breastfeeding babyBy Arden Yingling

We’ve all heard about the advantages of breastfeeding a new baby: It’s convenient and affordable, and breast milk offers valuable health benefits to both mama and baby.

You’ve probably also heard that it’s easy—and that’s usually true! But what about those times when breastfeeding is a struggle?

Early breastfeeding challenges are often due to simple issues with a baby’s positioning or latch. In those cases, lactation consultants, midwives, and postpartum doulas are amazing resources.

Sometimes though, women find that their milk production is low, or that milk won’t let down easily for their baby. Many discouraged mothers stop breastfeeding at this point. But wait! Acupuncture can help.

Milk production from an acupuncture perspective

In Chinese medicine, pregnancy and childbirth are seen as events that consume large amounts of the mother’s qi and blood. During the postpartum period, these resources must be replenished in order to feed the baby, because healthy milk production depends on qi and blood. You can’t create something out of nothing!

In our busy culture, new mothers often don’t rest much or eat well. Sometimes early parenthood feels like a contest to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible. Naps and healthy meals fall by the wayside.

This causes women to remain depleted after childbirth, resulting in deficiency and stagnation that leads to scanty milk production and/or a difficult letdown reflex.

Rest up and drink water while breastfeeding

One of the most crucial ways to build your body’s resources after pregnancy and birth is to rest. If you have other people at home with you, stay in bed for at least a week. Even longer is better, if you can.

Let your family and friends feed you, change diapers, and take care of other children and household tasks. Your job is to feed your newborn, sleep, and admire those cute toes you created.

Healthy food and water intake is also crucial during this time. Keep a big bottle of water within arm’s reach, and drink as soon as you feel thirsty. Dehydration is a common culprit in low milk supply.

What to eat while breastfeeding

The foods you eat after giving birth should be warming and nutrient-dense. Avoid raw and cold foods as much as possible, as they can block your body’s ability to extract qi from what you eat.

Here are some foods that are known for nourishing qi and blood:

Bone broth
Mushroom/garlic/ginger broth
Eggs
Chicken
Black beans
Beets
Cherries
Grapes
Blackstrap molasses

Acupressure for milk production

Acupressure is a great way to help your body clear stagnation and make abundant milk. Just apply firm but comfortable circular pressure for a minute or so to each point.

Here are a few points that either you or a partner can use, especially right before a nursing session:

Conception Vessel 17
conception vessel 17This point is located at the center of your sternum in the fourth intercostal space. In many people, it falls at about nipple level, right between your breasts. Conception Vessel 17 is excellent at triggering a milk letdown reflex, as well as easing stagnation through the entire chest.

Gallbladder 21
Found at the top of the shoulder on the high point of the trapezius muscle, Gallbladder 21 is another good point for helping milk flow easily, as it has a strong descending function. It tends to be where many of us hold physical and emotional stress, which can also impede milk production. Go ahead and ask someone to work out those knots for you!

Stomach 18
Locate this point at the underside of the breast where it joins the ribcage, directly below the nipple. If you’re feeling depleted and experiencing low milk production, Stomach 18 will help.

Acupuncture for new mothers

In addition to the self-care techniques outlined above, acupuncture treatments are a great way to nourish yourself after the strenuous work of growing and birthing a baby.

By diagnosing the patterns specific to your constitution, an acupuncturist can gently correct any imbalances that may be happening. This will allow your body to regain the energy and vital resources it needs to breastfeed.

During the postpartum period, acupuncture treatments may include needles, acupressure, moxibustion, and herbs. These are all great tools to get your qi and your milk flowing!

Photos by Jennifer Pariseau and Sara Calabro

arden yingling_austin, txArden Yingling is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist focusing on women’s and children’s health. She especially loves supporting mothers and mothers-to-be through the childbearing cycle. Her private practice, Songbird Acupuncture, is located in Austin, Texas.

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