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Herbal Therapy: Natural Boosters for Mother's Milk

Breast milk supplies all the nutrients a baby needs to develop and grow, provides increased immune protection and neurologic boosters, and helps create one of the closest bonds in the human experience.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast-feeding should begin as soon as possible after birth and continue for at least one year. Although breastfeeding a new baby seems like the natural progression of things, it often doesn't come so easily.

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Dr. Nancy Wight, neonatalogist and medical director of Lactation Services for Sharp Mary Birch Hospital in San Diego, uses herbs to help moms when breastfeeding becomes a challenge. Below, Dr. Wight answers some frequently asked questions about breastfeeding:

Q: Is there that much of a difference between formula and breast milk?

A: Formulas are better than they used to be, but they only provide nutrition. They do not provide the infection-fighting factors, growth hormones, special enzymes, or nutrients that breast milk does. Humans grow and develop best on human milk!

Q: What can I do if my milk isn't coming in?

A: The most important thing you can do is increase the frequency of breast-feeding or pumping your breasts. Breasts are a supply-and-demand organ; the more you demand of them the more milk they will make.

Also try to drink more water, get more rest, and eat a nutritious diet. If that doesn't work, you can try herbal remedies or prescription medications to increase your milk supply.

Q: Which herbs can help me increase my milk?

A: Fenugreek, fennel, and goat's rue can have a powerful effect on improving your milk supply. All of these come in tea or capsule form. Talk to an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) or qualified herbalist.

Q: How long before I can expect to see a difference?

A: Moms usually see a difference, if any, in two to four days. Discontinue if there's no response in five to seven days.

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Q: What are the benefits of choosing an herbal remedy over a prescription drug?

A: Herbal remedies usually don't require a prescription; you can get them at a health food store. Compared to prescription drugs they're certainly cheaper, only $1.50 to $2 a day.

They've also been used for thousands of years, and many of them have a proven safety record, whereas some prescription drugs may have side effects.

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Q: Do these herbal remedies have side effects?

A: They haven't been terribly well studied. We know that fenugreek lowers blood sugar in rats and in humans, and it also lowers cholesterol. We haven't had a real problem with the moms, nor have I seen any side effects in the babies. But these herbals need to be further studied. It hasn't been subjected to rigorous scientific study, just 60,000 years of human use.

Q: Which brands of herbs are the most reliable? How can I be sure I'm getting what I've paid for?

A: I cannot recommend specific brands. You should ask an herbalist for brands they trust and recommend.

The information expressed on this page is the opinions and perspectives of the individual featured here and is not necessarily endorsed or recommended by Discovery Health Online.

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