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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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.

Losing Weight

I am frequently asked for advice about losing weight. There are many herbal weight loss products on the market, most of which are designed to speed up the metabolism and burn energy faster, containing herbs such as guarana and ginseng, or possibly even caffeine. Guarana and ginseng are generally safe herbs that have a gently stimulating effect and are preferable to caffeine. They may help you to feel more energetic and inclined to exercise. If these products are well designed, of good quality and used in combination with diet and exercise, they can help but it is often a short term solution as far as weight loss is concerned, and they are not suitable for everyone. Their stimulating effects may be aggravating to conditions such as heart arrythmias or an overactive thyroid and they are not recommended while breastfeeding.

Some natural supplements, such as acai berry, are popular and have much anecdotal evidence (i.e. people have said it worked for them) but there is little research yet to back up claims or to explain mechanism of action.

An alternative approach is to focus on detoxification, through the use of liver herbs and colon cleansers. Milk thistle is a popular herbal remedy that acts on the liver. It is a liver cleanser, but also it encourages the regrowth of healthy liver cells. One of the liver’s many tasks is to cleanse the blood of toxins. If toxins remain in the blood the body may bind them up in fat cells to protect the vital organs from damage. This makes it difficult to lose weight or may be a reason for putting weight back on after losing it, as the fat cells are needed to store the toxins that are not being removed. Other liver cleansing herbs include dandelion root and globe artichoke.

Detoxifying herbs often have a bitter taste. This taste activates a nerve reflex that stimulates digestive processes such as peristalsis (the wave of muscle contraction that keeps food and waste moving through the digestive tract at a healthy speed). Bitter herbs can help to relieve constipation and this is an important factor in detoxification. They also encourage the release of digestive enzymes and bile that are needed for proper digestion of nutrients and breakdown of fats. Liquorice is a bitter herb with a laxative effect. It is good for people with adrenal exhaustion as it is an adrenal tonic but if taken in excess it can cause sodium retention, which leads to fluid retention, so it is not recommended for those with high blood pressure, unless taken in the form deglycyrrhized liquorice or DGL, which does not have this side effect. Senna is popularly used as a laxative or colon cleansing herb and is particularly helpful for those with stubborn constipation, but it can be quite strong acting and in some people may cause griping. It is best used in a short term detox course to avoid the bowels becoming dependent on it. Another bitter herb used in colon cleansing is aloe vera, which is also healing to the tissues lining the digestive system and can help relieve acid reflux (heartburn).

Probiotics, our friendly gut bacteria, help to keep bowels healthy and enable us to get the most nutrients from our food, to keep the metabolism working at its best. When buying probiotics check that the label says they are guaranteed to survive stomach acid. The probiotics in yogurt and yogurt drinks do not always survive past the stomach, although the yogurt does help to create the right environment in the gut to encourage the growth of your own bacteria. Probiotics are included in some colon cleanse products.

These different approaches may be combined together for best effect, alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle. It is important to be frequently active throughout the day. This does not have to be high intensity exercise, but frequent gentle activity and avoiding extended periods of sitting can help to stabilize blood sugar and keep the muscles burning fat. If you have a sedentary occupation, even pacing around the room when you have the opportunity can make a difference.