Anne Salazar RH, (AHG)
Breastfeeding supports the mother and infant bond and when going well, it is the most convenient way to feed an infant. Many practical reasons make breastfeeding the universally preferred method of infant feeding. Health benefits include fortifying the baby’s immunity and promoting the healthy development of the immature infant’s digestive system. Lastly, it is the most economical of all ways to nourish your child.
Most women will be able to produce enough milk naturally without assistance. In most cases, our body's innate instincts kick in and there is little struggle with breastfeeding or suckling. However, it is not uncommon for women to seek support at this time to support this process. Inadequate milk intake by the child or the perception of inadequate milk production by the mom is the most common reason for early stopping of breastfeeding. Inadequate milk intake may be due to insufficient milk production or failure of the infant to extract milk or a combination of these factors. The herbal support I discuss in this article is best geared toward supporting mom in milk production. However, please note support from a lactation specialist may be required if breastfeeding technique/infant latching is a contributing factor.
Lastly, there may be medical reasons why a mother struggles with milk supply, and there can be the issue of an infant’s failure to thrive. Certainly, in these cases, further intervention is required, and sometimes supplementation with formula or donated milk is needed. The good news is that most moms who desire to breastfeed their child can and with supplementation and nutrition, milk supply can be supported and improved.
Nourished Moms as a Starting Point
Whenever I am teaching midwifery students about lactation and herbal/nutritional medicine, I always start with the mother’s health and nutrition status before, during, and post-pregnancy. Getting ahead of this can make a big difference in the postpartum/neonatal experience. Approaching pregnancy with as healthy a start as possible sets the infant-mom pair up for a good experience all the way through the process. Pregnancy requires excellent nutrition (2) and supportive lifestyle habits. Giving birth requires good stores of nutrients and healthy blood. This is immediately followed by another period (breastfeeding) which requires yet more of those stores of energy. So although galactagogues (plant molecules used to induce, maintain, and increase milk production) can be extremely helpful for lactation, it must be always kept in mind that the entire health of the mother has to be taken into consideration.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, blood quality (1) and energy (Qi) are the two most important factors in a healthy lactation experience. These factors can be influenced in multiple ways. Amongst the challenges that can inhibit milk supply and quality are overall depletion, stress, and immunity issues. If a woman’s energetic stores are depleted from pregnancy and birth she will most likely struggle with nursing to some degree. Making sure she is well-nourished and supported during this time will make the birthing and nursing process go more smoothly. If depletion is thought to be the primary cause, my go-to is Mother and Child by Pure Essence (although this really might be appropriate for all new moms) It’s a blend of vitamins, organic SuperFoods, and herb are blended specifically to help recuperate from the rigors of giving birth, support your energy needs during early motherhood (breastfeeding) and to enriches your breast milk with immune enhancing nutrients for the baby.
Nettle leaf is a very useful plant that builds and warms the body, tonifies the pelvis supports blood circulation, and builds the nutritional quality of the milk.
Red Raspberry Leaf is a nutrient-rich plant (8) that is ideal for postpartum recovery. Although not a stand-alone galactagogue, it fits well in a formula due to its ability to normalize uterine and endometrial health quickly. It also enriches the quality of milk.
Red Raspberry Leaf and Nettle leaf are combined in this tea blend which is great for fortifying mom’s pre or post birth.
Malunggay (moringa) is also a great fortifying herb that also happens to be a mild galactagogue so pack a great combo effect. More on moringa below.
Galactagogues and other Herbs that Support Milk Production and Breastfeeding
Blessed Thistle or Milk Thistle Seed (they work very similarly) Increases the volume of milk. It may work by promoting the release of prolactin (the major milk-making hormone (9). Although it can take 30-60 days to work it has a longer-lasting effect. This is why it is excellent to combine with Fenugreek which is a more fast-acting, tasty galactagogue (5), which can also assist with digestion and appetite. Traditionally the whole plant was cooked for lactating women to consume.
Fennel may work to promote milk production by acting as a dopamine receptor antagonist (10). It may have an oxytocic effect (may assist with milk let-downs) and also act as a digestive support for mom and baby (10).
Blessed thistle, Fenugreek, Nettle Leaf, and Fennel seed can all be found in our MoreMilk Plus blend. As always, combining herbs often creates the best outcome! We recommend taking 1 capsule, 4 to 6 times throughout the day.
Another popular herb in the galactagogue category is Malunggay (moringa) which is known as the “miracle tree” and is widely recognized for its nutritional benefits. It has been used for generations to support lactation.You may recognize the name moringa as it is often found in powdered form and is touted as a superfood. Moringa is a nutrient-dense tree that is native to India and the Philippines.
Gram for gram, moringa leaves contain:
- 25x the iron found in spinach
- 15x the potassium of bananas
- 17x the calcium of milk
- 10x the vitamin C of carrots
- 9x the protein of yogurt
- 7x the vitamin C of oranges
Its bright green leaves traditionally have been harvested and prepared in a soup for Filipino nursing mothers to enhance their milk production. Studies have shown that moringa can act as a galactagogue, a natural substance to support lactation, for postpartum mothers, and even mothers of preterm babies (11).
Goat’s rue has been widely used in France since the late 1800s when it was discovered to increase milk production in cows. It has been shown to stimulate mammary gland growth so it may be helpful for mothers with insufficient glandular tissue. It may also have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, and is thought to be the precursor for the popular diabetes drug metformin (12).
If mom has been experiencing stress during her prenatal period and/or birth and postpartum, it will be a challenge to resource her stores of energy for lactation. And if she has physical challenges, due to a weakened/tired immune system, nursing can also be compromised.
Hops assists with milk ejection reflex (aka ‘let down’) and can serve as a nervine, to help relax mom. Hops can not only increase milk flow but also help to bring normal sleep for the infant.
Similarly, Oatstraw is a nervine (7) (that can also serve as a galactagogue) that calms and renews the nervous system. It's appropriate for anyone who has endured long-term stress as it is deeply nourishing and immune boosting.
Holy Basil is an adaptogenic (stress modulating) herb which can help with mental cloudiness, assist with the transition back to work, is restorative, assists in sleep restoration, regulates glycemic issues, regulates cortisol, and regulates inflammation (6). And it can also stimulate breast milk production!
Vervain is a strong female tonic, uterine tonic, and according to midwives a great tea in the birth room for the birth attendants to “bring the team together”.
For a product that really punches it all, fortifying herbs, galactagogues, and nervines, Lactation Blend by Vitanica is a great pick. This very special and unique blend is quite comprehensive and very well formulated. I have seen it work time and again when nothing else was helping.
Other Challenges that pop up - Mastitis and Sore Nipples
One very important challenge that can come up for the tired, stressed new mother is mastitis (inflammation of breast tissue that sometimes involves an infection). This can make or break the nursing relationship if not handled properly. It's important to address this here, as there is some misunderstanding and fear around it. Firstly, mastitis is brought on typically when a new mother is overdoing it, not resting enough, and/or dehydrated. So clearly resting is very important. Pushing too hard is not conducive to recovery and restoration, and can cause the body to be vulnerable. In addition, drinking plenty of good quality water that contains electrolytes is incredibly important. Dehydration can knock a new mom off her feet. If you do find yourself with mastitis there are things you can do to recover more quickly- REST and HYDRATE! Also, there are remedies that can be utilized to speed up recovery. Echinacea taken frequently throughout the day (yes, it's safe) (4), Phytolacca homeopathic remedy in 30 c. doses, hot compresses on the breasts, and breast massage (toward the nipple), and Vitamin C are all very helpful. As with all natural medicines, the earlier you start using these, the quicker the results. And remember to avoid wearing tight or binding clothes or bras.
Another challenge to the nursing relationship can be blistered nipples (which usually happens in the first couple of weeks). There are fine and effective natural products like MotherLove Nipple Cream. You can apply between nursings and use a warm wet cloth to remove any residue right before the next nursing. It's not toxic, but it may flavor things in a way baby might not like.
A Personalized Approach
A custom tea blend (which we can put together for you) might be just the ticket for support on multiple levels. That way herbs for nervous system support, stress mitigation, enrichment of minerals and phytonutrients for overall vitality and health can be utilized for your personal needs (as well as the addition of other helpful galactagogues).
Holy Basil, Oatstraw, Red Rasberry Leaf, and vervain are especially well suited for a lactation-supporting tea as there herbs have a pleasant taste, and the medicinal constituents we love them for are water-soluble.
So while the aforementioned suggestions can be very beneficial, there are times when the larger health picture of the mother needs to be taken into consideration. Consulting with a practitioner would assist in taking in all the specific factors, and allow for a more personalized protocol (including nutrition) for the nursing mom. We are more than happy to assist you on your wonderful journey!!
- Henly SJ, Anderson CM, Avery MD, Hills-Bonczyk SG, Potter S, Duckett LJ. Anemia and insufficient milk in first-time mothers. Birth. 1995 Jun;22(2):86-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-536x.1995.tb00565.x. PMID: 7779228.
- Kominiarek MA, Rajan P. Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016;100(6):1199-1215. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2016.06.004
- anda Baskaran S. Kazmer G.W. Hinckley L. Andrew S.M. Venkitanarayanan K. Antibacterial effect of plant-derived antimicrobials on major mastitis pathogens in vitro.J. Dairy Sci. 2009; 92 (19307623): 1423-1429
- Perri D, Dugoua JJ, Mills E, Koren G. Safety and efficacy of echinacea (Echinacea angustafolia, e. purpurea and e. pallida) during pregnancy and lactation. Can J Clin Pharmacol. 2006 Fall;13(3):e262-7. Epub 2006 Nov 3. PMID: 17085774.
- Ghasemi V, Kheirkhah M, Vahedi M. The effect of herbal tea containing fenugreek seed on the signs of breast milk sufficiency in Iranian girl infants. Iran Red Crescent Med J. August 15, 2015;17(8):e21848. doi: 10.5812/ircmj.21848.
- Cohen MM. Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014;5(4):251-259. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.146554
- Kennedy, David O et al. “Acute and Chronic Effects of Green Oat (Avena sativa) Extract on Cognitive Function and Mood during a Laboratory Stressor in Healthy Adults: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study in Healthy Humans.” Nutrients vol. 12,6 1598. 29 May. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12061598
- Ferlemi AV, Lamari FN. Berry Leaves: An Alternative Source of Bioactive Natural Products of Nutritional and Medicinal Value. Antioxidants (Basel). 2016;5(2):17. Published 2016 Jun 1. doi:10.3390/antiox5020017
- Silymarin BIO-C, an extract from Silybum marianum fruits, induces hyperprolactinemia in intact female rats.
- Foeniculum vulgare Mill: A Review of Its Botany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, Contemporary Application, and Toxicology.
- Experimental study of goat’s rue (Galega Officinalis L.) herb and its liquid extracts