August is National Breastfeeding Month!
In this article, we will talk about what Chinese medicine can do to help lactating mothers.
Breastfeeding or not is an entirely personal choice. Babies who grow up on formula are also very happy and healthy! However, there are many benefits for both mom and baby. Sometimes, you want to breastfeed but run into some obstacles. Do not despair! Chinese medicine can help.
Infant Benefits to Breastfeeding Include:
fewer hospitalizations from illness
Reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and infant mortality
Reduced incidence of clinical asthma, dermatitis, and eczema
Reduced chance of developing Celiac Disease
Reduction in risk of childhood inflammatory bowel disease
Reduced rates of obesity
Reduced rates of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus
Protection against childhood leukemia
Maternal Benefits to Breastfeeding Include:
Decreased postpartum blood loss
Rapid involution of the uterus (return of uterus back to pre-pregnancy size)
Decreased rate of postpartum depression
Bonding between mother and child
Protection against: high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast, and ovarian cancers.
If baby has a hard time latching, staying on the breast, or if you don't know how to breastfeed or how often, a lactation consultant can help. They can come to you or see you while you’re still in the hospital. If necessary they can work with you for weeks or months, but sometimes just 1 or 2 visits is all that’s needed.
I usually recommend lactation consultants who are IBCLCs. If you need a recommendation you can ask your OBGYN, midwife, doula, or you can search online. La Leche League is another great resource to get breastfeeding support from other mothers, either online or locally.
Foods and supplements for improving milk supply
A lactating mother must first and foremost nourish herself! You have just gone through childbirth, and your body needs replenishing.
meat and eggs (both contain a lot of B vitamins and iron)
beans and legumes
nuts & seeds
dark leafy greens
fennel & fenugreek
Chinese dates and goji berries
In general, it’s recommended you eat frequently (every few hours) and I recommend eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods. It’s also generally best to keep taking your prenatal vitamin, unless you’re instructed otherwise by your doctor.
Chinese medicine for breastfeeding mothers
In TCM, there are two categories of lactation disorders, namely low milk supply and poor milk flow.
In the Jing Yue Quan Shu it says, “Women’s breast milk is transformed from the blood and qi of the Chong and Ren meridians. When it flows down, it becomes the menstruation. When it flows up, this is the breast milk.”
Low Milk Supply : deficiency
Low milk supply is due to insufficient Qi and blood supply of the mother, and is related to her body constitution. Drinking lots of water, getting sleep whenever possible and help around the house all would help replenish her Qi and blood supply.
Following a postpartum diet as described above can help feel nourished and replenished.
Culinary herbs and herbal teas that can help promote lactation are:
Whenever necessary, your acupuncturist can also prescribe some Chinese herbal formulas including the following medicinals:
For mom's physical recovery:
Ginseng 人参, Huangqi 黄芪, Danggui 当归, Heshouwu 何首乌, Shudi 熟地, GouJizi 枸杞子, Sangjisheng 桑寄生, Duzhong 杜仲
Stimulate milk production:
Dangshen 党参, Jiegeng 桔梗, Tongcao 通草, Wangbuliuxing 王不留行, Loulu 漏芦, Lulutong 路路通
Poor milk flow due to stagnation (mastitis)
Stagnation of milk prevents milk from moving down the ducts and out of the nipple, causing poor milk flow. This is often due to stagnation of Qi, and leads to breast fullness, distention, pain and engorgement. Over time, inflammation worsen if the flow isn't restored.
Emotions such as stress, anger, resentment, frustration and depression are potential causes of the blockage. These can be alleviated with Chinese herbs and acupuncture treatments that target areas causing emotional tension and stress.
It is best to complement Western medicine with TCM when treating mastitis, as inflammation can quickly lead to infection if not treated. While antibiotics clear up the infection, Chinese herbs or acupuncture can alleviate the blocked Qi, blood and milk in the breast.
Herbal formulas can be taken safely with anti-biotics and are also safe for breastfeeding infants.
Medicinals that improve milk flow and relieve mastitis:
Qingpi 青皮, Juluo 橘络, Sigualuo 丝瓜络, Jili 蒺藜, Pugongying 蒲公英, Jinyinhua 金银花, Lianqiao 连翘, Mangxiao 芒硝, Muli 牡蛎, Zaojiaoci 皂角刺, Chishao 赤芍
Acupuncture & acupressure for milk flow
Studies are showing that acupressure is effective in improving milk production (read)
肩井GB 21: Milk Let-Down
Located at the midpoint between your neck and the tip of your shoulder, on the top fleshy part of the trapezius muscle (see picture below).
This point helps to strongly circulate blood, energy and all fluids, and also releases tension or “stuck-ness”. For a lactating mom, this is a great point for milk let-down.
Ask someone to apply pressure to this point for about 3 minutes before starting a feeding, and if it feels good and seems to be effective, continue during the feeding. This point is also wonderful for releasing upper back and neck tension.
The person assisting you can stimulate it using their thumb, knuckles, elbow or forearms.
CV17, 膻中 : Open up the Center of the Chest
This point is located directly in the center of the chest, between the breasts, at the level of the 4th intercostal space
Pressure on CV17 gently stimulates qi in the chest.
This point might feel good when you press on it, but it might also feel tender. If this is the case, start slow, perhaps using a warm compress. As you feel the point releasing, you can apply more pressure.
Small Intestine 1 少泽: a master point for lactation
This point is located on your little finger, right out of the base of your finger nail.
It is commonly used for swelling of the breasts and low milk supply.
Massage it in a slow circular motion, controlling the level of pressure to what feels comfortable for you.
And always remember, talk to your acupuncturist !
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