Breastfeeding is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics as the exclusive source of nutrition for feeding young infants for the first six months of life. Data suggest that not only are there psychological benefits from its use, but nutritional, gastrointestinal and immune benefits as well. 

Women should know all the facts when making decisions regarding whether to breastfeed or not. Also breastfeeding education should start at the time of deciding to start a family and couples should learn about the importance of this first step in the infant’s life and this affects the rest of the child’s life.

Nursing is such an important part of a baby’s start in life, providing the perfect food for the early development of body and immune system, as well as the best for digestion. The breast milk contains antibodies which help fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfed babies, for at least the first six months of their lives, tend to have less incidence of asthma or allergies, and those fed exclusively on mother’s milk, tend to have less diarrhea, stomach upsets, and upper respiratory and ear infections. 

The physical and eye contact have a soothing effect for both mother and baby, and allow for a greater sense of security for the baby, as well as a stronger bonding experience for both. Babies fed breast milk have also shown higher IQs later and less weight issues, obesity and lower incidence of diabetes.

Breastfeeding is also important to help the mother’s body, by burning calories, it can help to burn off the pregnancy weight much faster. It helps to shrink the uterus back and reduce the bleeding after the birth. It may lower the risks of ovarian and breast cancer, and possibly osteoporosis.

The first milk to come in is called “colostrum”. This is a thick, rather sticky yellowish liquid, which is limited to a very short initial period, however, is the most important meal for a newborn. The colostrum is the first food in the outside world, the perfect balance of nutrients, giving the newborn a vital boost to their immune system and also prepares the digestive tract for the real milk when it comes in. It helps to prevents jaundice and stimulates the newborn to pass its first poop, called the meconium. The baby’s stomach starts about the size of a marble and grows slowly, so the small amount of colostrum is just right, in preparation to the later feeding when the gut is better prepared for digestion. Feeding the initial liquid also stimulates the real milk to be produced by the mother as well as preparing the baby to receive it.

Nursing helps to stimulate more milk production, so nursing on demand should have a healthy stimulating effect. Babies tend to lose some of their birth weight for the first few days, regardless of how or how much they are feeding. Since the nursing is a natural and healthy exchange, the mother’s milk will respond normally to producing enough for the demand. 

Returning to the workplace and continuing breastfeeding is a very personal decision. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and fully supports the continuation of feeding after that, and certainly upon returning back to work. The use of breast pumps and expressed milk allows babies to transition more slowly to formula milk

Milk production can be naturally stimulated to increase with the use of herbs, such as fenugreek and blessed thistle. Both can be taken as tinctures or teas and are quickly effective. You can take these herbs together, but avoid fenugreek sold with thyme. The increased milk is promoted by the stimulation of the prolactin production which is a hormone that stimulates the lactation cells in the breast. Other herbs that help to increase milk supply include Alfalfa, spirulina, raspberry leaf, fennel, nettles and shatavari, a relative of asparagus used in Ayurvedic medicine.

Decreasing milk production, when needed, can also be accomplished with herbs. Peppermint, spearmint, parsley, chickweed, black walnut, stinging nettles (not nettles, which increase supply), lemon balm, oregano, periwinkle herb and sorrel are all good. Sage is best used only when weaning since it is so effective. A small amount of the herb can be chewed, mixed with juices or taken as a tea. This can be taken several times a day. Do not use sage essential oils internally. A soothing, but somewhat strange concept, is to wrap engorged breasts in chilled green cabbage leaves, or press the cabbage leaves and use the juice in a carrier oil for massaging, along with sage, peppermint or lemon balm essential oils. Peppermint essential oil can actually help reduce pain, as well as reduce the milk production, however, peppermint tea is generally too weak and less helpful. Extra strong peppermint candies can be more helpful, and may be inadvertently reducing breast milk if eaten on a regular basis.

Tinctures contain alcohol, and while breastfeeding, the consumption of alcohol is not the same concern as during pregnancy. Alcohol can transfer into human milk but is not stored there. It is best not to consume excessive amounts of alcohol, but the amount present in tinctures is not enough to be a concern. It will inhibit the letdown process of milk, so the milk is not released from the breast as readily.

Homeopathic remedies can be used to reduce milk supplies when ready to wean, or reduce the painful swelling in the breasts. Pulsatilla, and Lac caninum are two of the remedies what may help. With homeopathy it is important to check the correct potency, since the same remedy can be used for increasing milk in one strength and decreasing it with a stronger dose. Homeopathy is good for cracked or sore nipples, such as Nitricum acidum, Graphites and Phytolacca. And for mastitis, pain or clogged ducts Belladonna helps with uncomfortable hot or hard breasts. Bryonia can help with breast pain caused by motion.

The proof of the long-term benefits of breastfeeding for babies and the healthiest start to their lives, as well as the benefits to the mother and her own health, are strongly supported by studies. For new mothers and fussy babies, this natural process can take some practice and sometimes, some assistance. Babies are doing what comes naturally to them from the moment they are born, and their needs are communicated in the only way they know how. Find out more about babies’ feeding patterns and best practices to follow for feeding and sleeping.

Sally Warren, PhD Naturopathic Doctor
Metro Integrative Pharmacy
sallyw@metrointegrative.com

 

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This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. The information in this article is for educational purposes only.