By Ms Teh Siew Hoon
Importance of breast milk
Breast milk is a precious gift which only a mother can give to her baby. According to a WHO (World Health Organisation) report, if a baby had been breastfed for at least 6 months after birth, it will very much benefit both the mother and the baby. Most mothers can breastfeed their baby well, but some face problems related to lack of milk production. By Teh Siew Hoon
Many factors contribute to lack of breast milk production. You may want to consult your lactation consultant to make sure that you are breastfeeding your baby in a correct way. Or you may also need to consult your doctor to make sure that the low production is not caused by some diseases for example severe mastitis, crater nipple or cracked nipple which will cause injury to the mammary gland or nipple; this will result in difficulties in breast milk secretion.
Other than that, the disorder of hormone secretion also affects a mother’s milk production, for example is she is suffering from thyroid problem, she might face low production of milk due to the low level of Prolactin in the blood. However, if you have excluded all the possible causes as mentioned above, you can seek a Chinese physician’s help to see how Chinese Medicine can help.
View of Chinese Medicine
From the point of view of Chinese Medicine, the insufficient production of breast milk is mainly caused by
1. Blood-qi deficiency and
2. Liver- qi stagnation.
In Chinese Medicine, qi and blood are the two important basic substances which constitute the human body and maintain its life activities. Blood is composed of the nutritive qi and body fluid; it’s a life liquid material with abundant nourishment. Qi is the vital substance comprising the human body and maintaining its life activities; it also refers to the physiological functions of the organ. From the view of Chinese Medicine, blood is the material basis for generating breast milk and the generation of breast milk relies on the transformation and productive function of the organs’ qi, especially the stomach and spleen qi.
The causes if Qi deficiency and symptoms
Many factors are responsible for Qi deficiency. For example underweight or older pregnant ladies often face this problem as their body is comparatively weaker. Besides that, breastfeeding mothers who experience heavy blood loss during or after delivery might experience the impairment of the spleen and stomach function causing qi and blood deficiency which affects the production of breast milk.
Usually, breastfeeding mothers will also experience symptoms or signs of low volume, thin and watery breast milk, soft breast without distention, pale complexion, restlessness, poor appetite, palpitation and dizziness, pale tongue, thin tongue coating and weak pulse.
Liver qi Stagnation
There is also another cause for low breast milk production which is due to liver qi stagnation. In Chinese Medicine, liver functions as conductor and facilitator. The whole body’s qi is under the coordination of liver qi so that the organs’ qi work in harmony. If the liver qi stagnates and loses the function of conducting and facilitating, the whole body qi function will be in disorder and inevitably affects the transformation and production of breast milk.
Causes and symptoms of liver-qi stagnation
The stagnation of liver qi is normally due to emotional depression. Breastfeeding mothers who are worried, stressed or depressed after delivery are prone to liver qi stagnation. Some working mothers are able to breast feed their baby during the confinement period, but face low production of breast milk because of the strain and stress after they get back to work.
Usually breastfeeding mothers will experience little and thick breast milk production, with symptoms and signs of breast distention or pain, sometimes fever, poor appetite, dark red tongue, thin yellowish tongue coating or rapid pulse.
Chinese Medicine approach – Herbs
There are different types of Chinese herbal medicine which can help to promote the production of breast milk for example fenugreek (葫芦芭), cow herb seed (王不留行), uniflower Swiss-century herb (漏芦), etc. It is also important to know whether the breastfeeding mother faces the problem of qi and blood deficiency or liver qi stagnation so that the Chinese Physician can prescribe suitable herbs to the mother.
If the breastfeeding mother has the problem of qi and blood deficiency, Chinese physicians will suggest treatments that nourish qi and blood so that breast milk can be supplemented, and also the function of qi can be strengthened. The Chinese herbs which can nourish qi and blood is recommended to be used together with the herbs to help promote breast milk production, for example the astragalus root (黄芪), Chinese angelica (当归), Chinese yam (山药), wolfberry (枸杞子), longan fruit (桂圆肉) or red dates (红枣). These herbs normally taste good and function as a dietary medicine when cooked with meat. This dietary advice is especially suitable for breastfeeding mothers for extra nutrition.
For breastfeeding mothers who have problems related to liver qi stagnation, herbs for soothing the liver, relieving depression and unblocking the collaterals should be used together for example the bupleurum root (柴胡), green tangerine (青皮), white poney root (白芍) or beautiful sweetgum fruit (路路通). These herbs help to regulate the qi flow in the body, promote the production and generation, and also ensuring smooth flow of breast milk.
Other benefits of Chinese medicines
Some Chinese herbs activate the meridians and collaterals and eliminate accumulation. The Chinese physician will recommend herbs to help relieve the stiffness and pain due to breast engorgement, for example the luffa vegetable sponge (丝瓜络) or common selfheal fruit-spike (夏枯草). There are also Chinese herbs that help control inflammation and relieve the fever caused by the mild mastitis, crater nipple or cracked nipple, for example the baical skullcap root (黄芩), dandelion (蒲公英) or forsythia (连翘). However, if the inflammation is too serious, it is best to seek help from your doctor.
Chinese Medicine approach – Acupuncture and Moxibustion
Apart from Chinese herbs, Chinese physicians also recommend acupuncture and moxibustion. There are two most commonly recommended points which are “Shaoze” (少泽) (S1) and “Ru Gen” (乳根) (ST18). Acupunture and Moxibustion can be done at “Shaoze”(少泽) (SI 1) which is in the end of the small finger or moxibustion on the point “Ru Gen”(乳根) ( ST18) which is near the lower edge of the breast . Besides that, the Chinese physician will choose a few more points for acupuncture or moxibustion depending on the condition of the breastfeeding mother.
Weaning off treatment
Some babies are weaned off from breast feeding at the age of 12 months. The volume of the breast milk produced is based on the demand of a baby. Normally if the baby stops sucking breast milk, milk production by mother will gradually decrease. But there are also some breastfeeding mothers who face the problem of heavy production of breast milk leading to engorgement of the breast. In this case, the Chinese physician will recommend Chinese herbal malt (麦芽). This herb can inhibit the secretion of the prolactin and help to stop breast milk production effectively.
Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not an easy task and breastfeeding mothers need support from many different aspects. A small change makes a big difference. If you are troubled with the problems of breastfeeding, just contact your Chinese physician to discuss the remedial application of Chinese medicine.