There are many benefits associated with breastfeeding for both mother and baby, although many mothers can find producing enough breast milk a difficult challenge. While there are wide individual variations, approximately 750mL of breast milk is required per day to exclusively breastfeed a 1-6 month old infant.
Low breast milk supply may occur for many reasons such as preterm or cesarean birth, hormonal changes, namely, oxytocin and prolactin, returning to work, returning to breastfeeding after a break, or excessive weight loss. The postpartum period can be an extremely emotional and challenging time, especially for first time parents. Stress, anxiety, and fatiguecan dramatically reduce milk supply and should be taken into consideration when determining reasons for low supply.
Breast milk production can be increased using several different methods such as psychological support, relaxation techniques and the use of pharmaceutical or herbal galactagogues. In traditional herbal medicine galactagogue are remedies that have been used for thousands of years, all around the world to increase and maintain the production of breast milk.
Fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum), Sweet Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare), Goat’s Rue herb (Galega officinalis), Blessed Thistle herb (Cnictus benedictus), and Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) are used as herbal galactagogues. Many have multiple therapeutic actions that provide double the benefits for both mother and baby. In traditional western herbal medicine Sweet Fennel seed has been used to support symptoms of indigestion, inflammation, and infant colic. While Blessed Thistle herb also acts as a bitter tonic which helps support the digestive system resulting in better assimilation and absorption of nutrients.
In addition to herbal medicine, nutritional intake can help to support adequate breast milk production. Breastfeeding mothers require an additional 450 - 500 calories per day, and may require additional vitamins and minerals depending on their diet and individual nutritional status. As breast milk is a source of energy and nutrients for infants, mothers require a diet higher in proteins, and carbohydrates, and some nutrients such as vitamins A, C, & E, B vitamins, and zinc, when compared to non-breastfeeding women.
Food As Medicine
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) can be considered both a herb and a nutrient, this is because nettle leaves contain proteins, through various essential amino acids, chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and E, as well as iron and calcium.
Nettle leaves can be:
- used as a recplacement for spinach in most meals
- used as a steamed or wilted vegetable
- added to soups, pastas, and omelettes
After being clensed raw nettles can be:
- used to create pesto
- added to dips and sauces
- added to smoothies
In addition to this, fresh or dried nettle leaves can be infused in hot water to make a refreshing herbal tea, or is widely available as a tincture or fluid extract for concentrated drop dosing.
Small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on maintaining breast milk production. Stress, anxiety, and fatigue are all common during the postpartum period, and finding ways to support the nervous system can positively impact breast milk production. Herbs such as Blue Vervain (Verbena officinalis) can help relax the nervous system to relieve stress and tension, especially for nervous exhaustion from prolonged physical exertion. While it’s tempting to drink after pregnancy to help the body relax, alcohol may reduce breast milk production through decreasing oxytocin levels, and it’s best to limit intake if low supply is being experienced.
Support and Community
Having a support network is important. Partners, family, friends and health care providers all play an important role in offering guidance and information to breastfeeding mothers. Some organisations that are available for help are:
Finlandia's own professional strength Lactation Tincture contains many of the herbs discussed in this blog, and has been formulated to increase the quality and quantity of breast milk, encourage the body to relax, and provide extra vitamins and minerals. This formula can be purchased from our online store, or you can call our herbal dispensary if you have any questions on how this product can be suitable for you.
Lesley O’Connor, BHSc is a certified senior herbalist at Finlandia’s own herbal dispensary. Lesley has a special interest in women’s health, especially postpartum care, and believes that all women should have access to emotional, physical and social support during the postnatal period.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Please seek medical advice and treatment in case of illness. If you are pregnant or suffer from any illness, please seek advice f your healthcare provider regarding safe exercise practices.