It's #worldbreastfeedingweek this week and as much as I could sit here and regurgitate facts and figures about health benefits to you, I thought that this would make for a more interesting read!
We know that breastfeeding is biologically natural for human babies and we know that our rates in the UK are really low compared to the rest of the world. As a herbalist approaching my own breastfeeding relationship, I thought I had it sussed but in fact my very first experience only highlighted that I still had a lot to learn. After being failed by a lack of available information, I stopped feeding much earlier than I had wanted. In hindsight, I can see that there were areas where I needed help and didn't get it and that the info I did get, was largely anecdotal or opinion, rather than evidence based support and that did make a difference to me.
After baby number two, my experience was very different and after having sought out support in different forms, I decided to become a peer supporter. I will never forget sitting down to read through the course material and being absolutely dumbfounded by the depth of knowledge needed. Not just the mechanics, biology, and biochemistry of feeding, but so much more about the supporting relationship and subtle ways of how the breastfeeding relationship can be undermined.
I would have once happily chirped up on a public forum, handing out herbal remedies for low supply/cracked nipples or suspected reflux; but becoming a peer supporter has taught me so much more and an off the cuff recommendation may just be papering over some quite deeper cracks. Fundamental to the breastfeeding relationship is expert support with feeding; this can be from a peer supporter, breastfeeding counsellor or Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant but basically, someone with a specific training in breastfeeding. I had no idea these people existed either, so the journey really was awakening to me!
When a new mother comes to me as a patient now, I wholly support the mother transitioning into her new role; this can be a rollercoaster and so my job as a herbalist is to help guide the new mama and nourish and nurture her as she moves into her own nurturing role. In western society we have forgotten many of the rituals and traditions to honour a new mother and to pay attention to the enormous job her body has just done and the demands being put upon her moving forwards; it doesn't matter at what stage she is in her mothering journey, she will need tlc after pregnancy and birth.
Working with new mothers and breastfeeding is such an important job for us to get right as support can really make or break a journey; as professionals in our field it is crucial for us to be able to provide excellent guidance to our patients.
When it comes to nurturing a new mother or health of an infant, then we herbalists have got it sussed. When it comes to specific breastfeeding support then we know that getting help from one of the qualified people who I mention above, is key to preserving the breastfeeding relationship. As I said before, suggesting a simple remedy to a mother may provide some symptomatic relief which is great, but unless the underlying problem has been addressed, then we could end up with the same issues recurring time and time again or premature cessation of breastfeeding, which may come with its own emotional issues for mum too. Cream to soothe cracked nipples is well received, but unless the cause of the cracks has been assessed, then it's a short-term fix for a longer-term problem. This is the same with remedies for reflux and supply. Many difficulties with feeding in the early days can be attributed to positioning and attachment of baby at the breast, possibly misinformation from well-meaning friends and relatives and an unrealistic set of expectations of life with a baby!
Remedies to help 'boost supply' whilst seemingly helpful, can also damage and undermine our belief in our bodies – there is a small percentage of women who cannot physically breastfeed a baby, but most can. It's just that being told we need foods and remedies to increase our supply plants that seed of doubt that we might just not make enough milk...how disempowering is that? And the myth that big babies can't be breastfed? Well, that's poppycock, I've successfully and exclusively fed a 9lb 4oz baby, I know many mothers who have fed similar sized babies or bigger and some who've exclusively fed twins. A key factor in this is good attachment of the baby and what can be helpful for that? (yup, you've guessed it!) expert support. It really is the answer.
As a herbalist, we pride ourselves on being holistic and dealing with the whole person - with breastfeeding it is no different. We know that signposting a new mum to the right kind of expert support and guiding her to obtain the help she needs will empower her and ensure that she can continue to breastfeed for as long as she wants to. So with that in mind, if you're a new mum or expecting a baby then speak to your local herbalist to get some guidance and support for you - and know that we will help you to get any additional support that you may need. After all, it's our job to take a balanced and integrated approach to your health.
All of the helplines are run by qualified volunteers.
The National Breastfeeding Helpline is available from 9.30am - 9.30pm daily and can be reached on 0300 100 0212.
The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers helpline is available from 9.30am - 10.30pm. You can reach them on 0300 330 5453
The Breastfeeding Network run a specialised Drugs in Breastmilk service, which is of huge importance - their website is
La Leche League is available on 0345 120 2918. If nobody is immediately available to answer your call, then do leave a message and someone will respond to you ASAP.