Most women begin their motherhood journey wanting to breastfeed their baby but it's not always an easy journey. While breastmilk is the most nutritious choice for your baby and offers many health benefits, issues with feeding, lifestyle considerations and medical conditions all impact your decision to formula feed or breastfeed.
Today on the HQ blog we talk about three of the main challenges you might experience on your breastfeeding journey - low supply, engorgement and mastitis. We give you some great tips on what to do if you encounter these 'bumps' along the way.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has a long history of supporting women with breastfeeding. In TCM lactation 'problems' are classed into two main issues: low milk supply or milk not flowing properly.
1. Low Milk Supply
When a woman is pregnant her menstrual cycle stops and blood nourishes the lining of the uterus making a nutritious home in which to grow her baby. Once a baby is born the blood that was nourishing the placenta is transformed into breastmilk. Blood and vital energy (Qi) form the basis for breastmilk.
Blood loss during labour, a history of anaemia or not enough recovery time postpartum can contribute to low milk supply. This combined with exhaustion and sleep deprivation means that there is not enough energy or ‘Q’i to produce breastmilk.
To help boost milk supply in Chinese Medicine we ‘nourish the blood and replenish Qi’. In other words we recommend foods and herbs to support hormone health, boost Iron and help fight fatigue. Nutrition is an important tool to replenish lost nutrients and build up Qi and Blood. Foods rich in Iron, Magnesium and B vitamins will help to nourish the blood, fight fatigue, support hormone regulation and a healthy milk supply. Try good quality organic or free range protein such as red meats, fish, eggs, and collagen-rich soups made from ham-hocks or chicken with the skin included in the soup stock. Lot's of leafy greens will also help you get the nutrients you need. If you are vegetarian or vegan it’s important to get lots of good quality protein in your diet, think tofu, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses.
Herbs such as fenugreek, tian men dong, shatavari, fennel seed and milk thistle can all help to increase milk supply. It is important to only use high quality herbs from a reputable source in a standardised dose. If in doubt consult a qualified health professional.
For foods to help boost your milk supply, check out our blog on How to Increase My Milk Supply - 6 Top Foods.
2. Milk Not Flowing
In Chinese Medicine, energy or Qi flows around the body in ‘channels’ called meridians. The liver channel runs through our breasts and our nipples and is responsible for keeping energy flowing around our body, detoxifying and replenishing blood . When this becomes ‘blocked’ it can prevent milk from flowing, impacting the ducts in the breast and impairing the let-down reflex . Stagnation of Qi can lead to breast distension, pain, fullness, engorgement and mastitis.
In TCM, stagnation or a blockage is due to emotions. In particular Liver Qi becomes blocked when we are stressed, angry, resentful or frustrated. Many of these feeling can be common for new mums. We know that stress increases levels of your 'stress hormone' cortisol which can reduce your milk supply.
Massage and acupressure can all help to move a blockage and keep milk flowing. Reducing stress and manage emotions will also help - hard as a mum we know! Try practising some mindfulness meditation, you only need 10 mins a day and research tells us it’s a great way to reduce stress. Try apps like smiling minds and headspace.
A great acupuncture point you can massage yourself that can help with low milk supply and milk flow is called Small Intestine 1. You can find this point on the outside edge of your little finger, just at the corner of your nail. See pic below. Try massaging this point throughout the day to help with your milk supply.
In Chinese medicine mastitis is seen as a stagnation of Qi, blood and milk combined with an infection. It's a painful inflammation of the breast due to blocked milk ducts and can require antibiotics to clear. Natural treatments combined with antibiotics can help fight infection to relieve engorgement and soothe the pain. Try these suggestions below:
Keep feeding your little one. This will help to clear your milk ducts. Use hot showers or hot compresses 15-20 minutes before feeding and massage your breast to encourage the flow of milk. After feeding use a cold coppress to help soothe any pain or swelling.
Try a turmeric compress. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. A study in 2014 found that applying turmeric to the skin reduced the pain and redness associated with mastitis. A word of warning, turmeric is used as a natural yellow colouring, so it may turn your breast yellow for a while!
Increase your intake of Vitamin C. Vitamin C natural helps to fight infections and boost your immune system.
Take a good quality probiotic with the strands Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus salivarius. These are thought to protect against breast infections and mastitis, great news for breastfeeding mums.
Here at HQ we love to support mums on their breastfeeding journey. Our scientifically formulated Post Birth Vitality and Re-Energise superfood powders contain natural ingredients and nutrients to support a healthy milk supply.
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