Herbs traditionally used to increase breast milk production

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Are you breastfeeding? In this article we'll discuss some of the questions about breastfeeding that new mums ask most frequently, and suggest some herbs to help maintain and improve breast milk production if needed.​

Breastfeeding your baby can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s an important time for connecting with your baby, but it's also a time when mums need lots of support.

Why breastfeed your baby?

Breast milk is the most highly recommended source of food for growing babies. It’s packed with the nutrients they need to thrive, and also enables you to pass friendly probiotic bacteria from your own digestive tract to that of your child.

Breastfeeding your child also aids mother-child bonding and has benefits for both your own health and that of your baby. (For example, it may reduce babies’ risk of respiratory tract infections)*.

How long should you breastfeed for?

Health authorities recommend that where possible, babies be exclusively breastfed (or fed expressed breast milk) until they’re around six months old, and then partially breastfed until they’re around a year old.

However, decisions about whether to breastfeed and for how long are complex and extremely personal, so should always be made in the context of what is right for you, your baby and your family.

How long do most mums breastfeed for?

Almost all babies born in Australia are breastfed initially, but unfortunately the majority don’t receive the recommended six months of exclusive breastfeeding*.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) indicate that only around 15% of babies in Australia are exclusively breast fed at five months old, and that among those who are partially breastfed, only around 60% still receive any breast milk at all by six months of age, and only around 30% still get breast milk at 12 months*.

Why do women stop breastfeeding?

Women stop breastfeeding their babies for many reasons, including changes in their baby’s preferences, difficulty attaching, experiencing pain while breastfeeding (e.g. sore nipples), and because they are returning to work.

However, the AIHW research suggests that among women who stop breastfeeding at 6 months or earlier, more than half do so due to concerns that they’re not providing sufficient milk for their baby*.

The good news is that most women do produce enough milk for their baby’s needs. If you’re concerned that you may not be, talk to a lactation consultant who can help by assessing your feeding technique and your baby’s weight gain. Your consultant can also assist with tips for reducing pain during breastfeeding and can help you develop a plan for maintaining your baby’s access to breast milk when you return to work. 

How can I improve my breast milk production?

As mentioned above, chatting with a lactation consultant is always a good first step for assessing your options. The Australian Breastfeeding Association also shares some valuable tips for boosting your breast milk supply.

For instance, increasing the frequency with which you breastfeed may help enhance breast milk production by triggering the release of hormones involved in lactation.

Herbs to increase breast milk production

Breastfeeding mums have been using lactation-promoting herbal medicines (known as galactagogues) to help maintain and improve their breast milk production for generations.

Here are four key galactagogues to be aware of:

Goat’s rue: Goat’s rue is used to enhance lactation in traditional Western herbal medicine. Its name is a reference to its use as a galactagogue in medieval times when it was given to goats and other livestock to increase their milk production. The herb’s botanical name Galega officinalis is another reference to its medicinal use; it’s thought to be derived from the Greek word for milk (gala).

Vervain: Vervain is another galactagogue traditionally regarded as having milk-promoting properties in Western herbal medicine.

Fenugreek: You may think of it as an ingredient in your favourite curry recipe, but fenugreek also has a long history of use as a medicinal herb. In traditional Western herbal medicine, it’s taken to enhance breast milk production.

Shatavari: In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, shatavari is regarded as an important herb for women, and is traditionally used to promote breast milk production.

Introducing Oriental Botanicals Breastfeeding Care

Specially formulated to support mums who are breastfeeding their babies, Oriental Botanicals Breastfeeding Care combines goat’s rue, vervain and fenugreek, which are used to promote lactation in traditional Western herbal medicine, and shatavari, which is used in the same way in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

Oriental Botanicals Breastfeeding Care is suitable for use with Oriental Botanicals Conception and Pregnancy Care, which contains vitamins and minerals to support the increased nutritional requirements of breastfeeding mums.

 

* Reference: AIHW. 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey - Indicator results. Canberra: AIHW, 2011.

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