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Using Herbs to Boost Your Milk Supply

Posted by Kristin Beckedahl - Naturopath, Childbirth Educator, Doula on

I'm often asked two questions by breastfeeding mums who are looking at my products.

"Which Mama's Milk product is right for me and do they really work?"

So let's break it down.

There are 3 Mama's Milk products within the online store:

  1. Mama's Milk - Breastfeeding Herbal Tea

  2. Mama's Milk - Breastfeeding Herbal Tincture

  3. Mama's Milk - Breastfeeding Herbal Capsules

They all contain herbs with galactagogue properties i.e. herbs that stimulate the production and/or flow of breastmilk.

They also all have herbs within them with digestive calming properties (for baby via the breastmilk). 

In case you were wondering, the word galactagogue hails from the mid 19th century, from Greek gala, galakt- ‘milk’ + agōgos ‘leading.’  Cool, huh?

It's pronounced "ga-lack-ta-gog."

These herbs have a long history of use and are thought to work by increasing prolactin release. Prolactin is a woman’s main breastmilk producing hormone. It's released into the bloodstream in response to the sucking stimulus. 

According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, galactagogues work best 'when breastmilk is being removed frequently and effectively from a mother’s breasts. When all factors contributing to a low supply have been identified and addressed, then galactagogues may help to speed up the process.'

More on this below.


POTENCY

In order of potency, I would list them as:

  1.  Herbal Tincture (most potent of the 3)
  2.  Herbal Capsules
  3.  Herbal Tea (least potent)

1. Herbal tincture

This offers a high-potency, high-absorbency and fast-acting option. As it's a tincture it's an alcohol-based preparation. This also means you don't need to take as much to get the medicinal effects.

Given that only a very small/negligible amount of alcohol is consumed, it remains a very safe and effective way of using herbs. When taken as directed, this tincture is safe for breastfeeding mums.

However, some mums wish to avoid alcohol-based products due to religious or cultural reasons.

Some women also aren't fans of the renown *earthy* herbal taste that is common with tinctures.

I always suggest diluting it with water or juice, i.e take 5ml with 20-30ml water and down it like a shot. The dose is 5ml, 3 x day.

Results may be seen within a few days.


2. Herbal capsules

These are next on potency scale and offer convenience and palatability.

The clear capsules are filled with 100% powdered herbs; no fillers or binders.

The recommended dose is 2 capsules, 3 x day.

Some mums start here because they're not big fans of herbal tea. Or they like the reminder/routine of taking a couple of capsules with each main meal.

Results may also be seen within a few days to a week.

"I had low supply with my first baby and ended up weaning him much earlier than I had hoped. I started the Mama's Milk capsules when my baby was about 6 weeks old. After about 2 days I did notice my breasts felt slightly fuller in between her feeds.
After 4 days, I increased it to 2 capsules three times a day and within 1-2 days I noticed a big difference in my supply! My breasts felt much fuller than when I was on just 2 capsules twice a day. My let down seemed easier and my baby very content after feeding most times on one side only. She is also less fussy at feeds and happy there is plenty of milk there for her. I will definitely keep taking these instead of trying other drugs to increase my supply, as I'd rather take natural remedies first. I'm feeling more relaxed about breastfeeding this time round now! Thank you." Kate

 

3. Herbal tea

This would be the least potent of the three options. This is because it's an infusion made from the herbs, instead of taking the herbs directly.

Herbal tea helps mums keep their fluids up. Plus it's nice to sip on something nourishing and beneficial to your supply during and in between feeding. In those early weeks of establishing your supply - the thirst is real! 

I recommend between 3-5 cups per 24 hours. Some mums make up a big strong batch and have their cups from this. As with all herbal teas, the longer its steeped the more goodness is extracted.

You may drink it warm, cold or ice and add honey and/or lemon to taste if you wish. 

If the tea is helping results are typically seen within a few days up to a week, depending on daily intake.

Some mums use the tea as a starting point to boost their supply and stay here.

Some notice a small change only and then go on to try either the capsules or tincture.

Some mums combine 2 of the products e.g the capsules and the tea, or the tincture and the tea. This is a personal choice and may or may not improve results.


"I bought Mama's Milk Tea and Mama's Milk capsules. Excellent results, more than doubled my milk supply and thus my baby put on the weight needed. Thoroughly recommend." Sarah

 

DO THEY REALLY WORK?

I'm a firm believer that breastmilk supply is holistic. This just means there are multiple factors that effect it.

Sometimes a mum's supply can start off a little behind the eight ball from birth.

This could be mum-baby separation, birth taking an unexpected turn, effects of drugs used in labour on the baby, maternal exhaustion, postpartum haemorrhage, a 'sleepy' baby at the breast, tongue or lip/upper lip ties.

The first port of call is BABY.

I always say "the more they take, the more you make." 

And so much of this 'taking' comes down to their positioning at the breast and their latch.

A baby will empty the breast/s with a tiptop latch. If they are taking all they need, it automatically puts in their order for their next feed. It's a beautifully engineered system.

Perhaps you're dealing with an unhappy baby at the breast. Perhaps they are on and off with their latch so much they don't know whether they're coming or going themselves!

Perhaps your nipples are bearing the raw brunt and are sore, chaffed or even cracked. Perhaps you're concerned about how much milk your baby is getting based on their wet and dirty nappy count. Please, if anything is concerning you - please seek help much sooner than later.

Every feed is an opportunity to work on and eventually master the latch, the detach and overall supply. So the sooner you can seek guidance and/or reassurance with this the better.

You'll often get an array of advice from midwives, lactation consultants, breastfeeding counsellors, doulas, other mums, your mum and even your mother-in-law....

'You should try .... pumping, a nipple shield, spacing feeds, timing feeds, taking them off after 5 minutes/45 minutes, feeding from one side only, switching sides, bottle-feeding expressed milk, topping them up with formula, giving up because you're not making enough milk..."

My advice is to take it all with a smile and "Thanks for that. I'll keep that in mind."

Put it in your bag of tricks and try a few things out and see what works best for you and baby. 

Allow yourself time and release the pressure! I've seen perseverance really pay off but I've also seen mothers worry themselves into a low milk supply from the stress of it alone!

There is no particular time by which you need to have the entire breastfeeding job mastered. Every baby and mother is different.

Some women have a smooth breastfeeding experience with their 1st baby then face challenges with their 2nd, 3rd or 4th. 

So prepare for and accept the hurdles. But know that most things can be worked out with the right support, patience and perseverance. 

As a doula I watched a new mum (<36hrs) try over and over to get her baby to take a good latch. After a short while I suggested one small change to how she had her baby positioned. She changed that then and there and boom - Latch City!

 

The second port of call is MUM.

A mum that is:

  • Well rested
  • Well fed
  • Well hydrated
  • Well supported
  • Well heard and advised...  is likely to have a good milk supply.

Remember, initially the supply and demand relationship itself can take a good 6 weeks to figure out.

Another commonly overlooked and under diagnosed cause of low milk supply is a woman's thyroid function.

I always suggest to mums that have a known (or even suspected) underactive thyroid condition, to ensure this is monitored* and treated accordingly during pregnancy.

Perhaps more importantly is close assessment of thyroid function after the birth. Pregnancy can really tax the thyroid and this can lead to a low milk supply!

*A full assessment means; TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Thyroid Antibodies - not just TSH.

So when the above factors involving baby and mum are addressed then yes, galactagogue herbs can definitely help!

I will be the first to say that they are not the only answer to milk supply issues.

But I will also fly the flag for these herbs as they can definitely be part of the holistic solution.


WHERE DO I START?

Over the years I've found women respond quite differently to the preparations.  

Some mums report the tea makes more of a noticeable difference than the capsules. Some report the tincture was the only thing that really worked. 

Some find their sweet spot with a combo of the tea and the tincture, or the tea and the capsules.

So I usually suggest just starting somewhere and going from there. Give yourself a at least 1-2 weeks. It's important to be consistent with the dosing and frequency.

If you're pumping, you may notice the bottle is fuller than normal. Or perhaps your sweet babe seems satisfied after one full breast. Or the beginning of the feed is less fussy. Or your let-down seems to happen much sooner or may appear stronger. 

Some mums find that once their supply gets a nudge, they can lower their dosing or frequency. Some feel they need to remain on the herbs. 

Remember, nothing in our body works in isolation. We are beautifully complex and intrinsically connected. Even the hormones that drive the let-down reflex are released from our brain, yet are triggered from signals at the breast. 

When in doubt please seek help. Sometimes things may need a little tweak. Sometimes all is well and just the reassurance can make the world of difference to a new mum. And the herbs will alway be here if you need them.

 


"The leaves or seed (of Fennel) boiled in barley water and drank are good for nurses, to increase their milk and make it more wholesome for the child
."

Nicholas Culpeper, English Apothecary, Physician & Botanist (1616-1654)

 


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