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NATURAL REMEDIES FOR PROBLEMS IN BREASTFEEDING
PART 1

~Susun S Weed

With the resurgence of interest in breastfeeding, there is increasing demand for natural remedies for the minor problems that accompany nursing. These remedies, taken from my book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, offer simple, safe ways for nursing women and their infants to counter problems and stay healthy. This information has been collected from wise women, old wives, and granny midwives. May you benefit from their wisdom.

INCREASING AND MAINTAINING MILK FLOW

One of the easiest problems to remedy is lack of sufficient milk. First, it is important to see to it that nursing takes place in a safe, inviting space where both mom and babe can be relaxed. Second, try to include one or more of these herbs and foods that are well known galactagogues, that is, substances that encourage abundant breast milk.

~ Nourishing herbs, such as raspberry leaves, stinging nettle, oatstraw, and red clover blossoms—prepared as strong infusions*, not taken in pills, capsules, tinctures, or teas—not only encourage a plentiful supply of breast milk; they also support the overall health of mother and child. The minerals in these herbs are amazingly abundant, so they counter mineral loss from nursing, and help keep mom calm and alert during those first few weeks of round-the-clock infant care. I don't combine the herbs but use them individually,to derive each one’s unique benefit.

*To make an infusion:

~ Place one ounce, by weight, of dried herb in a quart canning jar.
~ Fill to the top with boiling water.
~ Lid tightly and let steep for at least four hours or overnight.
~ Then strain.
~ Drink liquid portion hot, cold, or in between.
~ Refrigerate what you don't consume at once; use within 48 hours. (Water houseplants with old or excess infusion.)

~ Foods rich in carotenes, such as cooked apricots, asparagus, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and all cooked leafy greens—including kale, collards, mustard greens, beet greens, parsley, watercress, and dandelion leaves—are considered critical for women wishing to increase or sustain lactation. Carotenes are most available when foods are well cooked: tomato sauce has over 2000 times more of them than a fresh tomato. And carotenes are more easily utilized in the body when consumed with plenty of fat. (Olive oil or butter are my favorite fats.)

~ Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is famed for its ability to increase milk supply. As the tea is very bitter, this herb is best used as a tincture. A dose is 10 - 20 drops, two to four times daily. Blessed thistle is said to lift postpartum depression and relieve suicidal feelings, too.

~ Borage leaves (Borago officinalis) are highly respected for their ability to increase milk flow. But because they contain compounds that may have a harmful effect on an infant's liver, it is best to drink borage only as a weak tea, and to take it after, rather than before, nursing. Half a cupful of borage leaf tea, made by steeping a spoonful of herbs in a cup of water for a few minutes, taken two or three times a day will ensure an abundant supply of milk, act as a mild laxative, and soothe jangled nerves.

~ Comfrey roots (Symphytum uplandica x) contain the same liver-damaging compounds sometimes found in borage. But comfrey leaves do not. That's a relief because comfrey leaf infusion is one of the most treasured of all remedies. Use comfrey leaf infusion (*”To make an infusion” above) not only to increase the amount and richness of the breast milk, but also to build strong bones and teeth for mother and child, to improve digestion, to check allergies, and to repair ligaments, muscles, or other tissues traumatized during the birth. I love comfrey leaf infusion and drink it freely.

~ Fennel/barley water is a tried-and-true classic. Soak one-half cup pearled (regular) barley in three cups cold water overnight, or boil the barley and water for 25 minutes. Strain out barley. (You may save it and add it to a soup.) Store barley water in refrigerator or cool place until needed. Then heat a cup or two to boiling and add fennel seeds—one teaspoon per cup of barley water. Steep for no longer than 30 minutes. This combination not only increases the breast milk but also eases after-pains and settles the digestion of Mom and babe.

~ Hops (Humulus lupulus) is another old remedy. It is especially for mothers of twins who need lots more milk. Hops tea is a suitable accompaniment to nighttime feedings, as it brings sleep along with increased milk flow. Hops is also used in beer, which tastes better than the tea. No more than one high-quality, additive-free beer, such as Guiness Stout, per day is fine. For those who wish to avoid alcohol, there are alcohol-free brews rich in hops and malt available.

~ Aromatic seeds, such as anise, cumin, fennel, caraway, coriander, and dill increase milk production and tone the digestive system. Their powers are carried through the breast milk, curtailing colic and indigestion. To brew, simply put a heaping spoonful of dried seeds in a cup and fill to the top with boiling water. Let steep for 5-10 minutes. Drink warm with honey. Up to two quarts a day can be consumed.

~ Triple Blessing Brew. Combine 1/2 ounce dried blessed thistle leaves with 1/2 ounce dried oatstraw or nettle. Place in a quart jar. Add boiling water until the jar is full. Cap tightly and let steep overnight or for at least four hours. Strain out herbs. Refrigerate liquid until needed. Before nursing, pour off one cupful of the brew and heat it nearly to a boil. Pour it over a teaspoon of anise, cumin, fennel, caraway, coriander, or dill seeds (not a spoonful of each). Let it brew for five minutes before drinking. Blessed thistle stimulates the milk flow and helps restore vitality to weary mothers. Both oatstraw and nettle are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, notably calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The aromatic seeds improve the quality and quantity of milk and ease digestion.

Part one of this article has shown you several ways to increase your milk flow and your milk quality. Making and ingesting the right herbal infusions and tinctures as well as the right seeds and foods likely will lead to a happier, more satiated baby. In part two of this article, you will learn numerous simple and safe ways to allay sore breasts, infections, engorgements, and sore nipples due to breastfeeding.

NATURAL REMEDIES FOR PROBLEMS IN BREASTFEEDING
PART 2

~Susun S Weed

With the resurgence of interest in breastfeeding, there is increasing demand for natural remedies for the minor problems that accompany nursing. These remedies, taken from my book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, offer simple, safe ways for nursing women and their infants to counter problems and stay healthy. This information has been collected from wise women, old wives, and granny midwives. May you benefit from their wisdom.

Part one of this article reviewed ways to increase your milk flow and your milk quality by ingesting herbal infusions, tinctures, seeds, and foods rich in carotenes. Part two of this article shows you numerous simple and safe ways to allay sore breasts, infections, engorgements, and sore nipples due to breastfeeding.

PAINFUL BREASTS, ENGORGEMENT, SORE NIPPLES

Painful, sore breasts and nipples are one of the most common problems encountered during lactation. Virtually every nursing mom will need help on this account at least once. Sore breasts and nipples can prevent nursing, lead to a decrease in milk production, and interfere with the bonding between infant and mother.

There are three main causes of painful breasts.

1. Engorgement

An oversupply of milk engorges the breast tissues, causing tenderness and pain. There is no fever and the breasts are not lumpy. Engorgement may occur as a result of a decision not to milk, when milk comes in very quickly, when mother and child are separated for an extended time, or during weaning.

Remedy A very strong tea of sage is a classic remedy for stopping the flow of milk. It is taken sip by sip, up to three cups a day.

2. A blocked milk tube or duct

This causes swelling of the breast and acute pain. The blocked duct may feel lumpy and bruised, and a red streak may radiate out from it. Cessation of nursing can increase the discomfort and endanger the milk supply. Nursing should be continued, but carefully, nursing and pumping just enough to empty the breast.

Remedy Right before nursing, use a warm compress for 5 - 10 minutes (see following). They all taste fine to baby, so no need to wash your breast before offering it.

3. Mastitis (infection in the breast)

Causes swelling and pain, accompanied by acute tenderness and redness of the breast. The infected breast may be hard, lumpy and swollen. There may be fever as well. This condition is the most dangerous of the three. If not treated promptly, the infection can cause scarring of the ducts and prevent nursing a later child.

REMEDIES FOR MASTITIS

Use hot compresses or soaks at least four times daily. Get plenty of bed rest. Breast infections are almost always a sign of too little rest. Regular naps or rest breaks are important too.

Nurse as often and as long as possible on the infected breast. A breast infection will not make the infant sick.

Propolis is collected and used by bees as glue. It has a history of use against infection in Russia and a strong following among midwives in North America. It is said to accelerate healing time by increasing the body's metabolism and general resistance to disease. A dose of the tincture is 10 to 15 drops twice a day.

Echinacea root tincture is an excellent ally for any woman with mastitis. I use one-half drop per pound of body weight as a single dose. (For a woman who weighs 130 pounds, the dose is 65 drops or two dropperfuls.) The dose is repeated as often as twelve times a day until symptoms remiss. I continue taking Echinacea for at least a week after all symptoms have cleared.

Poke root (Phytolacca americana) tincture stimulates lymph gland activity and clears mastitis quickly. Poke root is potent and potentially toxic; the effect is cumulative. Use no more than two drops of the tincture daily. I combine poke with Echinacea for acute and severe infections.

POULTICES AND SOAKS FOR SORE BREASTS

Poultices, compresses and soaks are the best first aid for painful breasts. A poultice consists of fresh or cooked herbs placed directly on the breasts. A compress is prepared by soaking a cloth and applying that. And a soak is just that: - a soak in hot water.

Hot water alone has beneficial effects for women dealing with sore breasts, no matter what the cause. Hot water stimulates circulation and eases the tension in taut, swollen, breast tissues. Herbs infused in the water used to compress or soak increase the effectiveness.

When applying these external remedies, remember that frequent, consistent, short applications work better than sporadic, lengthy treatments. That is, six or seven treatments of five minutes each spread over the day will be more effective than one treatment lasting for thirty minutes. If infection is present, discard any plant material and wash the poultice materials after each use so as to prevent the spread of the infection.

Soak the breasts in a sink full of warm water. Fill the sink, lean over, and immerse one or both breasts. You can massage the milk out while soaking to further relieve engorgement and ease pain.

Place a handful of fresh or dried parsley leaves in a clean cotton diaper and tie it closed with a rubber band. Put in a pan of water and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Apply the hot (fresh) parsley as a poultice or use the (dried) herb still tied in the diaper as a compress to ease swollen and painful breasts.

Prepare fresh or dried comfrey leaves the same way as parsley. A hot compress or poultice of comfrey leaves soothes sore nipples, softens engorged tissues, reduces the pain of swollen breasts, and helps unblock tubes and ducts. It is generally considered safe to use comfrey root preparations externally, but nursing mothers may be understandably leery to use them for fear of injuring her infant's liver.

A cold poultice of grated raw potato can draw out the heat of inflammation, localize infection and unblock clogged tubes. Grated raw potato is applied directly to the breasts, and covered with a clean cloth. When dry, it is removed and replaced with fresh grated potato.

Marshmallow roots make wonderful soaks that soothe tender tissues and sore nipples, open clogged ducts and tubes, powerfully draw out infection, and diminish the pain of engorged, inflamed breasts. Steep two ounces of dried marshmallow root overnight in half a gallon of water just off the boil. The texture of the finished brew should be slippery and slimy. Heat as needed, pouring the hot liquid into a sink or basin and soak your sore and aching breasts.

Infused herbal oils - such as those made from the flowers of calendula, elder, or dandelion, or from the roots of yellow dock - can ease the pain of tender breasts and sore nipples. Buy them ready-made. Or make them yourself: Gently warm a handful of dried or fresh blossoms in just enough olive oil to cover; keep warm for 20 minutes. Strain, cool, and rub into nipples and breasts whenever there is pain or sensitivity.

PREVENTING SORE NIPPLES

Sore nipples heal rapidly, often within a day or two, but it is still easier to prevent them than to heal them. Nipple sprays intended to prevent sore nipples have been shown to be ineffective, but the following Wise Woman remedies are safe and effective. Note: Persistently or suddenly sore nipples may indicate a thrush infection. Further symptoms of thrush include pink, flaky skin and itchy nipples.

~ Continue to nurse. Neither sore nipples nor thrush are helped by discontinuing nursing; in fact, they may be remedied by more frequent nursing.

~ Expose the nipples and breasts to the air as much as possible to discourage the growth of thrush. Avoid wearing a bra 24 hours a day. Wear nursing bras with the flaps down whenever possible.

~ Expose the nipples and breasts to sunlight for brief periods to strengthen tissues. Increase gradually from thirty seconds in the sun to a maximum of three minutes.

~ Olive oil, sweet almond oil, lanolin, or comfrey ointment rubbed into the nipples throughout the latter part of the pregnancy and the beginning weeks of nursing create healthy, flexible tissues very resistant to cracks, tears, and chapping.

~ Experiment with different nursing positions until you find those in which you are completely comfortable, with the entire areola (dark area) in the baby's mouth, nipple centered.

~ Offer your breast often. Reducing the number of feedings can make the baby so hungry that it tears at the breast.

~ Avoid soap, cologne, deodorant and powder on your nipples or breasts. Do not wash nipples with soap. Soap predisposes the nipples to chapping and cracking.

REMEDIES FOR SORE NIPPLES

~ Crushed ice wrapped in a wet cloth, or a frozen gauze pad, applied to the nipples immediately before nursing is a good local pain killer. This cold treatment also helps bring out soft or small nipples and helps baby feed more easily when the breasts are very full.

~ Comfrey ointment softens and strengthens nipples at the same time. It is exceptionally soothing to sensitive nipples and rapidly heals any fissures or bruises.

~ Yarrow leaf poultices - or yarrow infused oil - provide almost instantaneous pain relief and heal cracked nipples rapidly.

~ Any of the poultices described for painful breasts may be used advantageously. Comfrey and marshmallow are especially effective. Many brief poultices work better than one or two lengthy sessions.
~
The gel from a fresh aloe vera leaf will soothe and heal sore and cracked nipples.

~ Calendula ointment is an old favorite to heal and strengthen nipples. CAUTION: Ointments containing antibiotics, steroids and anesthetic (painkilling) drugs are potentially harmful to both mother and infant.


REFERENCES AND RESOURCES

The Complete Book of Breastfeeding, Sally Olds and Marvin Eiger; 1972 Bantam Books
Nursing Your Baby, Karen Pryor; 1973, Simon and Schuster
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League, 1963.
Breastfeeding Basics, Cecelia Worth; 1983 McGraw Hill
La Leche League, 9616 Minneapolis Ave., Franklin Park, IL 60131
Aftercare: Sharon Hamilton; Babies Grow on Milk and Kisses; Arny Galblum Booklets available from Emma Goldman Clinic for Women, 715 Dodge Street, Iowa Cily, IA 52240
The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra; Unity Press


For permission to reprint this article, contact: susunweed@herbshealing.com

Visit Susun Weed at: www.susunweed.com and www.ashtreepublishing.com

Wise Woman Susun Weed is an extraordinary teacher with a joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and health. She is the voice of the Wise Woman Way, where common weeds, simple ceremony, and compassionate listening support and nourish health/wholeness/holiness. She has opened hearts to the magic and medicine of the green nations for three decades. Ms. Weed's four herbal medicine books focus on women's health topics including: menopause, childbearing, and breast health. Visit her site www.susunweed.com for information on her workshops, apprenticeships, correspondence courses and more! Browse the publishing site online at www.ashtreepublishing.com/bookshop/ to learn more about her alternative health books. Venture into the NEW Menopause site www.menopause-metamorphosis.com to learn all about the Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.

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