Postnatal Acupuncture and taking time to heal after giving birth can greatly enhance your breastfeeding experience.
In traditional Chinese medicine, we believe you lose a lot of qi (life force), blood and body fluids during the pregnancy and birth. Supporting yourself just after giving birth can boost your stamina to care for your baby and greatly enhance your breastfeeding experience.
In China, there are traditions of care focused on helping women heal during the postnatal period. Traditionally, it’s my understanding; the mother-in-law and/or the mother of the new mom step in for the first month to help take care of the new baby. They feed the new mom bone soups and other healthy foods that help rebuild the blood and energy lost during the pregnancy and birth. In the U.S., we don’t have the same traditions. In fact, most new moms are left alone to care for their new baby while their husband is forced to return to work. The new mom is focused on caring for her newborn. She eats when she can. And she sleeps or takes care of the household when the baby sleeps, if she can. She becomes increasingly exhausted, because she has very little, if any, time to heal from the experience of giving birth. This exhaustion can lead to problems with breastfeeding and a plethora of other symptoms, such as postpartum depression, insomnia, inability to focus, anxiety, palpitations, and more. In this article, I’ll focus on postnatal healing and breastfeeding.
With traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), we treat based on each patient’s unique presentation of symptoms. We diagnose the pattern of disharmony and treat to relieve all of the symptoms associated with that pattern. After giving birth, some common patterns of disharmony include deficiencies of qi (energy or life force), blood and yin, blood stagnation or invasion of pathogenic cold and/or wind. Of those patterns, stagnation or deficiency can cause problems with breastfeeding.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Phases of Postnatal Care
Here is the general TCM approach to postnatal care for the new mom:
- The first three days post-birth are viewed as a time of elimination. During this time, we assist with the elimination process by moving or clearing stagnation.
- The next 30 days, at least, treatment is focused on strengthening and rebuilding the blood and qi that is inevitably lost throughout the pregnancy and childbirth.
- Following childbirth, women should avoid exposure to wind, cold and stress. Those are considered pathogenic factors that the new mom will be particularly vulnerable to, especially during the first 30 days following giving birth.
Root Causes and Treatment for Insufficient Lactation with TCM
If milk flow is insufficient, it’s imperative to boost it before it completely stops. If there is no milk flow, it’s much more difficult to restart. So, if possible, continue breastfeeding even if there is little or no flow. Then, get to your acupuncturist as soon as possible. I’ve had great success helping patients significantly increase milk flow with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. If you wish to continue breastfeeding, this is a simple, natural option free of side effects.
Here are some patterns that inhibit milk flow while breastfeading:
Stagnation – Flow is inhibited due to blockage. The main symptoms include swollen breasts, often painful, and an abundant milk supply, yet the breast is unable to empty. Additional symptoms might include the woman being nervous, easily frustrated or irritable. From a TCM perspective, this is simply a form of stagnation. It’s like a kink in a hose when you’re watering your garden. The flowers will not receive enough water until the kink is resolved and the full pressure of the water is released.Treatment with acupuncture is often helpful without the use of herbs. In some cases, however, where stagnation was present long-term, prior to pregnancy and birth, herbs may be necessary to release the blockage.
Deficiency – In this case, there is no breast distention and little or no breast milk for several days following the birth. Breast milk may be nutritionally insufficient as it is thin and watery. This is caused by the mother’s body being so tired. She has very little energy to support her own health; therefore, even less energy is left to support the creation of breast milk and breastfeeding the baby. This pattern of disharmony generally takes longer to treat, because the root cause is potentially long-term deficiency or constitutional weakness prior to the pregnancy and birth. A long, complicated birth that resulted in excess qi, fluid and blood loss can also cause this pattern of imbalance. There are many other possibilities as well. However, once her specific pattern of disharmony is diagnosed, it can be treated with acupuncture, herbs and nutritional guidance.
Please don’t spend too much time being stressed about milk flow. Stress will only make it worse. Go see your acupuncturist. Find out your pattern of disharmony, and get some guidance on treating it naturally.