Herbal Love
Thrive Birth Center Blog

From Garden To Breast

Herbal Love

This is my first Spring in Sonoma County and though I grew up in the nearby countryside of Point Reyes, I’m struck every day with how unique and lovely my new home is. Greenery and hillsides abound, everyone seems to have a dog, and eating local, organic food is the beautiful, wonderful norm.

I serve as the Postpartum Support Coordinator at Thrive, seeing clients as both a Midwife and a Lactation Consultant. We often discuss how basic foods and herbs can support them through various phases of the breastfeeding experience, and in honor of Spring I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you.

  • Green cabbage for engorgement! When a birth parent’s milk first comes in it often does so with overwhelming enthusiasm, leaving them painfully full and making it difficult to latch their babies well. Organic green cabbage can be a total lifesaver at this stage, as the leaves fit the shape of the breast perfectly and the enzymes in the leaves actively ease the fullness and pain. If cold feels good, then the cabbage can be stored in the fridge, or even the freezer. As the leaf does its work it will literally cook on the skin, and it is ready to be changed when it is totally wilted. New breastfeeders with engorged breasts can safely use these leaves day and night, until their milk production eases back to a more comfortable level and begins to regulate to the amount baby is asking of them (this usually occurs within a few days).
  • A calming tea of lavender and lemon balm to help your milk let down! Most people know by the time they give birth what an important role Oxytocin plays in labor and birth. Many are not aware, however, that this hormone continues to play an essential part in breastfeeding. When you bring your baby to your breast and they begin to head bang and grab at your chest, this is actually very purposeful. These movements cause you to release oxytocin, which in turn causes your alveoli (the milk producers in the breast) to contract, sending the milk down the ducts and out the nipple. Voila, baby-induced let down reflex! This process requires the same kind of relaxation and lack of inhibition that labor does. New parent nerves and common breastfeeding struggles can stress everyone out, and sipping a cup of a soothing tea while you settle in to nurse can make all the difference. Lemon balm and lavender are both safe for breastfeeding and make a lovely hot or iced tea for any time you could use a little extra help letting down and/or letting go.
  • DandelionDandelion! We’re all familiar with kale chips as a nourishing snack… what if you could have a lovely Tupperware (glass, of course) chock full of these on your nursing side-table, but made in a way that would not give your sweet new babe a gassy belly? Now you can, if you follow nutritionist and herbalist Tessa M. Gillen’s recommendation, and make dandelion chips instead! Dandelion leaves can be found easily in most local fields, and when picked young can be a delicious and liver-nourishing treat. Follow the same directions you normally would to make kale chips, but no massaging necessary since the young leaves are already tender. Believe me, they’re delicious, and totally worth (asking someone to make) the effort!
  • Get to know your herb garden, local herb stores, herbalists, and lactation consultants! Many know of the lactation-inducing qualities of fenugreek, but this herb must be taken in great quantities and with vigilant consistency for best results, and is contraindicated for anyone with thyroid, clotting or blood sugar issues and for those who are allergic to peanuts. I like to begin with a few others that are much more forgiving, and often equally effective, if a client is looking for a boost in their milk supply. Many of these can be found in your own garden (or on the shelves at Thrive, if you aren’t actually cultivating a little galactogogue garden on your windowsill), and in lesser quantities in your basic over-the-counter nursing tea. Some of my favorites include Milk Thistle, Raspberry leaf, Oatstraw, Goat’s Rue, Blessed Thistle, Fennel Seed, Nettle, Alfalfa, Chamomile, Sesame Seeds, Dill Seeds and Flax Seeds.
    Please consult a lactation consultant if you are concerned about your milk supply. Thrive offers both in-home and on-site consultations, as well as a weekly support circle for all issues postpartum, including breastfeeding, newborn care and post-birth recovery.

Thank you for joining me on this little journey, it has been a treat. Speaking of treats, I think I might go pick some dandelion leaves now, but I’d love to hear what your favorites are too. Please leave a comment down below, or come in for the New Parents Support Circle and let me know in person!

~Rebecca Plum, LM, CPM, IBCLC