It is recommended by The World Health Organization (WHO) that infants are exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of life. Breast-feeding should begin within one hour of birth; typically this will be in the delivery room. Breast-feeding not only provides adequate nutrition for the infant but also provides many health benefits for the mother including; reduced risk of osteoporosis, some cancers, diabetes and weight loss!
Herbal remedies can be used postpartum to support milk supply and wellbeing of the mother. Herbs that increase milk production are termed “galactogouges”. Other herbal actions that are useful during this time are blood tonics, nutritives, uterine tonics and astringents. Herbal remedies with these actions can be very useful for increase milk supply, avoiding hemorrhage and aiding post partum recovery.
Fenugreek is a traditional Ayurveda herb, has been used for centuries to increase milk production. It also has a blood sugar regulating and lipid-lowering effect, so maybe beneficial for women with gestational diabetes in there the last trimester.
Milk Thistle or St Mary’s Thistle is most commonly known for its action of restoring and supporting liver function. Silymarin, the active constituent of the herb has been found to increase milk supply.
Traditionally used for diabetes and as a diuretic, Goats Rue has also been observed to increase milk in goats grazing on the herb. Hence the name Goats Rue! This herb is a good source of chromium, a mineral with blood sugar regulating effects. Caution should be taken when administering this herb to people with diabetes as it can amplify the effect of hypoglycemic medications.
The evidence for fennels ability to promote lactation is lacking. Fennel has a weak oestrogenic effect, which may actually decrease milk supply if taken in high amounts. Fennel when administered to the mother of a colicy or gassy baby can reduce digestive upset though its carminative action.
*Be cautious of fennel allergy
It’s carminative effect attributed to its essential oils, is effective at reducing spasms and flatulence in babies. It is best administer though the mother.
Rich in vitamins and minerals, nettle leaf is often given as a nutritional supplement. Ferritin levels drop in that late stages of pregnancy and blood loss post partum can leave the mother depleted. Nettle leaf tea when drank along with iron supplements can enhance absorption. Nettle leaf tea can be administered from around week 24 of pregnancy to support ferritin and hemoglobin levels.
Raspberry Leaf is a commonly used herb in pregnancy, due to its action as a partus preportator, ensuring health uterine function at childbirth. Raspberry leaf has astringent properties and may be helpful in reducing uterine bleeding and preventing prolapse post partum. Despite it long history of use for preparing women for labour, I actually do recommend its use before birth. A systemic review " Herbal Medicinal Product Use During Pregnancy and the Postnatal Period" found that women who took raspberry leaf were more likely to end up having a caesarean delivery.
All herbal medicines should be taken under the supervision of a registered herbalist or other health care practitioner. Always be cautious of the over use of galactogouges as an over supply is milk can lead to mastitis. It is important to consider other factors that can result in reduced milk production such as stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, dehydration and poor attachment before implementing any of these herbal medicines.
Lactation Tea Recipe
2-teaspoons organic dried nettle leaves
1-teaspoon organic dried milk thistle seeds
1-tablespoon organic dried peppermint leaves (for taste)
Add all dried herbs to a large teapot or coffee plunger. Brew with lid on for 5 minutes and enjoy. Makes roughly 6 cups.
I also highly recommend the Weldea Nursing Tea for improving milk production.