One of today’s hot button parenting issues is whether or not to breastfeed your baby. In our culture, everyone has an opinion on breastfeeding and it seems to be okay to share it whether you’re a mom or not. There are many factors that contribute to the low breast feeding rates in the United States, maternity leave being a primary contributor but inadequate knowledge and available education in places such as hospitals. Additionally, not having a history of breast feeding in families can be detrimental when a new mother wants to breast feed their baby but might have initial difficulties. If they don’t have strong support early, their breast feeding relationship with their baby may not develop satisfactorily. For example, I know one young girl who is pregnant and wants to breast feed, but because she doesn’t have any women in her family who breast fed and her friends tell her it’s hard and ‘lots’ of women can’t do it, her stint with breast feeding may be over before it starts. She just doesn’t have the support or knowledge base available to her to make decisions while being fully informed.
Obviously our bodies produce a perfectly formulated food necessary for the growth and development for our babies but the most important thing is to do what is best for your family. I’m a huge proponent for extended breastfeeding, having nursed my daughter for almost three years, but I also believe that if you are having difficulties breastfeeding and you have exhausted every option, do what works for your family and if that means supplementing, then do it. This may be a controversial point of view in some circles but if mom is stressed and worried about feeding her baby, it can make a difference.
I had an extended breastfeeding relationship with my daughter and even nursed her through most of my pregnancy with my son. That’s not to say that the early days were not easy and all sunshine and roses. I wish I had gotten more help in the early days after the birth of Rowan and if I had, perhaps I would not have dealt with the latch issues and the pain and discomfort that lingered for over two months. I think that our successful breast feeding relationship only succeeded because (as my husband says) I can be incredibly stubborn when it comes to something that is important to me. It would have been nice if it were just a little bit easier, though.
If you are worried about breast feeding, your supply, are having any kind of problems, latch issues, or just want more information there are plenty of resources online and elsewhere. If your hospital doesn’t offer the help you need, look for your local La Leche League. They have support groups, can offer assistance in helping you and your baby to nurse whatever issue you might have. Another excellent online resource is Kelly Mom. I think I was on this website daily in the first few months of my daughter’s birth. Additionally, there are plenty of online communities and forums to go to for support. One popular one is Mothering.com.
There are a number of herbal supplements that can help increase supply and decrease your early discomfort. Benedictine Healing Products offers a number of products that may make your life as a nursing mother easier in the early days. Nipple Balm Oil, which is similar to our excellent Healing Oil can help soothe and heal cracks, pain, or rawness. If you are worried about your supply, Mother’s Milk Tincture is excellent (I can testify to this) and you will see results very quickly. I generally noticed an increase in my milk supply in a day or so anytime I took it. Of course, once you get the supply issues worked out, things aren’t always smooth sailing. I was lucky enough to avoid mastitis, but I did get plugged ducts regularly. Surprisingly (for me, perhaps not for other people), I had a regular pattern to them and once my period came back I would get them around ovulation and menstruation. What worked best for me were asafoetida and yew tinctures. Instead of spending two to three days at a time with a sore and painful breast, it would resolve itself within a day.
Additionally, you can make your own tea from herbs that aid in lactation. I did this with Rowan in order to establish my supply. I would mix fenugreek, fennel, anise, raspberry leaf tea, and chamomile (not for milk production, but for flavor and the calming properties), then brew a tea and drink it throughout the day. It doesn’t have a pleasant flavor, but you can add honey to sweeten it. There is also a product available at most health food stores called Mother’s Milk Tea and while I have not used it, I have friends who think it is very effective.
Make sure you avoid anti-lactation herbs if you are sensitive to them. One that surprised me was anything in the mint family. I have a friend who couldn’t even eat mint candies because she noticed a dip in her supply.