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TCM For Nursing Moms

TCM natural herbs

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.

Lactation disorders

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 recoveryStimulate milk productionBoost mummy’s moodImprove milk flowRelieve mastitis
Ginseng 人参
Huangqi 黄芪
Danggui 当归
Heshouwu 何首乌
Shudi 熟地
Jizi 枸杞子
Sangjisheng 桑寄生
Duzhong 杜仲
Dangshen 党参
Jiegeng 桔梗
Tongcao 通草
Wangbuliuxing 王不留行
Loulu 漏芦
Lulutong 路路通
Dried rose flower 玫瑰花
Foshou 佛手
Yujin 郁金
Qingpi 青皮
Juluo 橘络
Sigualuo 丝瓜络
Jili 蒺藜
Pugongying 蒲公英
Jinyinhua 金银花
Lianqiao 连翘
Mangxiao 芒硝
Muli 牡蛎
Zaojiaoci 皂角刺
Chishao 赤芍
Chuanshanjia 穿山甲

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