Breastfeeding is such a unique time in a woman’s life, and presents distinct requirements with regard to maternal nutrition. This is why we need breastfeeding support & education.
A nursing mama produces on average about 750mls of milk per day. To be able to do this, we need to fuel ourselves well, as our energy requirements increase by approximately 2,000kj per day during lactation (and on average lactating women require an additional 500mls water per day, too!).
Aim for 3L per day, but also understand that if you aren’t drinking enough water, your supply will be affected; but simply drinking enough water is does not guarantee a large supply of breast milk. Go figure!
Some foods are considered galactagogues, meaning 'milk producing', and have been used traditionally to increase milk supply for centuries.
These foods include oats, milk, brewers yeast, flaxseeds, cashews, sesame seeds. You will likely find many of these ingredients in lactation cookies, which some women swear by (I loved them!)
You can also increase your supply using breastfeeding teas like our Mother's Milk Breastfeeding Support Tea, which contains the galactogogues fenugreek, dandelion, fennel, thistle, caraway & anise. These herbs have been shown to improve the quality & quantity of milk supply.
Some women note that their baby becomes gassy & unsettled after drinking tea containing fenugreek - for this reason our Mother's Milk Breastfeeding Support Tea also contains aniseed, alfalfa, caraway seed & mandarin peel, which have all been shown to counter these effects by reducing gas, bloating & fussiness.
In the early days of breastfeeding, supply can take some time to regulate, and many women find themselves with an oversupply.
This can cause engorgement, pain, and if the milk is not removed adequately from the breast, can result in blocked ducts and / or mastitis.
Cold, bruised cabbage leaves have traditionally been used to soothe and calm oversupply, as has peppermint – both in tea and essential oil form. We have organic pure Peppermint Tea available, and you can find peppermint oil in our digest essential oil blend.
Almost every breastfeeding mother will complain of cracked nipples at some stage. Lots of people suggest using breast milk on the nipples following a feed, but ensure all the breast milk has dried before putting a bra back on, as warm sugary milk on the skin is the perfect environment for candida (thrush) to grow.
Nipple thrush during breastfeeding is extremely common. Human breast milk contains many sugars, which thrush uses for fuel. Couple this with the warm environment of the skin and you have a perfect storm.
Nipple thrush will feel like a slightly burning, stabbing pain that comes and goes. It can happen during or after a feed. If you have been diagnosed with nipple thrush, some coconut oil on the nipple followed by exposure to sunlight can be enough to stop the growth (if caught early).
Reducing sugar in the diet can reduce the incidence of thrush, as can Vitamin D supplementation, however the best approach is to avoid thrush by ensuring the nipples are completely dry of milk before putting a bra or other clothing back on. Always use a breast pad or change bras if you are not dry – especially important in those first few months of breastfeeding.
Supplementing with a multi-strain probiotic may also prove helpful in keeping opportunistic pathogens (like candida) under control.
Persistent blocked ducts can result from either a physical blockage that needs to be cleared, or milk that has started to thicken as it has not been cleared from the breast adequately.
It’s important to keep your water intake up when ducts begin to become blocked (aim for 3L daily). Supplementing prophylactically with 1,000mg Lecithin per day can also be helpful. If blocked ducts become a problem, massaging the affected breast toward the nipple with lavender & frankincense oils diluted in coconut oil can also help to provide some relief.
Mastitis occurs when a blocked duct does not clear, and the tissue within the breast becomes infected. Inflammation occurs and the area becomes red, hot, and painful.
Mastitis is marked by it’s flu-like symptoms – you feel as though you have been hit by a bus.
Aching muscles and joints, burning hot temperature, yet feeling shivering cold, zero appetite, fatigue and generally just not wanting to leave your bed. It's genuinely the pits!
If mastitis hits you want to ensure you keep your water intake up to help clear the blockage. Lecithin supplementation and essential oil massage as outlined for blocked ducts can help and relieve some pain, but also ensuring you keep eating adequate calories to continue producing breast milk is the key here. Consider soups, yoghurt, chia puddings – things that are easy to prepare and easy to digest.
Hot compresses over the affected area of the breast can help relieve pain and encourage effective drainage (recommended before or during a feed), and then ice is recommended following a feed to reduce heat and inflammation.
Incorporate omega 3’s into the diet through oily fish (or opt for supplements) to help reduce inflammation following infection, reduce caffeine, and increase your intake of vegetables for the polyphenol content.
I also visited a physiotherapist who was able to use ultrasound and lymphatic drainage to help remove the blockage at the cause. Highly recommend!
Raynauds & Vasospasm
Raynaud’s & vasospasm doesn’t just happen in the extremities, and when it occurs within the nipple it's extremely painful. It's considered both a circulatory and autoimmune reaction, that can be triggered by changes in temperature (from hot to cold), as well as trauma to the area, resulting in spasm of the tiny blood vessels within the breast and nipple, which ends up stopping blood flow to the nipple.
Characteristically, the nipple turns white at the tip as the blood flow stops, then turns purple and then bright red as it is once again flooded with blood. As it turns bright red, it feels burning hot to the sufferer. I would describe the pain of Raynaud’s as feeling like a lit match is being held up to the nipple, getting closer & closer until the skin of your nipple is in the flame. I personally found it excruciating!
Often Raynaud’s will go undiagnosed, as it's mistaken for Thrush (though once you have experienced both you will know they are very, very different sensations). This is a huge issue for sufferers, because managing Raynaud’s requires you to do the complete opposite to what we’ve outlined above for treating thrush.
When it comes to managing Raynaud’s in the nipple – forget everything you have heard so far!!
Allowing your nipples to air dry is a no-no. You want to keep the nipple warm, so it’s best to dry the nipple after a feed with a dry cloth, change breast pads as required, and get back into a bra quickly.
Bra warmers can also make a world of difference. Worn inside the bra, but outside breast pads, the bra warmers contain material that reflects body heat back onto you. I personally used these for the first 8 months of breastfeeding my daughters, even in summer.
Moving from demand feeding to timed feeds can ensure the nipples have some time to recover between feeds, and ensuring you break your bubs latch to stop comfort sucking can also make a world of difference.
Some dietary approaches to managing Raynaud’s include increasing magnesium (which is a vasodilator) both in the diet or through supplementation, and increasing Vitamin B6 – however too high a dose of B6 has been shown to reduce milk production, so obtaining B6 from food is your best option. Vitamin B6 can be found in beef, tuna, salmon, chicken, potato & sweet potato, carrot & chickpeas.
Reducing supply / weaning
Peppermint is believed to help reduce supply when trying to wean. Try some peppermint tea, or apply peppermint essential oil to the neck (not near the nipple or breasts as this can cause stress for your babe as it feels like a cold burn & the fumes can sting the eyes).
If you'd like to learn more about our Breastfeeding Support products, or have further questions about anything we've covered here, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information & personalised advice.