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Natural Remedies for Problems in Breastfeeding, Part 2
© Susun S. Weed

With the resurgence of interest in breastfeeding, there is increasing demand for natural remedies for the minor problems that accompany nursing. These remedies, taken from my book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, offer simple, safe ways for nursing women and their infants to counter problems and stay healthy. This information has been collected from wise women, old wives, and granny midwives. May you benefit from their wisdom.

PAINFUL BREASTS, ENGORGEMENT, SORE NIPPLES

Painful, sore breasts and nipples are one of the most common problems encountered during lactation. Virtually every nursing mom will need help on this account at least once. Sore breasts and nipples can prevent nursing, lead to a decrease in milk production, and interfere with the bonding between infant and mother.

There are three main causes of painful breasts:

  1. Engorgement
    An oversupply of milk engorges the breast tissues, causing tenderness and pain. There is no fever and the breasts are not lumpy. Engorgement may occur as a result of a decision not to nurse, when milk comes in very quickly, when mother and child are separated for an extended time, or during weaning.

    A very strong tea of sage is a classic remedy for stopping the flow of milk. It is taken sip by sip, up to three cups a day.

  2. 2. A blocked milk tube or duct
    This causes swelling of the breast and acute pain. The blocked duct may feel lumpy and bruised, and a red streak may radiate out from it. Cessation of nursing can increase the discomfort and endanger the milk supply. Nursing should be continued, but carefully, nursing and pumping just enough to empty the breast.

    Right before nursing, use a warm compress for 5 - 10 minutes (see following). They all taste fine to baby, so no need to wash your breast before offering it.

  3. Mastitis (infection in the breast)
    Causes swelling and pain, accompanied by acute tenderness and redness of the breast. The infected breast may be hard, lumpy and swollen. There may be fever as well. This condition is the most dangerous of the three. If not treated promptly, the infection can cause scarring of the ducts and prevent nursing a later child.

REMEDIES FOR MASTITIS

Use hot compresses or soaks at least four times daily. Get plenty of bed rest. Breast infections are almost always a sign of too little rest. Regular naps or rest breaks are important too.

Nurse as often and as long as possible on the infected breast. A breast infection will not make the infant sick.

Propolis is collected and used by bees as glue. It has a history of use against infection in Russia and a strong following among midwives in North America. It is said to accelerate healing time by increasing the body's metabolism and general resistance to disease. A dose of the tincture is 10 to 15 drops twice a day.

Echinacea root tincture is an excellent ally for any woman with mastitis. I use one-half drop per pound of body weight as a single dose. (For a woman who weighs 130 pounds, the dose is 65 drops or two dropperfuls.) The dose is repeated as often as twelve times a day until symptoms remiss. I continue taking Echinacea for at least a week after all symptoms have cleared.

Poke root (Phytolacca americana) tincture stimulates lymph gland activity and clears mastitis quickly. Poke root is potent and potentially toxic; the effect is cumulative. Use no more than two drops of the tincture daily. I combine poke with Echinacea for acute and severe infections.

POULTICES AND SOAKS FOR SORE BREASTS

Poultices, compresses and soaks are the best first aid for painful breasts. A poultice consists of fresh or cooked herbs placed directly on the breasts. A compress is prepared by soaking a cloth and applying that. And a soak is just that: - a soak in hot water.

Hot water alone has beneficial effects for women dealing with sore breasts, no matter what the cause. Hot water stimulates circulation and eases the tension in taut, swollen, breast tissues. Herbs infused in the water used to compress or soak increase the effectiveness.

When applying these external remedies, remember that frequent, consistent, short applications work better than sporadic, lengthy treatments. That is, six or seven treatments of five minutes each spread over the day will be more effective than one treatment lasting for thirty minutes. If infection is present, discard any plant material and wash the poultice materials after each use so as to prevent the spread of the infection.

Soak the breasts in a sink full of warm water. Fill the sink, lean over, and immerse one or both breasts. You can massage the milk out while soaking to further relieve engorgement and ease pain.

Place a handful of fresh or dried parsley leaves in a clean cotton diaper and tie it closed with a rubber band. Put in a pan of water and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Apply the hot (fresh) parsley as a poultice or use the (dried) herb still tied in the diaper as a compress to ease swollen and painful breasts.

Prepare fresh or dried comfrey leaves the same way as parsley. A hot compress or poultice of comfrey leaves soothes sore nipples, softens engorged tissues, reduces the pain of swollen breasts, and helps unblock tubes and ducts. It is generally considered safe to use comfrey root preparations externally, but nursing mothers may be understandably leery to use them for fear of injuring her infant's liver.

A cold poultice of grated raw potato can draw out the heat of inflammation, localize infection and unblock clogged tubes. Grated raw potato is applied directly to the breasts, and covered with a clean cloth. When dry, it is removed and replaced with fresh grated potato.

Marshmallow roots make wonderful soaks that soothe tender tissues and sore nipples, open clogged ducts and tubes, powerfully draw out infection, and diminish the pain of engorged, inflamed breasts. Steep two ounces of dried marshmallow root overnight in half a gallon of water just off the boil. The texture of the finished brew should be slippery and slimy. Heat as needed, pouring the hot liquid into a sink or basin and soak your sore and aching breasts.

Infused herbal oils - such as those made from the flowers of calendula, elder, or dandelion, or from the roots of yellow dock - can ease the pain of tender breasts and sore nipples. Buy them ready-made. Or make them yourself: Gently warm a handful of dried or fresh blossoms in just enough olive oil to cover; keep warm for 20 minutes. Strain, cool, and rub into nipples and breasts whenever there is pain or sensitivity.

PREVENTING SORE NIPPLES

Sore nipples heal rapidly, often within a day or two, but it is still easier to prevent them than to heal them. Nipple sprays intended to prevent sore nipples have been shown to be ineffective, but the following Wise Woman remedies are safe and effective. Note: Persistently or suddenly sore nipples may indicate a thrush infection. Further symptoms of thrush include pink, flaky skin and itchy nipples.

  • Continue to nurse. Neither sore nipples nor thrush are helped by discontinuing nursing; in fact, they may be remedied by more frequent nursing.

  • Expose the nipples and breasts to the air as much as possible to discourage the growth of thrush. Avoid wearing a bra 24 hours a day. Wear nursing bras with the flaps down whenever possible.

  • Expose the nipples and breasts to sunlight for brief periods to strengthen tissues. Increase gradually from thirty seconds in the sun to a maximum of three minutes.

  • Olive oil, sweet almond oil, lanolin, or comfrey ointment rubbed into the nipples throughout the latter part of the pregnancy and the beginning weeks of nursing create healthy, flexible tissues very resistant to cracks, tears, and chapping.

  • Experiment with different nursing positions until you find those in which you are completely comfortable, with the entire areola (dark area) in the baby's mouth, nipple centered.

  • Offer your breast often. Reducing the number of feedings can make the baby so hungry that it tears at the breast.

  • Avoid soap, cologne, deodorant and powder on your nipples or breasts. Do not wash nipples with soap. Soap predisposes the nipples to chapping and cracking.

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REMEDIES FOR SORE NIPPLES
  • Crushed ice wrapped in a wet cloth, or a frozen gauze pad, applied to the nipples immediately before nursing is a good local pain killer. This cold treatment also helps bring out soft or small nipples and helps baby feed more easily when the breasts are very full.

  • Comfrey ointment softens and strengthens nipples at the same time. It is exceptionally soothing to sensitive nipples and rapidly heals any fissures or bruises.

  • Yarrow leaf poultices - or yarrow infused oil - provide almost instantaneous pain relief and heal cracked nipples rapidly.

  • Any of the poultices described for painful breasts may be used advantageously. Comfrey and marshmallow are especially effective. Many brief poultices work better than one or two lengthy sessions.

  • The gel from a fresh aloe vera leaf will soothe and heal sore and cracked nipples.

  • Calendula ointment is an old favorite to heal and strengthen nipples. CAUTION: Ointments containing antibiotics, steroids and anesthetic (painkilling) drugs are potentially harmful to both mother and infant.

REFERENCES AND RESOURCES

The Complete Book of Breastfeeding, Sally Olds and Marvin Eiger; 1972 Bantam Books
Nursing Your Baby, Karen Pryor; 1973, Simon and Schuster
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League, 1963.
Breastfeeding Basics, Cecelia Worth; 1983 McGraw Hill
La Leche League, 9616 Minneapolis Ave., Franklin Park, IL 60131
Aftercare: Sharon Hamilton; Babies Grow on Milk and Kisses; Arny Galblum Booklets available from Emma Goldman Clinic for Women, 715 Dodge Street, Iowa Cily, IA 52240
The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra; Unity Press

Click here to see more of Susun Weed's articles on StorkNet!

For more information about herbs and pregnancy, including herbs to use during birth, to improve lactation, and to help the newborn infant, see: Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, by Ash Tree Publishing. To receive a free brochure of classes and correspondence courses available from Susun S Weed, contact her at:
Susun Weed
PO Box 64
Woodstock, NY 12498
Fax: 1-845-246-8081

Visit Susun Weed at: www.susunweed.com and www.ash-tree-publishing.com. For permission to reprint this article, contact us at: susunweed@hvc.rr.com

Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.

Susun is one of America's best-known authorities on herbal medicine and natural approaches to women's health. Her four best-selling books are recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians and are used and cherished by millions of women around the world. Learn more at www.susunweed.com. Susun's books include Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, Healing Wise, Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, and Breast Cancer? Breast Health!

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