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.
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. Low milk supply is due to insufficient Qi and blood supply of the mother and is related to her body constitution. Stagnation of milk prevents milk from moving down the ducts and out of the nipple. This 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.
Mastitis is the stagnation of Qi, blood and milk in combination with infection. It is more effective to complement Western medicine with TCM when treating mastitis. 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 also safe for breastfeeding infant.
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.