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Breastfeeding

General characteristics

General characteristics

Breast feeding has so many benefits for the baby including providing beneficial bacteria to the infants digestive system, proper nutrition, supporting and strengthening the immune system, it calms and soothes the infant and deepens the bond between mother and child and evidence suggests that it reduces the likelihood of allergies developing later in childhood.
It is also helpful to the mother as it stimulates the womb to contract back to its normal pre-pregnancy size, helps the mother to loose weight gained during pregnancy, helps prevent post natal depression and is of course free and requires no sterilization of bottles in the night.
Some mothers ( both new and experienced) experience difficulties with breast feeding, many of which can be overcome with practice, time and proper advice. Sore nipples, lack of milk supply and anxiety can all be improved with herbs, food and natural products or techniques.
Many organisations such as the La Leche League ( www.laleche.org.uk) and the Natural Chilbirth Trust (www.nct.org.uk) can provide excellent advice and support to mothers who are experiencing difficulties but still want to breastfeed.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

It sounds obvious but it is important to remember that whatever you ingest (food, liquids, inhaled substances, things you bathe in and put on your skin etc) will be passed via your milk to your baby.

Avoid any harsh chemicals during cleaning chores, personal hygiene routines and in the environment if possible.

Avoid all over the counter medicines unless they are 100% safe to use during breastfeeding.

Avoid vitamin and mineral supplements unless they are specifically for breastfeeding mothers or are prescribed by your health care professional.

Avoid smoking as this has many detrimental effects on the baby including reducing the nutritional content of your milk.

Your body has a priority to produce sufficient milk for your baby so be sure to eat enough for yourself too and increase your fluid intake a little. Your body naturally strives to divert proper amounts of nutrients to your baby via the breast milk - at the expense of your body - so be sure to get enough quality foods and liquids for both of you. You do not need to eat significantly more food but make sure what you do eat has the highest nutritional content.

Try to eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fresh foods, drink enough fluids and keep processed and junk foods to a minimum. Plenty of soups, salads, warm grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, fresh fruit and meals containing as wide a variety as possible will provide you both with optimum nutrition.

B vitamins are important for the child's developing nervous system so include plenty of grains such as oats, barley, whole grain wheat, millet, amaranth etc. The simplest way to do this is with a good muesli in the morning.

Calcium is vital for the building of bones, muscle development and nervous system functioning of the baby and of course vital for the mother who will have used large amounts of calcium throughout the pregnancy and birth. Carrot juice, dark green leaves, tahini paste, houmous, cottage cheese, sprouted seeds and grains and whole grains are all good sources

Some foods you eat may not agree with the babies digestive system and give rise to colic for example. If this happens take a note of how your baby reacts after each meal and see if you can determine which foods are the cause and eliminate them for a while, until the babies digestion is stronger in a few weeks or months perhaps.

Some people say to avoid coffee, tea and caffeinated drinks while others say it is fine to drink them. It does seem that stimulating drinks can make a baby a bit more restless so perhaps keep them to a minimum.

Alcohol is harmful to your baby so keep any drinks to a minimum, no more than 1 or 2 small glasses of wine or beer a week is the generally accepted advise. Personally I would be extra cautious with spirits and stronger drinks. You can always have a glass just after a feed so that your body has some time to process the alcohol before the next feed.

Make time to rest during the day, take quick 'power' naps when the baby sleeps to preserve your vitality and refresh yourself.


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Breast milk is a supply and demand situation...the more a baby feeds the more milk is produced. If your milk supply is low either try to feed the baby more often or express milk in between feeds to encourage the production of greater quantities of milk.

If milk supply is in excess of your babies feeding then you can express a little extra and freeze for later use or consider donating it or even wet nursing anothers child. Do not express enough to empty your breasts as this will encourage further milk production.

A daily tea of nettle, raspberry leaf and oatstraw (equal parts) is a fast and easy way of providing minerals such as iron and calcium and vitamins A and B (amongst many others). It will also increase your fluid intake, help soothe your nerves and encourage the womb to contract smoothly to its normal condition. Use a heaped teaspoon per mug up to 3 times a day.
To encourage milk production use a tea of 3 or 4 of the following herbs : fennel seed, borage leaves, marshmallow root, goats rue, dandelion leaves (fresh in salads or dried in tea form), fenugreek seeds, aniseed, holy thistle, milk thistle seeds and alfalfa leaf (equal parts). Use a teaspoon of the mix and drink 2-3 cups daily for as long as you need it. Add 10 drops of vervain tincture to this tea to enhance its effect. You could also add a hop flower to your cup as they also greatly encourage breast milk production.
Celery seeds also help to increase or maintain breast milk production.
If you have more than one baby to feed then hop tea will encourage the production of copious amounts of milk. A teaspoon per cup as an evening drink will also help mother and babies to sleep.
For sore or cracked nipples use a marigold (calendula) ointment or cream in between feeds. Make sure it has no added chemicals in it or, even better, make your own. It is also useful to soothe and heal nappy rash. See 'ointment making' in the 'natural healing' section of this site.
Sore nipples can also be healed by preparing a poultice made from comfrey leaves, plantain leaves, marshmallow leaves and slippery elm powder. Take a teaspoon of each of the leaves and soak in hot water, just enough to cover the herbs. Leave for half an hour or more then mash together or blend in a blender. Add enough slippery elm powder to make a thick paste and apply to the nipples. Place a cotton pad over the paste and leave on until the next feed, then gently wash the paste off before feeding. Reapply after feeding if needed.
Herbal remedies for the baby can also be drunk by the mother to be passed to the baby in a smaller dose via the breast milk. For instance dill and fennel seed tea or simply chewed in the mouth will ease colic and chamomile tea to relax the baby before bedtime.
Avoid eating large amounts of sage and parsley as these reduce milk production ( though are useful when decreasing milk production for weaning purposes).
When you want or need to stop producing breast milk then drink 3 small cups daily of equal parts of dried sage, rosemary and parsley tea. Use half a  teaspoon per cup.

Natural healing

Natural healing

A warm bath is a relaxing yet efficient way of encouraging milk to flow. Lie in a warm bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil added and gently massage the breasts towards the nipples. Milk should squirt out readily. Wait until the bath is cool enough for your baby to lie in and combine breast feeding with a relaxing bath for both of you.
Alcohol is not advised during breast feeding but from experience I have noted that a small glass of organic real ale encourages milk production. Dried hop flowers have a more pronounced effect.
A personal story of expressing milk by hand....my second baby was around 6 weeks old and I managed to get a much needed night off to stay with a dear friend. Plenty of my milk was at home in the fridge and freezer for my partner to feed to our little one so all was well. After hours of talking and laughing and one small bottle of beer later, I went up to bed. In the night I woke up with throbbing full breasts, so painful I thought they would burst. I had no breast pump, no baby so had no easy way of expressing milk. I went to my friends bathroom and stood over the sink looking at my enormous veiny breasts. I knew I was a bit prone to mastitis and couldn't face another episode so I gently pulled on a nipple.... a drop or two of milk appeared so I pulled a little harder. In seconds I was milking each breast alternately, just as you would a goat or cow. I managed to empty my breasts enough to allow me to sleep the rest of the night undisturbed. It was incredibly easy to do and I never used a breast pump from that point on, I could fill a jug by hand in a few minutes!

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