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How acupuncture and herbs can support breastfeeding moms

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, so in honor of that, let’s talk about how Chinese Medicine can support breastfeeding moms!

We support whatever decision a mom makes regarding feeding her baby, and there are numerous ways that acupuncture can support new moms, whether or not they are breastfeeding. But for the purpose of this post, let’s look specifically at how acupuncture and Chinese Herbs can help moms who have chosen to breastfeed their little ones.

For some women, breastfeeding comes easily. But this is unfortunately not often the case, and for many women and newborns, breastfeeding can be a huge struggle. These struggles sometimes lead moms to give up breastfeeding sooner than they’d like, which is too bad given the many health benefits (for both mom and baby) of breastfeeding!
The most common breastfeeding problems that bring women in for treatment are insufficient milk production, problems with let-down, a tendency towards blocked ducts, and mastitis.

Milk flow and milk production, from a traditional acupuncture perspective, are a direct reflection of the health and balance of the body’s various energy systems. Childbirth is an incredibly taxing experience on the mind and body, and even a perfectly healthy and easy delivery can drastically shift the body’s energy systems, create new imbalances, and deplete the energy stores we all rely on day to day. So it is no wonder that breast-feeding, while a very natural endeavor, can be difficult for so many women.

A well-trained practitioner will determine the underlying cause of the breastfeeding issue from a Chinese Medicine perspective. Often, problems with insufficient milk production have to do with a weakness in the “Blood” energy of the body, which is one of the forms of energy lost during childbirth (vaginal or c-section) – if there was already a Blood weakness prior to childbirth, if there was a particularly difficult labor or delivery, or if the immediate post-partum period was very difficult, this can cause a further weakness in the Blood energy which leads to a weakness in milk production. In these instances, acupuncture is often paired with Chinese Herbal Medicine and dietary therapy to nourish the blood and strengthen the body’s ability to produce milk.
Problems with let-down or a tendency towards blocked ducts can sometimes be caused from a weakness in one of the body’s systems, but are more commonly caused by “stagnation” of blood or energy  - meaning that movement in the body is not happening as smoothly as it should. This can be caused by a constitutional tendency to tension, the body’s reaction to childbirth, the stress of having a new baby, position or posture, among other factors.

Mastitis is an infection, so from a traditional acupuncture perspective, there is a component of toxic heat in the system. This heat usually is paired with some form of stagnation and possible deficiency, as well. Herbs can be very effective at treating mastitis, especially when treatment starts as soon as symptoms arise. 

Regular treatment with acupuncture may also help to prevent these issues from occurring or recurring. Acupuncture is a safe therapy to receive while breastfeeding. Chinese Herbal Medicine is often an important part of treatment – many herbs are safe to take while breastfeeding, but there are many herbs that research shows can cross into the breastmilk and so should be used with caution. Always consult a licensed practitioner about any herbs or supplements while breastfeeding – to make sure that they are the best for you, your milk, and your baby!

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