Photograph courtesy of peaceful parenting mom, Vicki B.
With the resurgence of interest in breastfeeding, there is increasing demand for natural remedies for the minor problems that sometimes accompany nursing. These remedies, taken from my book, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, offer simple, safe ways for nursing women and their infants to counter problems and stay healthy. This information has been collected from wise women, old wives, and granny midwives. May you benefit from their wisdom.
Increasing and Maintaining Milk Flow
One of the easiest problems to remedy is lack of sufficient milk. First, it is important to see to it that nursing takes place in a safe, inviting space where both mom and babe can be relaxed. Second, try to include one or more of these herbs and foods that are well known galactagogues, that is, substances that encourage abundant milk.
(1) Nourishing herbs, such as raspberry leaves, nettle, oatstraw, and red clover blossoms
—prepared as strong infusions,* not taken in pills, capsules, tinctures, or teas—not only encourage a plentiful supply of breast milk, they also support the overall health of mother and child. The minerals in these herbs are amazingly abundant, so they counter mineral loss from nursing, and help keep mom calm and alert during those first few weeks of round-the-clock infant care. I don't combine the herbs but use them individually to derive each one’s unique benefit.
*To make an infusion:
~ Place one ounce, by weight, of dried herb in a quart canning jar.
~ Fill to the top with boiling water.
~ Lid tightly and let steep for at least four hours or overnight.
~ Then strain.
~ Drink liquid portion hot, cold, or in between.
~ Refrigerate what you don't consume at once; use within 48 hours. (Water houseplants with old or excess infusion.)
(2) Foods rich in carotenes, such as cooked apricots, asparagus, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and all cooked leafy greens—including kale, collards, mustard greens, beet greens, parsley, watercress, and dandelion leaves—are considered critical for women wishing to increase or sustain lactation. Carotenes are most available when foods are well cooked: tomato sauce has over 2000 times more of them than a fresh tomato. And carotenes are more easily utilized in the body when consumed with plenty of fat. (Olive oil or butter are my favorite fats.)
(3) Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is famed for its ability to increase milk supply. As the tea is very bitter, this herb is best used as a tincture. A dose is 10 - 20 drops, two to four times daily. Blessed thistle is said to lift postpartum depression and relieve suicidal feelings, too.
(4) Borage leaves (Borago officinalis) are highly respected for their ability to increase milk flow. But because they contain compounds that may have a harmful effect on an infant's liver, it is best to drink borage only as a weak tea, and to take it after, rather than before, nursing. Half a cupful of borage leaf tea, made by steeping a spoonful of herbs in a cup of water for a few minutes, taken two or three times a day will ensure an abundant supply of milk, act as a mild laxative, and soothe jangled nerves.
(5) Comfrey roots (Symphytum uplandica x) contain the same liver-damaging compounds sometimes found in borage. But comfrey leaves do not. That's a relief because comfrey leaf infusion is one of the most treasured of all remedies. Use comfrey leaf infusion (*To make an infusion, see above) not only to increase the amount and richness of the breast milk, but also to build strong bones and teeth for mother and child, to improve digestion, to check allergies, and to repair ligaments, muscles, or other tissues traumatized during the birth. I love comfrey leaf infusion and drink it freely.
(6) Fennel/barley water is a tried-and-true classic. Soak one-half cup pearled (regular) barley in three cups cold water overnight, or boil the barley and water for 25 minutes. Strain out barley. (You may save it and add it to a soup.) Store barley water in refrigerator or cool place until needed. Then heat a cup or two to boiling and add fennel seeds—one teaspoon per cup of barley water. Steep for no longer than 30 minutes. This combination not only increases the breast milk but also eases after-pains and settles the digestion of Mom and babe.
(7) Hops (Humulus lupulus) is another old remedy. It is especially for mothers of twins who need lots more milk. Hops tea is a suitable accompaniment to nighttime feedings, as it brings sleep along with increased milk flow. Hops is also used in beer, which tastes better than the tea. No more than one high-quality, additive-free beer, such as Guinness Stout, per day is fine. For those who wish to avoid alcohol, there are alcohol-free brews rich in hops and malt available.
(8) Aromatic seeds, such as anise, cumin, fennel, caraway, coriander, and dill increase milk production and tone the digestive system. Their powers are carried through the breast milk, curtailing colic and indigestion. To brew, simply put a heaping spoonful of dried seeds in a cup and fill to the top with boiling water. Let steep for 5-10 minutes. Drink warm with honey. Up to two quarts a day can be consumed.
(9) Triple Blessing Brew. Combine 1/2 ounce dried blessed thistle leaves with 1/2 ounce dried oatstraw or nettle. Place in a quart jar. Add boiling water until the jar is full. Cap tightly and let steep overnight or for at least four hours. Strain out herbs. Refrigerate liquid until needed. Before nursing, pour off one cupful of the brew and heat it nearly to a boil. Pour it over a teaspoon of anise, cumin, fennel, caraway, coriander, or dill seeds (not a spoonful of each). Let it brew for five minutes before drinking. Blessed thistle stimulates the milk flow and helps restore vitality to weary mothers. Both oatstraw and nettle are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, notably calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The aromatic seeds improve the quality and quantity of milk and ease digestion.
Part One of this article has shown you several ways to increase your milk flow and your milk quality naturally. Making and ingesting the right herbal infusions and tinctures as well as the right seeds and foods likely will lead to a happier, more satiated baby. In Part Two of this article, you will learn numerous simple and safe ways to allay sore breasts, infections, engorgements, and sore nipples while to breastfeeding.
For additional information on galactagogues and increasing milk supply, see Lactation Cookies: Increasing Milk Supply and related articles/sites/books linked at the bottom of the page.
Helpful breastfeeding books, articles, and websites are linked from the Breastfeeding Resources page.
Susun Weed began studying herbal medicine in 1965 while living in Manhattan and pregnant with her daughter, Justine. In addition to authoring several renowned books, Weed's worldwide teaching and training includes information on herbal medicine, ethnobotany, pharmacognosy, psychology of healing, ecoherbalism, nutrition, and women's health issues. Venues that welcome her include medical schools, hospital wellness centers, breast cancer centers, midwifery schools, naturopathic colleges, and shamanic training centers, as well as many conferences.
Visit Weed’s new site, Childbearing Year, dedicated to her excellent book, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, now in its 29th printing, where you can read reviews, excerpts and articles. Wise Woman has helped three generations of women conceive, carry and give birth naturally. Chapters cover herbal fertility agents and herbs for birth control; safe, simple home remedies for the common complaints of pregnancy; alternative medicines for complications of labor and delivery; and effective remedies for the distresses of newborns and new moms. Complete instructions make using this book easy and fun.
Additional information and resources from Susun Weed can also be found at Wise Woman Web and Herbs Healing.