Many new mothers are concerned about their milk supply. Is your baby getting enough milk? Could insufficient milk supply explain why they are still unsettled?
Generally, if your newborn baby is gaining weight steadily, that is the best sign that all is well with your breast milk supply. However, for some mothers, the instinct that bub is hungry may be correct.
Breastfeeding Resources in Australia
Whenever you are feeling self doubt it’s worth reaching out for support, even if that support is in the way of reassurance. The Australian Breastfeeding Association (for our Aussie mums) is an incredible and free resource available to all mums, and you can call their hotline where volunteer lactation consultants are available 24/7 to help you out on 1800 686 268 (1800 mum 2 mum) within Australia.
If you can access a lactation consultant, face to face is best as they can assess the baby for tongue tie and give advice on latch, massage and expressing as needed and design an individualised program for you and your baby based on what is going on for you both.
Acupuncture to Boost Low Breast Milk Supply
Alongside the advice from your lactation consultant, GP or Paediatrician, acupuncture can benefit mums who are trying to boost their breast milk supply. Acupuncture can improve your general wellbeing, improve your energy levels, provide deep relaxation, balance hormones, reduce pain and improve circulation. By addressing these underlying factors that can cause low breast milk, often supply issues are more easily resolved.
Causes of Low Breast Milk Supply According to Chinese Medicine
1. Low energy (‘Qi’) and ‘Blood’
After giving birth, most mums are tired. All your best nutrients have gone into the baby during the pregnancy. Then there is the huge demand of childbirth, with many women losing a significant amount of blood. Then, when trying to recover, you are trying to work out how to take care of this tiny little creature who needs constant feeding through the night whilst your hormones are going through enormous changes.
It’s normal to be super tired. And then there is the next level of tiredness – pure exhaustion, which is barely tolerable.
When there is exhaustion and low breast milk supply, Chinese medicine sees this as your body simply not having what’s needed to make the milk.
Solutions for low energy and Blood
Once other factors have been excluded in consultation with your GP (including anaemia and thyroid issues), Chinese medicine can offer wonderful nourishing herbs to help restore your energy levels. Herbs will provide a faster and fuller recovery. The focus needs to be on building your energy and Blood – and the best tools aside from herbs are sleep (I know it’s hard!), rest, beautiful food (think bone broths, meaty soups and stews, lactation cookies with oats, brewer’s yeast and flaxseed) and acupuncture.
Say ‘no’ more frequently and vigorously protect your time to rest and sleep. Hydration is important. Meditations can be both calming and restorative. Keep exercise gentle.
2. Poor circulation of Qi
For some women, the Qi and Blood is there, and possibly even the breast milk is there, but it isn’t flowing well. If you’re in this camp, you may be more prone to mastitis.
Solutions for poor circulation of Qi
- Apply heat to your breasts prior to a feed (not if there is current mastitis), or take your baby into a warm shower and do a feed in there.
- Massage your breasts whilst feeding (get lactation advice on the best ways to massage).
- Express milk frequently.
- Maintain hydration.
- Take the time to go for some walks through the day – take your baby out in the pram or babywear for a beautiful walk. for at least 20 minutes.
- Once you have been given the all-clear (wait at least 6–8 weeks after birth), try to do a bit of cardio exercise.
- Acupuncture and herbs are likely to provide a faster result.
- Coffee is not your friend – swap it for dandelion tea, fenugreek and fennel or a beautiful herbal nursing tea (I quite like the Weleda one).
- Acupressure can be so helpful at this time (see points below).
3. Difficult emotions
Having a baby has the most enormous impact on your body and your life. Neither will ever be the same again. This is a lot to take in, especially when your hormones are haywire, sleep is minimal and demands are high.
You may also be recovering from a traumatic birth, or find that now that you have a baby, old issues from your past come rolling up.
If you have a great deal of difficulty adjusting to the change and demands of motherhood, it can impact your breast milk supply. Relaxation can be a hard ask, even if you do recognise it is direly needed.
Solutions for difficult emotions
- Lots of skin-to-skin contact – get into the bath with your baby, try to enjoy some baby-wearing time (bushwalks or beach walks wearing baby).
- Love is key – spend quality time with your loved ones, mother’s groups, meet up with your besties, make time for cups of tea. Remember the things you love to do most and find the time to do them.
- Enjoy nourishing meals – indulge with lactation cookes with brewer’s yeast, flaxseed and oats.
- If needed, find a great counsellor or use the breastfeeding counselling hotline. Ask for and let yourself receive as much help as possible.
- Acupuncture is wonderful at helping to regulate your nervous system.
- Acupressure can really help as well (try the points below).
Acupressure To Build Low Breast Milk Supply
To help boost your breast milk supply, try these acupressure points for 3–5 minutes at a time. You may want to ask your partner or a friend to help you.
Gall Bladder 21 (GB-21) Shoulder point
This point stimulates the letdown reflex and relieves tension and stress. Many mums carry stress in their shoulders and when they feel pain, it’s common for them to tense their shoulders up towards their ears. This is especially the case when learning how to breastfeed.
By helping your shoulders to relax, it enables your whole body, including breast tissue, to relax more and allows the oxytocin to flow which will assist with a good healthy milk supply.
This point also helps to relieve the aches and pains you feel as a new mother as you carry your baby for such long periods and use muscles you haven’t engaged much before.
Pressure can be applied with elbows or thumbs for a few minutes every few hours, before or during a feed.
Small Intestine 1 (SI-1) Little Finger Point
This point lies at the base corner of the little pinky nail, approx 1mm from the corner of the nail.
Press with firm pressure using the corner of a ruler or a blunt pencil to get into the point. It will feel quite sharp and should be done for 3–5 minutes on both hands. You can also try biting into it using your canine teeth for a stronger dose. This is an easy point to do on yourself.
This point promotes lactation and benefits the breasts. So if there is impending mastitis, or it has already hit, this is a great one to use. If there are breast nodules, it works well to help the Qi circulate throughout the breasts so it doesn’t get stuck. We recommend doing this at least three times a day when there are breast issues.
Know When to Let Go if Breastfeeding is Not Working
On a personal note, low breast milk supply was something that I struggled with. My daughter had severe tongue tie (needing three little surgeries as it kept growing back). My personality, together with my beliefs and hopes for motherhood, meant that I persisted with this struggle well beyond reasonable efforts. I gave myself and my little one a much harder time than we needed.
Retrospectively, I can see we would have been happier if I had been capable of letting go sooner. Surrendering to breastfeeding alternatives is a personal choice that affects not just your baby, but also your family and your health (physical and mental).
Whilst we give you some tips here to help you if you are still on the path to trying to build up your breast milk supply, please know that there is no shame if you cannot achieve full milk supply. Thankfully, we have access to formula (it’s not evil!) so that babies don’t go hungry when things don’t go according to plan.
If you’re a Sydney mum, book an acupuncture appointment at the Red Tent Health Centre to help ease breastfeeding difficulties or boost your breast milk supply.