Although breastfeeding a baby is entirely natural, the process is not always without difficulty. New mothers commonly experience lactation problems, particularly in the first weeks after birth. Most issues with breastfeeding involve low milk supply and/or trouble with milk “letting down” (flowing freely to the baby).
Pregnancy and birth are very depleting to a woman’s body, and postpartum energy levels are often low due to blood loss, lack of sleep, fluctuating hormones, and stress. In Chinese medicine, when the body is depleted, it has a harder time extracting nutrients from the food we eat and converting them to resources such as blood and milk.
In the case of low milk supply, treatments focus on gently nourishing and warming the mother so that her body is capable of making a healthy supply of milk for her baby. This can be achieved through acupuncture, herbal medicine, and nutrition. At TCRA we may recommend that women or their families prepare certain recipes traditionally used to build strength and increase production of milk in the postpartum phase.
Impaired milk flow can occur with either a low or normal milk supply. In these cases, there is usually an element of stress involved. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, interfere with the release of oxytocin, which is a hormone involved with both birth and lactation. In treating women struggling with milk flow, it’s necessary to balance emotions and moderate stress to restore a healthy let-down response. Again, acupuncture and herbal medicine are very effective in resolving this type of lactation problem. Women can also be taught easy acupressure techniques that they or a partner can do at home.
In some cases, when the stagnation associated with impaired milk flow is severe enough, women may develop blocked milk ducts or mastitis. Mastitis, an infection of the breast, can result in red, painful breasts, fever, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms. An MD will often prescribe antibiotics in such cases, and Chinese medicine is a wonderful adjunct therapy to help clear the infection and resolve the underlying stagnation so it does not occur again.
In cases where lactation problems do not resolve with acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments, lactation consultants and pediatricians (in the case of an issue with the baby) are great partners in helping mothers establish a happy, healthy breastfeeding relationship with their babies. If you’re a new mother struggling with breastfeeding, contact the women’s health specialists at TCRA for assistance.