Herbs and Supplements for Breastfeeding

Renée Naturally Qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist & Western Medical Herbalist

World Breastfeeding Week is a global event between 1 – 7th August that aims to celebrate, protect, and promote the act of breastfeeding. Breast milk is a wonderful and really quite miraculous first form of nourishment and protection for babies, with profound health benefits for both baby and mother. However, it’s not always easy (or even possible) for some women to breastfeed. Many women need extra guidance from their midwives, consultations with lactation specialists and for some, additional nutritional support via supplements or herbal medicine.

Before I go on to outline some natural herbs and supplements that can support breastfeeding, please remember that you and your baby are unique. You may be struggling big-time with breastfeeding for a variety of reasons, or perhaps you aren’t even able to breastfeed full-stop. Throughout this week (and beyond) don’t beat yourself up and load on the Mummy-guilt if it hasn’t worked out! Chat with a natural health professional to find out ways to enhance your alternative feeding choices in a way that best suits you and your babies unique needs.

If you are breastfeeding, a good healthy diet for yourself is essential during this time. You can read my guide to a healthy breastfeeding diet here.

As mentioned (and most mother’s, grandmothers and husbands can attest to), the breastfeeding journey doesn’t always run smoothly for all. Traditional herbal medicine can help support breast milk production, reduce the severity of common complaints and also aid in ensuring high nutrition for both mother and baby along the way. In particular, plants that help to stimulate an increase in milk production (galactagogues) are extremely beneficial. Always speak to your midwife or health professional before starting herbal medicine, but as a general guide, these are some herbs and supplements that may be of assistance;

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Fennel supports the stimulation of breast milk production. It has the added benefit of being a carminative plant. This means that the volatile oils in fennel can help to calm the digestive tract, and once ingested by Mum, these properties can help reduce wind for baby.

Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum): Aniseed can help to support the normal flow of breast milk. Again, via the breastmilk, it also helps to reduce and ease griping and wind issues in baby.

Nettle (Urtica dioica): Nettle can help to support milk production and also increases the nutrient quality of breast milk. It has a replenishing tonic effect for Mum and contains iron which is a vital nutrient postpartum.

Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus): Blessed thistle can help to increase milk production, so it’s useful if you have a low milk supply.  It seems to work best when taken in conjunction with fenugreek.

Probiotics: Taking a probiotic supplement is an excellent way to ensure that you have a healthy gut. Good gut health is vital to a strong immune system.

Lecithin: Lecithin can be used by nursing mothers to help prevent blockages in the milk ducts. The lecithin can help decrease the viscosity of the milk, making it easier to pass through the ducts. Soy lecithin can be purchased as a supplement. You can also find good levels of lecithin in eggs, dairy products, beef, and peanuts, as well as various fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin C: If you are eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, you should be getting enough vitamin C for you and baby. However, if you are finding you are getting sick often or have recurrent bouts of mastitis, it may pay to consider a vitamin C supplement.

The following herbs should be avoided when breastfeeding, as they can contribute to a decrease in milk supply; black walnut, sage, yarrow, and peppermint.

While a good diet is vital to both the health of the breastfeeding mother and the quality of breastmilk for baby, sometimes a little more nutritional support is needed to ensure that all bases are covered. This is when a breastfeeding multivitamin can be beneficial. Speak to your health professional or chemist about what vitamin may be right for you.

Important Note: Before introducing any herbal medicines into your diet, please speak to your midwife or a qualified health professional for advice as to what is best suited to you and your specific needs.

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