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Herbs for Nursing Mothers

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.

 

shared on mostly homemade mondays blog hop, thank goodness it”s monday blog hop, frugal days, sustainable ways blog hop, tuned in tuesday blog hop

 

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Dealing with not having more kids/PPD - Mothering Forums
    July 26, 2014 at 10:37 am

    […] kittywitty is online now   Quote Quick Reply #16 of 18 Old Yesterday, 03:28 PM crazyms     Join Date: Jan 2010 Location: Way down south Posts: 1,086 Mentioned: 4 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 51 Post(s) Oh wow! PPA? I honestly have never heard of anything except the PPD. Looking back I definitely had PPA at least with my first. I remember the early weeks of extreme anxiety. I guess since I had anxiety, PTSD, and other similar issues before ever getting pregnant everyone just assumed it was more of me being crazy. I know some of my specific concerns were the PTSD and anxiety from my prior struggles that got worse because I had a child and especially a daughter. I see though now that so much of it was PPA only. I had many fears about her safety and my mothering skills to the point of wanting to give her up for adoption because I might not be a good mother or crying because I fell asleep instead of watching her sleep to make sure she was still breathing and hadn't died of SIDS. It was a long few months after delivery. I can't believe I never even heard of PPA. It might have been much easier on me if I had. If you have PPA/PPD or anything similar please do get help. No one should have to live with that kind of stress. Michelle mom to DD , DS , & lil DD plus and spending my days crazyms is online now   Quote Quick Reply #17 of 18 Old Yesterday, 07:35 PM sierramtngirl     Join Date: Jun 2013 Location: In the mountains… Posts: 223 Mentioned: 5 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 10 Post(s) Quote: Originally Posted by kittywitty I had both after #1, 2, and 5. #5 I firmly believe was set off because dh went out and got a vas against my wishes a couple weeks after she was born. Or maybe it exacerbated it? I strongly recommend this book Mother Nurture and seeing a HCP as soon as possible-midwife or doctor. Meds are not the end of the world. I spent a year trying to cure myself with herbs, nutrition, and exercise and instead that just fueled my anxiety and stole a year of my life I barely remember. Just remember you are not alone. Feel free to PM if you want to talk privately. Thank you ladies so so much. I am seeing a therapist who I love, but only see her 1/every 2 weeks due to cost. No meds as I'm breastfeeding & I've seen mixed info about this. It's such a hard time since I'm not able to do my usual stuff that helps with anxiety such as regular, hard exercise, regular sleep patterns, & good nutrition. I'm actually home at my moms for the next 2 weeks so I can have some extra support (DH works long shifts & is actually working 12 days straight!). My main issue is worrying about my kids-I've already btdt with my DD who is now 2…she is doing great but I stressed/worried over everything she did. Now I'm there again with DS- "is he smiling enough? Sleeping too much? Pooping enough? OMG he hasn't started cooing yet"; and it goes on and on….it's exhausting and I'm really just sick of myself. I don't think I can do another round of this….which is why DH says no more. I will check out that book. I also try to stay off the internet , but I do allow myself to get on mothering as everyone here is so wonderful and supportive. Thank you ladies so so much. Lots of love! kittywitty likes this. sierramtngirl is online now   Quote Quick Reply #18 of 18 Old Today, 09:37 AM – Thread Starter kittywitty     Join Date: Jul 2005 Location: The Room of Requirement Posts: 13,484 Mentioned: 1 Post(s) Tagged: 0 Thread(s) Quoted: 6 Post(s) Quote: Originally Posted by sierramtngirl Thank you ladies so so much. I am seeing a therapist who I love, but only see her 1/every 2 weeks due to cost. No meds as I'm breastfeeding & I've seen mixed info about this. It's such a hard time since I'm not able to do my usual stuff that helps with anxiety such as regular, hard exercise, regular sleep patterns, & good nutrition. I'm actually home at my moms for the next 2 weeks so I can have some extra support (DH works long shifts & is actually working 12 days straight!). My main issue is worrying about my kids-I've already btdt with my DD who is now 2…she is doing great but I stressed/worried over everything she did. Now I'm there again with DS- "is he smiling enough? Sleeping too much? Pooping enough? OMG he hasn't started cooing yet"; and it goes on and on….it's exhausting and I'm really just sick of myself. I don't think I can do another round of this….which is why DH says no more. I will check out that book. I also try to stay off the internet , but I do allow myself to get on mothering as everyone here is so wonderful and supportive. Thank you ladies so so much. Lots of love! I wish you the best! When you have LOs, it does make it harder to heal. FWIW, I was on zoloft which Dr. Hale agrees is safe. It really helped, but it couldn't undo some of the…trauma? of letting it go so long. I feel like I lost two years of my life and I have very few memories of that time period. Some teas that also helped me (breastfeeding safe): black or green tea (contains a bf safe calming chemical) chamomile Lemon balm A tincture (check with your HCP first): http://www.wishgardenherbs.com/herba…edy-57/?return Passionflower has been clinically proven for anxiety, so the above tincture would be my first choice along with getting enough EPA from fish oil. http://motherloveblog.com/tag/postpartum-anxiety/ http://thelittleherbal.com/2013/12/1…rsing-mothers/ […]

  • Reply
    Postpartum Healing Herbal Sitz Bath
    September 1, 2014 at 7:20 am

    […] in the tea for 15-20 minutes (or even longer if you like), drink a cup of nursing tea, reflect, relax and heal.  Repeat as many times as you need during your healing and […]

  • Reply
    Brittany
    October 14, 2014 at 11:42 am

    How many cups a day of your nursing tea do you drink, 1-3x? Could you make a huge batch of this and if so, how long would it stay fresh in the fridge? Also, as the recipe about is prepared, using a tablespoon of the mixture per cup of water, do you know the mg of the lemon balm? I just don’t want it to be TOO sedative, as I have never used it.

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      October 14, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      I drink between 1-4 cups a day. I cannot translate the Lemon Balm to mg. You could measure out a TBSP and weight it. If you are hesitant about the Lemon Balm, I would recommend leaving it on the side. Try adding a small part of it to your tea and see how your body responds. If it feels too sedative, you can easily leave it out. It’s main action in the tea is to soothe and calm the nervous system, which was something I always needed after my babies were born. But if that isn’t something you need, you can leave it out and the tea will still be amazing!

  • Reply
    Applets
    November 26, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Hi there, I was wondering if I’m taking a sage tincture to wean off but hand expressing to relieve the engorgement, can the expressed milk be feed to the baby or does taking the sage tincture make it bad for my baby to consume the milk? Thank you!

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      November 30, 2014 at 7:05 am

      I would probably dump it, although I know that is hard to do. The essential oils found in sage, mainly thujone, can be toxic in high amounts. Teas of dried sage leaf tend to be pretty low in the oils, so I feel that tea is safer, but tinctures of sage retain the oil content pretty well. It is always best to err in the side of caution when it comes to your baby.

  • Reply
    Taylor Warthan
    January 12, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Can you mix all of them into one powerful tea except for the sage and sleeping herds? I am trying to double my supply

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      January 12, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      Sure. I would focus on the galactagogue herbs; Goat’s rue, Fenugreek, Fennel, Oatstraw & Hops. Good luck!

  • Reply
    Marisa
    January 23, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Hi, I have a question about chamomile, fennel, and ginger as teas to drink to help my breastfed babe with gas. Which is the most effective? I like to keep my recipes simple and my milk production is fantastic, over productive actually, so I’m just looking for something to help Baby Boy pass his gas, but I’ve read scary things about fennel.

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      January 23, 2015 at 12:52 pm

      Hi. I love fennel for this, but if you are already over producing milk, it is probably not the match for you, as it will definitely increase your milk production even more. Chamomile and catnip are my other favorites for reducing gas & bloating. You can drink them or just give them directly to baby. Depending on the age, a nice diluted tea given in a dropper, bottle or sippy cup works great. The tummy ache massage oil could also be really helpful.

  • Reply
    Ty
    February 3, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Hi! Thanks for the great information. One quick question, do you use marshmallow root or leaf? Thanks!

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      February 4, 2015 at 7:03 am

      Great question! Definitely root. It has a lot more mucilage, making it great for moisturizing the body. The leaf is yummy and also a mildly moisturizing, but the root is really where it is at.

  • Reply
    ashley
    February 15, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    Can’t wait to make this recipe! But please tell me, how much to a” part”? Thank you!

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      February 15, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      The parts are by volume and a part can be whatever you want it to be. That way you to make as much or as little as you want. To make a small batch to sample, a part could be 1 Tbsp of herb (so everything that is 1 part would be 1 Tbsp, 1/2 part would be 1/2 Tbsp and so on). To make a larger batch to last you a while a part could be 1/2 cup or 1 cup of herb. Mix all the herbs together in a bowl and then use 1 Tbsp of your combined herb to make yourself a cup of tea. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    ashley
    February 25, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    ThAnk you so much! I ordered most of these herbs, I love mountain rose herbs, I will be ordering from them from now on.
    I can noticeably feel the difference. …I feel calm and relaxed just enough plus at the same time a healthy boost of energy! And I love the marshmallow root it’s so yummy I quit putting sugar in my tea. Thank you so much

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      February 25, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      You are so welcome. I am glad it is working for you! Thanks for sharing

  • Reply
    Katie Brownin
    October 10, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Hey Faith! I went to look up breastfeeding issues on Google…I am having soreness and pain again and it’s bringing up a lot of emotional issues between Hana and I :-(…and your little herbal site popped up! SO Awesome! Thank you for being amazing and all of the beautiful work you have done on this. Have any suggestions? Have you done any Flower Essences for breastfeeding issues? I feel like that’s the route I am being drawn towards but I am VERY open to any ideas. Love! Katie

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      October 14, 2015 at 8:56 am

      Hi Katie, I am so sorry to hear that you and Hana are struggling again with nursing. I think flower essences would definitely be helpful. Let me think on this. I will send you a personal email with some follow up questions. Hang in there!

  • Reply
    Tamar
    November 16, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    What are your thoughts on adding Blessed Thistle?

    • Reply
      the little herbal
      November 18, 2015 at 8:30 am

      Yes, Blessed Thistle is a great herb for increasing milk production! Unfortunately it is quite bitter and hard to take in a tea. If you are going to use it, I would go for the tincture. Thanks for the question!

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