Chinese Medicine and Breast Milk Production
Often I meet new mothers who tell me that they would have liked to breastfeed their babies but they just weren’t making enough milk. Hearing this makes my heart drop, because being a nursing mother I know the feeling of worry that you are not able to nourish your child and I wouldn’t wish that terrible feeling on anybody. Often these women do not have a support system to encourage them to keep trying, which is so important because things can turn around within a day or two. Boosting a milk supply in the early days or weeks can make make all the difference in the world and lead to months or years of bonding and nutrition that otherwise would not have occurred. I highly recommend La Leche League to anyone seeking support for any breastfeeding issues; it is an amazing (and free) community resource. For the women who feel like they have tried everything: seen lactation consultants, checked for tongue-tie, tried teas, fenugreek, brewer’s yeast, lactation cookies, and they are still not producing enough milk – there is still hope!
Acupuncture has been proven through clinical trials to increase prolactin levels in the body. The World Health Organization says the following regarding acupuncture and lactation:
Acupuncture stimulates milk secretion after childbirth and can be used to treat deficient lactation due to mental lability or depression. It has been observed that acupuncture elevates the blood prolactin level in women with deficient milk secretion after childbirth; in the majority of cases, lactation starts as the blood prolactin level increases. The clinical use of acupuncture to promote lactation has also been demonstrated in a randomized controlled study.
It can be difficult for a new mom to find the time to get acupuncture treatments away from their child. With this is mind, I like to offer moms the opportunity to “wear” their baby during treatments. This can be done lying, sitting, or even walking around if need be!
Chinese medicine takes multiple things into account when treating what we call “insufficient lactation” so the treatment is not the same for all women. For example low milk supply and fatigue are treated with different acupuncture points and herbs then slow let down and anxiety. For the best approach, you should seek a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist who practices Traditional Chinese Medicine. The acupuncturist will do a complete assessment of your well-being taking into account other things that might be going on such as mental state, digestive issues or a multitude of other symptoms. By understanding what’s going on in your body as a whole, the acupuncturist can determine the best course of treatment for you.
Classically it was said that breast milk was an extension of the blood, so in order to boost your milk it is important to nourish your blood. This makes sense from a biomedical standpoint because you are giving the child the nutrients in your bloodstream and this is why nursing mothers are often low in iron (and why you are encouraged to keep taking prenatal vitamins). So here are some dietary tips for nourishing your blood (and these are also great for women during and just after their menstrual cycles):
- Bone broth soup: this is basic stock made from the bones of an animal (not from a box). Make sure to add a tablespoon of vinegar or some lemon juice to get the most from the nutrients in the bones.
- Grains: barley, oats, bran
- Vegetables: dark leafy greens ( think of chlorophyll as the blood of the plant that will help to nourish your blood), artichoke, beets, mushroom, cabbage, celery, dark leafy greens, kale, chard, broccoli, carrots, kelp, spinach, wheatgrass
- Fruits: apple, apricot, avocado, cherry, date, fig, red grapes
- Beans: black, kidney
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, black sesame
- Fish: mussel, oyster, sardine, tuna
- Meat: all red meat especially bone marrow and liver, chicken
Here are some acupressure points that can be helpful:
Zhang, Xiaorui. “ACUPUNCTURE: REVIEW AND ANALYSIS OF REPORTS ON CONTROLLED CLINICAL TRIALS.” (n.d.): n. pag. World Health Organization. Web. 16 Jan. 2016. <http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/pdf/s4926e/s4926e.pdf>.