase their milk supply. Only the dried leaves of the plant are used as the leaves taken fresh can be toxic. Goat’s Rue is in the same family as Fenugreek and also has the ability to lower blood sugar levels, so consult with your care provider if you are diabetic and on insulin. It is recommended to steep 1-2 tsp of dried leaves per 1 cup of boiling water for 10 mins, you may drink up to three cups a day. Alternatively, use the capsule form in the dosage recommended on the label. Usually around 1 capsule, 2-3 times a day.
Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus): Comes from the Mediterranean and is a popular bitter herb used to aid proper digestion. The aerial parts of the plant are used and prepared as a tea or tincture. It is recommended for breastfeeding mothers to drink a tea blend containing blessed thistle, taken in tincture form at a dose of 20 drops, 3-4 times a day, or in capsule form.
The three herbs mentioned above are some of the most popular breastfeeding herbs. They may be used alone or together in a formula. We have a lot of other herbs that support the production of breast milk which are often used. These include Fennel seed, Alfalfa, Coriander, Shatavari, Moringa and Hops. All of these herbs make great teas and can be used alone or in combinations. Another very important fact to remember for milk production is that a mother who feels safe, secure, and loved, will produce more breastmilk.
Even once a new mom gets the hang of breastfeeding, she is producing plenty of milk, and feeling at ease, other problems can arise. Here is a list of some other common problems that come up during breastfeeding and some herbal allies to help.
Sore Nipples: This is most commonly the result of an improper latch and the mother should seek help from an experienced mother who breastfeeds or lactation consultant. While the latch is getting figured out, Mom can still help relieve her immediate nipple pain. Two great herbs for sore nipples are Calendula (Calendula officinalis) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), used in either a salve or a compress. These herbs may be used together or separate. Herbal salves are made with an oil infused with the plant that has beeswax added to it. Mama would then rub the salve on her nipples regularly throughout the day. I like the use of salves for this purpose because they provide lubrication on the nipple and can help prevent chafing of an already sore area. The three simple ingredients of a salve, herb, oil, and beeswax, are safe for an infant to get their mouth on, but it is best to apply after breastfeeding and not to have excess salve on the nipple before putting babe to breast. Mom can also make a strong herbal tea with these herbs and soak a rag in the tea, then apply the warm, damp rag to the nipple to relieve pain.
Sore Breasts: For soreness that covers the entire breast a warm compress provides great relief. Make a strong tea and then soak a soft cloth in the brew. Wring out the excess liquid and apply to the breast(s) for 10-15 minutes as many times a day as you can. Some great herbs for this are Parsley, Marshmallow root, and Elder blossoms. Along with support from a compress, look to the root of the issue. Often sore breasts are a result of engorgement. If your baby is emptying the breast enough at a feeding, then follow up with a breast pump or hand extracting to relieve the pressure in the breast.
Mastitis: This common and painful breast infection can be an unfortunate symptom of breastfeeding. Moms can help avoid it by keeping their immune system healthy, making sure they are getting as much rest as possible, and drinking plenty of water, along with moving and massaging their breasts regularly to keep the lymph and ducts flowing. If mastitis occurs, the breast becomes inflamed, tender, hot to the touch, milk flow may become blocked, and Mom may feel sick. Moms are encouraged and should still try to feed from the infected breast to keep things flowing. Hot, herbal compresses are important here, along with plenty of rest and TLC. Two great herbs to use externally and internally for mastitis are Echinacea and Calendula. Both of these herbs fight bacterial infections and improve lymphatic circulation. Use both herbs externally in a hot compress and take internally as a tea and/or tincture. To make a tea, steep 1-2 Tbs of herb per 1 cup of boiling water for 10-15 minutes and drink 3-4 cups throughout the day. A tincture dose is 1/2 – 1 tsp, 3-4 times a day.
Another important factor to keep in mind during breastfeeding is to increase overall breast health.
Some great herbs for this are Stinging Nettle, Red Raspberry, Alfalfa, Oatstraw and tops, and Red Clover. All of these herbs are full of vitamins and minerals that keep mama and her breasts in top shape. They help to increase energy levels, boost immune health, and balance hormones after birth. I recommended preparing these herbs as nourishing infusions by steeping ½ – 1 cup of herb per 1 quart of boiling water for 4-6 hours, or overnight. Store in the refrigerator and warm up to drink throughout the day as often as desired.
Breastfeeding is different for every woman and even differs between each baby for the same mama. It may come with some complications, but is most often a truly blissful time between mother and child.
Cheers to the mothers going through the highs and lows of breastfeeding. May this information be useful. May your plant allies support you along your journey.
This tool does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.