Low Milk Supply when Breastfeeding

If your baby is having a growing spurt you may have times when it seems like you can’t satisfy him. If you allow the baby to feed on demand, your supply should increase in a day or two. Also it may be worth checking if the baby is latching on correctly, so that the let-down, or milk-ejection reflex is stimulated. Feeding on demand, being relaxed about it and trusting your body, helps to maintain a good milk supply. If you are experiencing problems and think you may have a low milk supply, talk to a breastfeeding counsellor, as the problem can usually be sorted out. If you are going to be away from your baby for a while, and are unable to feed as usual, expressing milk will help to keep your supply going. If the above measures are not sufficient, or if you wish to breastfeed an adopted baby, or are restarting lactation the following suggestions may help, along with frequent feeding and expressing.

The first and most important thing is to make sure you are drinking enough water. The average person loses one litre of water every day through urine, sweat, breathing etc. Giving birth and breastfeeding take even more. Drinking adequate water can make a significant difference to how you feel as well as helping to maintain a good milk supply. Dehydration can make you feel tired and irritable. Water is the best thing to rehydrate you properly, rather than tea and coffee. However in her book “Mother Food” (2004) Hilary Jacobson says that drinking too much water can reduce the milk supply. She advises mothers to “drink to thirst”. Studies have shown that drinking a little above or below your thirst doesn’t affect milk supply, but drinking far above thirst levels causes a drop in milk supply. I think the important thing is to be aware of your thirst and not to forget to drink or confuse thirst with hunger. Coconut water is naturally isotonic, which means it contains mineral salts needed by the body that can be low when dehydrated.

Some herbs can help to increase your milk flow. Herbs with this action are known as galactagogues. They also benefit your health in a variety of ways. Herb teas of raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus), nettle (Urtica dioica), borage (Borago officinalis) and dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale) provide essential nutrients, especially minerals, such as calcium or iron. Raspberry leaf, vervain (Verbena officinalis) and borage are relaxing and strengthening to the nervous system. Some galactagogue herbs have a beneficial action on the liver, for example, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) , holy thistle (Cnicus benedictus) and vervain.
Sometimes after a difficult birth, if the mum is particularly exhausted and run down, or separated from her baby, it can be difficult to establish or maintain a good milk supply. Feeling tense and anxious may inhibit the let-down reflex. Relaxing and nourishing herbs can help in these situations. Green oat tincture is nourishing and supportive to the nervous system.

The following is a list of common herbs to use, that are generally easy to obtain (you may have some in your kitchen cupboard or garden!) These can be taken as teas, tablets, capsules, tinctures or used in cooking. Tinctures are strong and are quickly and well absorbed by the body but do not extract the mineral content of herbs as well as the other forms.

Raspberry leaf
Caraway seed
Milk thistle
Fennel seed
Celery seed
Fenugreek seed
Dandelion leaf
Fresh coriander leaf

To make fennel seed tea, use one teaspoon seeds per cup of boiling water and leave to infuse for 10-20 minutes. As well as increasing milk flow, it helps to ease after-pains for mums and aids the digestion of both mother and baby. Be aware however that after the first few days of colostrums, when your milk “comes in”, you may have too much milk rather than too little to begin with, until your milk flow adjusts to your baby’s needs.

There are also foods you can include in your diet to help you milk supply and enrich your milk. Whatever your diet is like, unless you are severely malnourished, your milk will be good for your baby, but if you have an unhealthy diet, it is your health that may suffer, as nutrients go to the baby first, in a similar way to when you were pregnant.

Foods to include are:
Oats, barley, beans, pulses, onions, leeks, nuts (avoid peanut due to allergy risk for baby), sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, linseeds, most fruits, watercress, cress, alfalfa, spring onion, quinoa.


Relieving Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a functional condition of the bowel. This means that the bowel does not function as it should but there is no physical damage to the bowel tissue. The muscles of the bowel go into spasm, which can cause pain with constipation or diarrhoea, which may alternate. Stress or certain foods or medications may trigger symptoms. Below are some remedies than can provide relief, alongside a careful diet. Sometimes a combination of treatments is necessary. Adequate water intake is important, as it is needed to form digestive juices and the protective mucus lining of the gut.


A good quality, high strength probiotic product can quickly and significantly reduce the symptoms of IBS and I have known customers who have had lasting relief within days. The best probiotics can be found in capsule or powder form rather than as a yogurt drink. A strength of 20 billion live microorganisms per capsule is ideal for quick results. The best quality probiotic brands, for example Solgar or Optibac, will say on the label that they survive the stomach acid.


Peppermint is antispasmodic, so it relieves the pain caused by muscle spasm in the gut and helps to release trapped wind, which also causes pain. It is available in various forms, including tea, oil, powder, tablets and capsules and of course as fresh leaf straight from the plant. The fresh leaf has a higher level of the beneficial volatile oils than in commercial teas, as the oils evaporate during drying. To minimise loss of oils use the fresh leaf straight after picking, store dried leaf or teabags in an airtight container and brew tea in a covered container to keep the oils from escaping with the steam. Unfortunately many “peppermint” cordials nowadays are made with artificial flavourings, rather than the natural peppermint needed to give the medicinal effect. When buying peppermint oil choose one that says it is intended for consumption rather than an essential oil for external use.  Oils for internal use can be used externally but not vice versa. Peppermint oil is very strong so literally only one or two drops is needed per cup of warm water.  Tablets and capsules come in various strengths. Some capsules are labelled “enteric coated”. This means they have a capsules shell that does not dissolve in the stomach but further down in the gut so that the oil is released where it is most needed.

Fennel seed

Fennel seed is antispasmodic and is well known for relieving trapped wind. It is related to dill which is traditionally used in gripe water for colic in babies. It can be be taken as a tea, and also used in cooking. The tea can be combined with peppermint or chamomile for improved effect.

Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) and Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)

Cramp bark may be difficult to obtain over the counter but it is worth hunting around for if other remedies have not brought relief. It is an excellent, fast acting remedy for muscle spasm in the smooth muscles of the gut. The womb is also made of smooth muscle, so it can be be used for period pain. It is relaxing as well as being antispasmodic, so is useful for IBS that is triggered by stress. Wild Yam is more commonly known as a hormonal remedy, but it is an excellent digestive remedy also. It is antispasmodic and relieves inflammation in the gut. This can also be used for period pain. Wild Yam and Cramp bark together make a good combination.

Hangover Remedies

Obviously the best cure for a hangover is not to drink too much in the first place! Putting that aside, here are some suggestions for prevention and relief:

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is a popular remedy for hangovers and in liver detox programmes. It protects the liver from damage by toxins and improves liver function. Research has shown that it can aid in the regeneration of liver cells, which can be damaged by excess alcohol consumption. Milk Thistle works best if taken in a course rather than just one dose in the morning. Don’t be tempted to take more than the recommended dosage, this can be dangerous. If only using short term try taking a dose on the morning of going out, a dose when you get home and a dose the next morning.

Siberian Ginseng

Also known as Eleutherococcus, this herbal remedy is excellent for hangover prevention and recovery. It can be taken in the morning but for best effect it can also be taken before going out. As well as reducing the symptoms of a hangover it increases energy levels.

Coconut Water

Coconut water is the juice inside the coconut, and is found in greatest amounts in young green coconuts. It is popular in sport due to being isotonic, that is, it contains high levels of mineral salts that are lost in dehydration. In particular it is very high in potassium.

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)

NAC is an amino acid which detoxifies the liver. It is used in cases of paracetamol poisoning, as well as a hangover treatment. To be most effective it should be taken on an empty stomach.

Mastitis and Breastfeeding Engorgement

Mastitis and engorgement are problems that can occur when breastfeeding. Mastitis is inflammation or infection of the breast, which can follow on from engorgement or a blocked milk duct. Symptoms include a painful breast, redness, a slight fever and feeling unwell and aching as if you have flu. Infection is often present. It is important to speak to a health professional to get a clear diagnosis, as other problems can have similar symptoms. Mastitis needs to be treated, to prevent or get rid of infection. There are herbal treatments you can use to help fight the infection and reduce the symptoms. If symptoms get worse very quickly it is especially important to seek professional advice.

Calendula compress

Calendula officinalis (common name Marigold) can be used to make a strong tea for a compress to relieve engorgement or mastitis. Calendula should not be confused with Tagetes species, also known as French, Mexican or African marigold, which is a different type of plant entirely.
To make the compress, put a handful of marigold petals into a teapot or pan with a lid and pour on about ¾ pint (750 ml) boiling water. Cover with a lid and leave to infuse for 10 to 20 minutes. Strain into a bowl. The tea should still be hot but not too hot to put your hand in. Soak a flannel or cloth in the bowl of tea, remove and squeeze out excess water, then place over your breast. Hold it in place for a few minutes, until it starts to cool, then dip the cloth again and repeat. Do this a few times and you should start to feel some relief. The whole procedure can be repeated several times a day, using freshly made tea and a clean cloth.
Calendula is antibacterial and also antifungal, so it can be used for mastitis and also for thrush. A Calendula compress can be used at the same time as internal treatments such as antibiotics or herbal medicine. Also the heat of the compress is beneficial in itself.
I used this compress when I was breastfeeding and starting to get mastitis and was able to nip it in the bud before it became full blown. If you suspect you may have mastitis this compress can be used straight away until you are able to get professional advice.

Hand and Foot Baths

Herbs such as chamomile, yarrow, eucalyptus or lavender can be used in hand or foot baths to help treat mastitis. They can be prepared as strong teas, in the same way as the Calendula compress above, and poured into a washing up bowl, adding cold water to make the temperature comfortable. Alternatively a couple of drops of essential oil can be added to warm water in the bowl. Essential oils are too strong for close contact with babies, so ensure you wash them off your hands afterwards.

Immune Support

Allicin max is a good quality garlic product that is effective in treating infection. You can also take Biostrath, which is a herbal tonic to support immunity and restore energy.

Rhodiola rosea (Arctic root, Rose root)

Rhodiola is an adaptogen that raises serotonin and dopamine levels. It improves transport of tryptophan and 5HTP, which the body uses to make serotonin, into the brain and also acts as an MAO inhibitor. MAO inhibitors inhibit the breakdown of serotonin and dopamine. Studies have shown that rhodiola can increase serotonin levels in the brain by up to 30%. This means that it has an antidepressant action, lifting mood and reducing fatigue. It can also improve cognitive (mental) function, attention span, memory and alertness. It may help with post-viral recovery. Those who take antidepressants or antipsychotics should seek medical advice before taking rhodiola as they may interact dangerously. Along with eleutherococcus, it has been extensively studied by the Russians in their search for adaptogens to improve performance and endurance, both physical and mental. Rhodiola increases muscle energy both during and after exercise and so improves recovery time. I think of rhodiola as a slightly stimulating antidepressant whereas hypericum (St John’s Wort) is more of a relaxing antidepressant, so a good routine might be to take rhodiola in the morning and hypericum in the evening.

Beat those Biting Bugs

There are various natural options for repelling biting insects such as mosquitoes and midges that can be such a nuisance in summer.

Vitamin B1

In my experience Vitamin B1 is effective for many people at preventing mosquito bites, when taken in a dose of 100mg once or twice a day. This is safe for adults but not for children. It may take up to 2 weeks to have its full effect. It makes the skin unpalatable to the mosquito. Vitamin B1 can be bought on its own or in a B complex supplement.  It is important to maintain the balance between the different B vitamins in the body so vitamin B1 should not be taken on its own long term, especially in high doses, so it is best to limit it to the summer or holiday season, or take in a complex.


Garlic works in a similar way to Vitamin B1 by preventing insects from biting due to its taste.


Neem is an Indian remedy used as a nit treatment and insect repellent. Insects dislike both the smell and the taste of it. It is also beneficial to dry skin, is antibacterial and antifungal.


Citronella is well known as an insect repellent and citronella candles are popular to leave burning out of doors to repel insects. It gives a pleasant lemony scent. It is also sold as a pure essential oil, which should be diluted in a carrier oil before applying to skin.


Eucalyptus oil may be more effective than citronella at repelling insects. It can be combined with citronella in a carrier oil at a dilution of no more than 10 drops combined essential oil per 15ml carrier oil. Keep away from eyes and delicate areas and test on a small patch of skin first in case of sensitivity.

Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita)

There are two sorts of chamomile commonly used medicinally. Chamomilla recutita (previously called Matricaria recutita) or German Chamomile is the one I prefer to use. Chamaemelum nobilis, also called Anthemis nobilis or Roman Chamomile is a little more bitter and is the one traditionally used for chamomile lawns. The flower is the part used. Chamomile is a very versatile remedy with many uses. It is an herb always worth having in your cupboard. Teabags or loose dried flowers should be kept dry and cool, in the dark, preferably in an airtight container, to keep them as fresh as possible, as some of the medicinal properties of chamomile are due to its content of volatile oils, which can easily evaporate if not stored correctly.
Chamomile is generally a safe remedy for adults, babies and children. It has a long history of safe use generally and during pregnancy, is compatible with breastfeeding (Mills and Bone 2005) and is traditionally used for children. There have been no known cases of over dosage, according to Mills and Bone (2005), although dosage should be adjusted for children according to body weight. In my experience excessive doses can cause mild diarrhoea in children. Some people are allergic to it, although this is extremely rare. Allergic reaction is more likely to occur with Roman Chamomile, and in people who are known to be allergic to other members of the Compositae or Asteraceae (Daisy) family of plants.
Chamomile is relaxing to the nervous system and the digestive system. It can help to resolve inflammation and heal skin conditions and ulcers. It can be used to treat allergies and is mildly antimicrobial.
It is frequently my first herb of choice for babies and young children. It can be used for pain, tension and irritability. Traditionally it is used for many problems of babyhood, such as teething, sleep problems, colic and earache, and externally for cradle cap, and is an effective calming remedy for unsettled babies that are fussing and whining.
Chamomile can be used to relieve allergies, such as hay fever, asthma and externally for eczema. To relieve hay fever and asthma symptoms you can take it internally or use a strong tea just for inhaling by placing it in an uncovered bowl in a safe place in the room. If the baby is in a cot, the bowl can be placed under the cot and the vapours will rise so baby can breathe them in. In clinical trials chamomile cream has been found to be effective in treating eczema and dermatitis, comparable to hydrocortisone cream (Mills and Bone 2000). Chamomile is also used to treat wounds and varicose ulcers.
Chamomile is useful in infections. As it is relaxing, it soothes aches and pains and encourages restful sleep. It is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic and is active against bacteria and thrush (McIntyre 1994). Chamomilla recutita also stimulates the immune system by enhancing phagocytosis by 31% (Hoffman 2003). Phagocytosis is a process by which certain white blood cells engulf and destroy infectious micro-organisms.