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
Dill
Fennel seed
Cinnamon
Garlic
Borage
Vervain
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.

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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.