Natural treatments for nursing moms

August 1, 2011. Posted in: Herbs/natural treatments


Although many medications are compatible with breastfeeding, it’s always a good idea to minimize the use of medications when nursing. Following are various natural treatments for nursing moms that I have collected.

Keep in mind that herbal and other “natural” treatments in general are not without risk for nursing moms – herbs can be just as pharmacologically active as meds from the pharmacy. Before using any herbal treatment, investigate whether it is safe for nursing moms.

Dehydration: Oral Rehydration Formula Recipes

For adults, lost fluids and electrolytes can be replaced with virtually any beverage plus a source of sodium chloride (salted crackers, etc.), or you can use an oral rehydration formula. For children and babies who are no longer nursing, a commercial rehydration formula (like Pedialyte) is generally recommended. For nursing babies and children, breastmilk is best.

Here is a recipe to make an electrolyte replacement fluid [source: Diarrhea from the U.S. Pharmacist website]:

½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 teaspoons sugar
8 ounces orange juice
Dilute to 1 liter with water

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Homeopathic remedies

Although there is little – if any – professional literature in this field on the use of homeopathic medicine, my reading and research has led me to the conclusion that these remedies pose minimal – if any – risk to the nursing baby. Homeopathic remedies are reportedly very safe for nursing moms and babies because the remedies (by definition of homeopathy) contain only very dilute versions of the active substances. Many lactation consultants have used or recommended homeopathic remedies to their clients.

Most experts believe that homeopathic remedies are unlikely to pose a problem for the nursing baby and mother.

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Itchy nipples: Vinegar rinse

Mix 1 tablespoon white vinegar with about a cup of water. Lean over the cup and soak nipple in it for a minute or so, then stand over the sink and pour it slowly over the nipple. This can bring immediate relief. If you have itchy nipples, keep in mind that you might have thrush.

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Low milk supply associated with menstruation: Calcium/magnesium supplement

Some women experience a drop in milk supply from ovulation (mid-cycle) until the first day or two of the next menstrual period. A woman’s blood calcium levels gradually decrease during this period of time, and for some women the drop in blood calcium causes a drop in milk supply. For women who have this problem, calcium/magnesium supplements may be helpful. This practice has also been reported to eliminate most uterine cramping and some premenstrual discomfort such as water retention.

The recommended calcium supplement dosage is between 500 mg calcium/250 mg magnesium and 1500 mg calcium/750 mg magnesium (the higher dosage is generally more effective). Calcium dosages this high should not be taken alone, but as a calcium/magnesium (or calcium/magnesium/zinc) combination. Otherwise the calcium will not be adequately absorbed into your body. The amount of supplement depends on the composition of your diet — the more animal protein, the more calcium/magnesium needed. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, the lower dosage may work fine for you. If you supplement more than 500 mg calcium per day, then divide the dose so you’re not taking it all at once  – calcium absorption is best when a person consumes no more than 500 mg at one time.

Start the supplement when you ovulate, and continue through the first few days of your menstrual period. If periods are irregular, then begin calcium/magnesium at 14 days after the beginning of your last menstrual cycle, or simply take the supplement every day.

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Mastitis: a non-antibiotic treatment

  • Take mom’s and baby’s clothes off, get into bed and nurse, nurse, nurse (mastitis appears to be the body’s way of telling mom to SLOW DOWN). Get as much rest as possible.
  • Between feedings, use a cold compress on the breast to help with any inflammation. Some moms use hot compresses directly before nursing, but others prefer to stick to the cold. Compresses/poultices that can be helpful:
    • Make a rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) infusion: to make an infusion, add 2-4 teaspoons of fresh or dried rosemary to a cup of boiling water. Infuse (steep) for 10 minutes, then strain.
    • Use a fenugreek seed poultice;
    • Make a dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) compress: boil about an ounce of minced dandelion root in two to three cups of water until only half the liquid remains; use compresses of the resulting brew.
  • When your baby nurses on the affected side (use that side first), massage the breast towards the nipple. Massage the breast often during feedings and between feedings to help loosen the plugged area.
  • If there is a fever, mom can take
    • Raw garlic- At least 2-3 raw cloves per day, 4-5 cloves a day if possible. Chop a clove into 5 or 6 pieces and then swallow the pieces whole like pills.Raw garlic acts as a broad-spectrum antibiotic, without the added antibiotic side effects of the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, or the development of yeast infections or thrush. The antimicrobial property in garlic, allicin, is very sensitive to heat and is destroyed when cooked. In order for it to work, it needs to be raw. Swallowing the cloves with orange juice helps with the taste for some. Allicin is also what gives garlic its pungent odor, so the deodorized garlic capsules that some companies offer are essentially useless, if they are being taken for the antimicrobial properties. However, deodorized garlic is still beneficial for its blood pressure reducing properties and for stimulating the immune system.
    • Tincture of echinacea, 3-4 times/day
    • Tincture of Oregon grape root, 3-4 times a day
    • Vitamin C (3000-5000 mg/day megadose)
    • Another option: Mix a dropperful of echinacea tincture, three cloves of raw garlic and four to six ounces of carrot juice in a blender and drink the mixture every two hours.
  • A very warm shower can help – let the water just run over your breast.
  • You can also take ibuprofen, which will help with inflammation and pain.
  • If the mastitis does not improve or gets worse after using this treatment for 24-48 hours, contact your doctor – you may need antibiotic treatment.

More information on treating mastitis can be found here: Mastitis and Plugged Ducts

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Migraine: Natural Treatment

I’ve collected a few suggestions that are reported to be helpful for migraines:

Cayenne Pepper:

Taking cayenne inside the nose helps to open up the blood vessels. This enables the blood to get nutrients to all parts of the brain. Warning – this can burn a bit, so keep the grains of cayenne down to as few as possible.

To stop a migraine follow these simple steps:

  • Open the capsule and dip the flat end of a dry toothpick into the cayenne to pick up 3-4 grains.
  • Block one nostril and gently put cayenne up the other nostril.
  • Sniff deeply 3-4 times until you feel the flecks of pepper in your throat. (If you don’t feel this, do it again).
  • Once you feel the warmth in your throat, you headache should be gone in minutes

Other suggestions:

Taking 500 mg of magnesium per day and increasing your water intake to 8-10 glasses per day can be helpful. One person reported that her migraines were still coming at the time they usually did (during her cycle), but were much less intense and went away faster.

Another person resolved her migraine problem by eliminating ALL animal fat the week before menstruation (skim milk, non-fat yogurt ok), and adding evening primrose oil to her diet.

If you feel that you need migraine meds, keep in mind that a number of migraine meds are considered compatible with breastfeeding, including Sumatriptan (Imitrex).

Here are a couple of outside links:

Natural Migraine Treatment FAQ. “This Natural Migraine Treatment FAQ, posted to alt.support.headaches.migraine, attempts to summarize all non-medical treatments that help prevent or cure migraine headaches. Most treatments mentioned here have worked for many people, and usually have a theoretical basis as well. This FAQ doesn’t discuss drugs.”

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Plugged milk duct: Lecithin

Lecithin can be very helpful for treating and preventing recurrent plugged ducts. See Lecithin treatment for recurrent plugged ducts for more information.

More information on treating recurrent plugged ducts can be found here: Recurrent Mastitis or Plugged Ducts

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Plugged milk duct: Potato

Place grated raw cold potato on the affected breast. Cover with towels until dry. Repeat if desired.

More information on treating plugged ducts can be found here: Mastitis or Plugged Ducts

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Sore nipples: Tea bags

There are better ways to heal sore nipples. Warm water dips (or saline dips), breastmilk, medical-grade lanolin (Lansinoh, etc.) and hydrogel dressings are more commonly used to treat sore nipples. Any time that mom has sore nipples, the cause of the soreness should also be addressed. Studies are conflicting on whether tea bags are helpful for reducing the pain of sore nipples (Riordan 2005). The tannic acid in the tea (which has astrigent qualities) can cause drying and cracking (Lawrence 2005), and anecdotal evidence suggests that some babies do not suck as well after tea bags have been used.

In some locations, wet tea bags remain a popular folk remedy for the treatment of nipple pain. They are inexpensive and can be found in most homes, making them easily accessible at the onset of difficulties. They may be soothing because of the moist warmth. Tea bags have been the subject of a number of studies; they appear neither to prevent nor reduce nipple soreness (Lavergne 1997). Furthermore, the tannic acid in the tea can act as an astringent causing drying and cracking, rather than healing.
– from “Nipple Pain: Causes, Treatments, and Remedies” by Jahaan Martin

Buchko BL, Pugh LC, Bishop BA, Cochran JF, Smith LR, Lerew DJ. Comfort measures in breastfeeding, primiparous women. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 1994 Jan;23(1):46-52.

Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM, editors. Breastfeeding, A Guide for the Medical Profession. St. Louis: Mosby, Inc., 2005, p. 284.

Lavergne, NA. Does application of tea bags to sore nipples while breastfeeding provide effective relief? J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 1997 Jan-Feb;26(1):53-8.

Morland-Schultz K, Hill PD. Prevention of and therapies for nipple pain: a systematic review. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2005 Jul-Aug;34(4):428-37.

Pugh LC, Buchko BL, Bishop BA, Cochran JF, Smith LR, Lerew DJ. A comparison of topical agents to relieve nipple pain and enhance breastfeeding. Birth. 1996 Jun;23(2):88-93.

Riordan J. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, 3rd ed. Boston and London: Jones and Bartlett, 2005; p. 227.

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Sore nipples during ovulation: Evening primrose oil

Some mothers have found that taking one capsule per day of evening primrose oil can be helpful for preventing sore nipples due to hormonal changes during ovulation or around the time of menstruation.

Evening primrose oil is generally considered safe for nursing moms. It is reported useful for nursing moms who are trying to conceive. It is also reported useful for treating postpartum depression, sore nipples during ovulation, PMS, fibrocystic breasts, Raynaud’s syndrome and plugged ducts. EPO is derived from Oenothera biennis seeds and is an excellent source of essential fatty acids and their more complex metabolites GLA ( gamma linoleic acid). The suggested dosages that I have seen vary from 500-6500 mg per day for various problems: 500 mg per day has been suggested for breastfeeding moms with sore nipples during ovulation; 1000 mg 3 times a day for PMS or fibrocystic breasts. According to Hale, overt toxicity of this product appears to be quite low. No pediatric concerns have been reported. The Botanical Safety Handbook regards EPO as “safe when used appropriately.” Overdoses of essential fatty acids have been known to provoke gall bladder attacks.

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Additional Information

Natural Remedies for Labour and Postpartum by Stacelynn Caughlan, Cl.N., C.H., R.N.C.

Disclaimer: Most herbal treatments have not been thoroughly researched, particularly in regard to lactation. Herbs are drugs, and some caution is necessary. I am presenting this data as is, without any warranty of any kind, express or implied, and am not liable for its accuracy nor for any loss or damage caused by a user’s reliance on this information.
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