Many mothers wonder, can I take herbs while breastfeeding? The good news is that most Chinese herbs are plant-based and will not cause adverse effects. Traditionally, selected herbs were prescribed to mothers to promote post-natal recovery during the confinement period. These herbs are generally safe for anyone to consume.
Recovery after birth
In TCM, once the baby is born, some of mummy’s blood will be converted into breast milk. This is the same blood that was flowing to the placenta prior to delivery. It is normal for new mothers to feel weak after childbirth. This is a result of deficiency in blood and energy (also known as “Qi”) both of which are needed to produce milk. Mothers can take some herbs during the confinement period to help the body address this deficiency. If you are concerned that the herbs you take might affect the breastmilk, it is advisable to take them immediately after nursing – this would give the herbal concentration in your blood time to peak and diminish before the next session of breastfeeding.
In TCM terms, breast milk is a far better source of natural nutrients for the baby than formula milk, and its benefits cannot be replicated. It has immune-boosting abilities due to the high concentration of antibodies, thus raising the baby’s immunity to infections. The proteins in breast milk are also more easily digested by the baby, allowing the baby to absorb all the necessary nutrients it needs efficiently with little wastage.
In TCM, there are two categories of lactation disorders, namely low milk supply and poor milk flow. Low milk supply is due to insufficient Qi and blood supply of the mother and is related to her body constitution. Herbs such as basil, marjoram, anise and turmeric and herbal teas such as mint, and barley can help promote lactation. Drinking lots of water would help replenish the Qi and blood supply.
Stagnation of milk prevents milk from moving down the ducts and out of the nipple, causing poor milk flow. This is caused either by deficiency or stagnation of Qi and can lead to breast fullness, distension, pain and engorgement. Emotions such as stress, anger, resentment, frustration and depression are the main causes of the blockage. These can be alleviated with Chinese herbs and acupuncture treatments that target areas causing emotional tension and stress.
Mastitis is the stagnation of Qi, blood and milk in combination with inflammation and infection of the breast tissue. It is more effective to complement Western medicine with TCM when treating mastitis as inflammation can quickly lead to infection and chills if not treated. While anti-biotics clear up the infection, Chinese herbs or acupuncture can alleviate the blocked Qi, blood and milk in the breast. The combined treatment will further reduce the engorgement and inflammation. Herbal prescriptions can be consumed safely with anti-biotics and are also safe for breastfeeding infants.
Herbs for weaning
Mai Ya （麦芽） and Xiao Yao San （逍遥散）can help new mothers to stop breastfeeding gradually. Sometimes, just a single herb like Mai Ya is effective. You can take 60-120gms of Mai Ya and add 4 bowls of water, bring to a boil and simmer for another 20minutes. Drink it like a tea daily and continue for 3-5 days. You can use more Mai Ya for faster effects.
Do note that there are some herbs that breastfeeding mothers should avoid, as they contain high levels of alkaloids, which may negatively impact an infant’s nervous system. Some herbs that contain alkaloids are: Huang Lian 黄连, Huang Bo 黄柏, Da Huang 大黄, Fan Xie Ye 蕃泻叶, Ku Sheng Gen 苦参根, Wu Zhu Yu 吴茱萸and Lu Hui 芦荟. It is recommended that you consult your physician before taking such medicine.
Herbs for nursing mothers
|For mummy’s physical recovery||Stimulate milk production||Boost mummy’s mood||Improve milk flow||Relieve mastitis|
|Dried rose flower 玫瑰花|