This article first appeared in the New Zealand Herald, authored by Dr Sandra Clair:
Plant medicine is proven to positively impact on many aspects of life and the start of life is no exception. For millennia, plant medicine has been used successfully to help support mums while breastfeeding and to help with healing the womb post childbirth. It isn't always easy for mums to breastfeed, and plant medicine can help support them during this time.
Traditionally, breastfeeding teas are used for nutrient support during breastfeeding to provide a nourishing boost to both baby and mum. According to research the most significant factor in milk production is the ability of the mother to produce high-quality blood. Therefore, proper nutrition plays an essential role in the process of breast milk production.
Professionally formulated medicinal teas comprise of plants that are nourishing (high in minerals) and are also galactagogues (which help increase breast milk production), along with calming herbs to support digestion and absorption of foods for the baby. Babies are born with an immature digestive tract and digestive support via breastmilk gently helps them. A prospective double-blind placebo study has shown that a medicinal tea with carminative herbs reduced infant colic more effectively than a placebo liquid.
Common traditional plants for regular production of good quality and flow of breastmilk are fennel, aniseed, chamomile, nettle, raspberry leaf, goat's rue, dill, and blessed thistle in various combinations. They must be of medical quality and free of herbicides and pesticides which is best verified by independent organic certification.
Raspberry leaf is great for both the mother and the baby; it has a dual purpose, acting as a galactagogue as well as supporting uterine involution after birth, helping to restore the mother's strained pelvic floor muscles.
New-borns often have tummy upsets, excess wind, sore stomachs and gripey pain. Carminative plants like fennel and aniseed are high in volatile oils which can help reduce the incidence of reflux, colic or stomach upsets.
Chamomile is also a highly effective plant that is helpful for preventing and treating colic and digestive upsets. The volatile oils from chamomile, fennel and aniseed are passed to the baby though breast milk.
Sometimes it is not milk supply that can make breastfeeding difficult but sore, cracked nipples or trouble latching. Midwives and lactation consultants have specific knowledge and can support breastfeeding women with proven techniques. A remedial cream that contains organic calendula, chickweed and nettle can preserve the integrity of the skin or soothe and heal the tender breast tissue for relief pain.
Such a healing cream can also be used to treat cradle cap, nappy rash and infant eczema. It helps to ease itching and swelling and is a general wound cream for cuts, grazes and open skin due to irritation or scratching. It is important that the cream does not contain parabens or paraffins.
If you're having trouble breastfeeding, talk to your leading healthcare professional.