Following on from our previous post which delves into the Chinese Medicine perspective on breast milk supply, this week we have written what this can actually look like and Kim’s top 10 tips to include if you are having lactation issues.
In the first week post partum, the new mother needs warming. This is not a very western concept but to the Chinese and other cultures it is common sense. Blood is warming and the loss of blood during labour also means a loss of warmth and this must be replenished. The Chinese do this by ensuring the mother takes in warm foods in the week after childbirth, like ginger chicken or ham hock soups. Foods are served warm or hot with the addition of ginger and gentle warming spices as a great way of ensuring she is kept warm. In clinic, we use moxibustion, a heat therapy, to warm the mother. Avoiding cold foods and drinks at this time is crucial as these are hard on the digestion, which is the source of our nutrition.
Ensuring the diet is rich in nutrient dense foods is essential to lactation. Breast milk is fatty and hormonal production relies on fat and cholesterol as building blocks. Good fats are vital for brain health in both mother and child so eating sufficient fats is important. Beautiful extra virgin olive oil in abundance, good sources of fish and fish oil, flaxseed oil and naturally raised game meats are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats.
Carbohydrates are especially important for lactation. These must be good quality, nutrient dense carbohydrates, not empty calories like sugar. These good carbohydrates energise the mother (increase qi) and improve well-being by supporting serotonin production in the gut. The good carbohydrates pose no problem with weight gain, this issue comes from high GI ’empty’ carbohydrates – refined flour and sugar. Fresh organic fruit and vegetables, wholemeal flour, brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa and spelt are all good examples of good carbohydrates. Even if you usually limit your carbohydrate intake, this is the time to reintroduce a few old friends and to think about that 25-30% additional energy requirement you need to have great lactation.
Protein is nutrient-dense and it builds yin and blood, essential for lactation. It is vital for cellular nourishment and repair and sustained energy. Choose grass-fed free roaming meats and have some protein ready to eat in the fridge, such as a roast chicken, some pulled pork, some boiled eggs or smoked salmon. Bone broths are great and we already have a recipe for bone broth on our website – LINK – as well as having different broths available in clinic in ready to use powdered forms for easy use. Bone broth supplies us with many of the mineral requirements necessary for good post-partum health, such as iron, magnesium and calcium. Use it as the basis for soups and stews or drink a nice warm cup of broth instead of a tea. Sprouting grains, seeds and pulses increases the protein content of these foods and is another great way of increasing the nutrient density of the diet as they have good levels of vitamins B, C and carotene.
Zinc is a mineral we have increased needs for during breastfeeding. Seafood, leafy greens, pumpkin, almonds, sesame and sunflower seeds, fresh ginger and wheat germ are great sources.
Many cultures respect and honour the huge change in a new mother’s life by caring for, feeding and supporting the new mother while she rests and bonds with her new baby, having skin-to-skin contact, quite peaceful rest and as much sleep as she can get. Some cultures have a 30 day or 40 day recovery period that is greatly respected and adhered to. Some countries have maternal and paternal leave laws that put others to shame. If only it were like this for all!
Having great support through the right nutrition, adequate sleep and rest as well as emotional support go a very long way to ensuring the mother regains her strength and is in good form to look after her baby. As much as is possible delay anything that places added demands on the body, like vigorous exercise, dieting or staying up too late. Understand that there will be some reshuffling of domestic duties and expectations which tend to undergo their very own gestation period post-birth and can be a big cause of tension.
In clinic, we use Chinese herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, dietary therapy and emotional support based on each individual presentation. If you are experiencing lactation issues, or have in the past and wish to avoid future issues, these are my top ten tips:
- Follow a nutrient dense diet including all of the macro-nutrients mentioned above
- Drink plenty of water. Remember you may be converting up to 3L of water per day into breast milk. If you don’t drink enough you won’t have enough
- Make some lactation cookies. If someone has offered to help, this is something they could do for you
- Or buy them in delicious flavours from these Australian mums https://franjoskitchen.com/
- Have protein ready to eat in the fridge, like a roast chicken or some boiled eggs. Cut up vegies to eat with nut butter.
- See who can deliver fresh, organic fruit and vegetables in your local area so you can save energy going out shopping in the early days
- Say no to visitors you are not ready for or events you are not ready to attend. It is okay to say NO. You have the ultimate excuse.
- Ensure you have adequate rest and relaxation. Do one thing a day such as a trip to the shops or park or a social outing so as not to overtire yourself or bubs.
- Seek emotional support from family, friends or professionals. You may have to ask as sometimes people don’t want to offend or upset you by asking you if you need help. Remember your GP can put you on a mental health plan where Medicare partially covers 6-10 sessions with a counsellor or psychologist (in Australia). This is a list of helplines and support services http://cope.org.au/get-help/types-treatment/
- Have some time alone. Even a walk around the block if nothing bigger is achievable, ensure you get a few minutes now and then to remember and honour yourself. Or come and see us in clinic and we will shower you with care
Finally, I want to say that it is crucial to the infant that they receive adequate nutrition so if you must use formula to top up or if your milk please don’t feel guilty or like you have failed. We are lucky to live in an age where there are balanced nutritious formulas to give our children when needed. Sometimes the mother cannot produce enough milk and the use of formula is what is best for her beautiful baby.
Written by Kim Riley who is a registered doctor of Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture and has been practicing for over six years. Kim brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in women’s health, fertility, ivf, postnatal, pregnancy, teenage hormonal issues, gut health, the 4th trimester, Endometriosis, menopause, PCOS, nutrition and Chinese herbal medicine. She has a background in working in the health foods industry and initially studied naturopathy before changing paths to Chinese Medicine. This background serves her well in her work as she integrates her knowledge of whole foods, nutrition and supplements with her Chinese Medicine understanding.