This is a topic that is really close to home for me right now. Over the past couple months I have been transitioning back into working part-time which means spending longer periods of time away from my 6 month old daughter. As I take on the challenge of pumping enough milk while I am away from her, I have been reacquainting myself with all the amazing herbs that can help to boost, enrich and support my breast milk production. We are going to start off with some herbal education. Below are herbal actions that you may be looking for when choosing the best herbs for yourself as a nursing mother.
Galactagogue Herbs: These are herbs that help to actually increase the body’s production of breast milk. They are helpful to take during your baby’s growth spurts, when you are away from your baby and have to pump milk, when you feel like your baby needs more milk than you are currently producing or any time you want to boost your production.
Nutritive Herbs: These herbs are high in vitamins and minerals. When taken by nursing mothers, they help to fortify the breast milk with extra nutrients and also replenish the mother’s stores of essential vitamins and minerals that she gives up to her baby during nursing.
Nervine Herbs: Let’s face it, the first couple months or even years of parenthood can be a bit stressful. Nervines help to support and restore the nervous system, reducing tension, anxiety and stress levels. Also, when you relax, your body relaxes, which leads to your milk letting down easily. They make a lovely addition to any nursing formula.
Carminative Herbs: These herbs aid digestion and help to relieve gas and bloating. I find these especially helpful to drink plenty of when your little one is dealing with any gas, bloating, constipation or unexplained fussiness (often referred to as colic). When a nursing mother takes these herbs, she can pass them on to her baby through her breast milk.
Demulcent Herbs: Demulcents soothe and moisten the whole body which can help to counteract the feeling of dryness that comes from nourishing a baby all day long. The best thing to do, of course, is to drink plenty of water. Try to drink at least 10 eight ounce glasses of water daily. Additionally you can drink demulcent teas to feel moisturized from the inside out.
Now it is time to meet the herbs. The following is a list of common herbs that have been traditionally used by nursing mothers and that I have personally had success with. There are a ton of excellent herbs so this list is by no means exhaustive…
Goat’s Rue: In my experience, this is hands down the most effective of all the galactagogues. When I first started working I had a big dip in my production on the days that I was away from my daughter, but I noticed a significant difference with taking this herb. In Europe, it is traditionally given to dairy cows & goats to increase their milk production. It can be taken as a tea or tincture. I have found that the fresh tincture is the most effective way to take this herb. Be aware that goat’s rue has a lowering effect on blood sugar and is often recommended for diabetics. Keep your blood sugar balanced by eating healthy proteins, fats & whole grains throughout the day.
Fennel, Fenugreek & Anise: These yummy spices are all galactagogues and carminatives. They help to boost breast milk production as well as soothe fussy babies by relieving gas, bloating & constipation. They are great for mothers of colicky babies. I find them to be delicious as a tea but you can also take them in tincture form for convenience.
Oatstraw: High in calcium & B vitamins, this herb is nutritive, demulcent, nervine AND it also increases milk supply. I think the best way to incorporate oats into your diet is to eat them! A bowl of oatmeal daily is a traditional recommendation for nursing moms. It can provide you with the nourishment, energy and stamina you need to get through your busy day. It is also very nourishing as a tea. I don’t recommend it in tincture form because you don’t get the nutritive benefits. Oats contain a protein that closely resembles gluten. In addition, they are also commonly cross contaminated with wheat, therefore if you are allergic to gluten, I would not recommend oats.
Nettle Leaf: High in minerals including calcium & potassium, Nettles help to enrich your breast milk and to replenish your body’s essential stores of nutrients. It is a tonic, giving you energy and support throughout the day. It is also often referred to as a galactagogue, but I personally feel that it’s main action is through nourishment. I find that when I drink it I feel nourished and have more energy, but I don’t necessarily have an increase in supply. Nettles are best to drink as a tea to gain the full nutritive benefits. Nettles can be a little drying due to it’s diuretic action so when i drink Nettles, I like to mix it with demulcent herbs like Marshmallow or Linden.
Hops: Hops is specific for helping your milk to “let down”. If you ever have the experience of your baby sucking and sucking but your milk just won’t let down, it can be frustrating for both of you. Hops is great for this. It is important to know that hops is also quite sedative, so you may not want to take it during the day. But being a sedative, it is great to take at nighttime, not only to help with your milk, but also to help you get a good nights rest. I usually keep a tincture of hops by my bed. When I wake to nurse my baby at night, sometimes it is hard for me to fall back asleep right away. Taking a dose of my hops tincture usually does the trick. You can also drink hops as a tea, but it is quite bitter, so you may want to mix it with some more delicious herbs. You can also enjoy a nice hoppy beer in the evening to help you relax and support your breast milk. You probably want to limit it to one beer so you don’t pass on the alcohol to your baby.
Raspberry: Raspberry is often recommended to pregnant mothers to strengthen the uterus in preparation for childbirth. I like to continue to drink it postpartum as well. It is incredibly nutritive so it fortifies your breast milk and replenishes your body’s stores of vitamins & minerals. It also helps to tonify & tighten the uterus, bringing it back to it’s pre-pregnancy shape. I think it is best to drink as a tea to gain the full nutritive benefits.
Marshmallow Root: The best and most delicious demulcent, Marshmallow moistens the whole body helping to avoid the drying affects of nursing. I mix a small part of it into every nursing tea that I make. It is best as a tea and has a pleasant sweet flavor. I do not recommend it as a tincture.
Chamomile: Chamomile is a wonderfully relaxing herb helping to relieve feelings of stress, tension & nervousness. It is a carminative, so it is great for babies who have gas, bloating or unexplained fussiness. I love to drink it in the evening to help me relax and transition to bedtime. It is a delicious tea, but can also be taken as a tincture for convenience.
Linden: I love Linden! The trees grow all around Boulder and are so amazingly fragrant. It is one of my favorite nervines for reducing feelings of stress & tension. It is also demulcent and delicious so it makes a great addition to nursing teas.
Lemon balm: Lemon balm is in the mint family, but it is more mild than peppermint and has a pleasant lemony flavor. It is another personal favorite of mine. It is a nervine, carminative and also promotes a good night’s sleep. It can be taken as a tea or tincture.
Sage: Sage is actually an ANTI-galactagogue, meaning it causes the breast milk to dry up. It is useful when you are weaning your baby and want to avoid getting engorged. It can be taken as a tea or tincture. It is pretty strong as a tea so you can mix it with some peppermint to taste.
My Favorite Nursing Tea Recipe
1 part Raspberry
1 part Nettle
1/2 part Linden
1/2 part Fenugreek
1/2 part Lemon Balm
1/4 part Fennel
1/4 part Marshmallow
Directions: Mix all ingredients together. Use 1 Tbsp of loose herb per cup of water. Steep 30 minutes – 4 hours. Strain and enjoy!
Don’t have time to make your own? Check out our new online Apothecary, we have an awesome nursing tea for sale called “Mama’s Got Milk” and many more products for mamas & babies!
How do I prepare these herbs?
Herbs can be taken as either an infusion or a tincture. An infusion is the same as a tea, but the herbs are usually steeped loose and for a longer period of time. To prepare an infusion, steep 1 Tbsp of loose herb per cup of hot water and infuse for 30 minutes – 4 hours. The longer you infuse your tea, the more medicinal it will become. For nutritive herbs you want to make sure to get at least a 2 hour steep to get the maximum benefit of the vitamins and minerals. I like to prepare 1 quart of nursing tea at a time (4 Tbsp of herb/ 4 cups water) and drink that daily.
A tincture is an alcohol extract of a plant. It is concentrated, so you only have to take about 30-40 drops (or one dropperful) per dose, which makes it quick and convenient. Some moms worry about having any alcohol while nursing, but I like to remind people that a dose of a tincture has about as much alcohol in it as a ripe banana. Use your intuition and decide what feels right for you and your baby.
Before taking any herb while you are nursing, it is important to make sure that it is safe for you and your baby. An excellent resource is “The Nursing Mother’s Herbal” by Sheila Humphrey. She has created a handy index where you can look up an herb and it will give you a safety rating and any effects that it may have on your milk or your baby.
Where can I buy these herbs?
If you have a local apothecary, they will probably have most of these herbs on the shelf. You can also purchase them online at Mountain Rose Herbs. They are an excellent resource for quality, organic herbs. The fresh Goat’s Rue tincture that I take is from Wish Garden Herbs. They are a local tincture company in Boulder, CO. If you have trouble locating the tincture locally, you can order it through them.