900 NW 8th Avenue
Gainesville, FL 32601
Faith McCarthy, AP, RN
Bethany Bechtel, AP, PhD

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine for the Breastfeeding Mother

The needs of the breastfeeding mother

Pregnancy and childbirth require hard work from a woman’s body. In Chinese medical terms, much qi (energy) and blood is taken from the mother to support her baby. During the post-partum period a breast feeding mother must restore enough qi and blood to recover from her pregnancy and support lactation. Sufficient rest, proper hydration and nutrition are crucial during the months that follow delivery. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can provide additional support in the mother’s recovery process.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas for insufficient or absent lactation

From the point of view of the practitioner of Chinese medicine there are two major reasons for insufficient milk supply. One reason is deficient qi and blood, where the milk may be watery and the breasts not full. In such a case, acupuncture treatment can be given using points that tonify qi and blood. Moxibustion, a heat treatment, can be applied to these points in order to enhance the tonifying effect. The practitioner may also dispense formulas containing Chinese herbs known to tonify the qi and blood.

The second major reason for difficulty in lactation is qi stagnation, or obstructed flow of energy, in meridians which flow through the chest. In Western medical terms, such a blockage could be diagnosed as overactivity in the sympathetic nervous system, or what is commonly known as stress and anxiety. New motherhood, as joyful as it can be, can also produce considerable anxiousness for the mother as she adjusts to her new situation. When stressed, a woman may not produce enough prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production. Consequently, her milk supply will drop. Acupuncture can correct the situation through the treatment of points that release qi in the chest and relax the mother.

It is possible that insufficient lactation may be caused by a combination of qi and blood deficiency as well as qi stagnation. Thus, it may be necessary to use a combination of acupuncture points and herbs in order to address both causes.

Even after lactation is successfully established on-going acupuncture and herbal formulas can be quite beneficial to support the health of the mother as she continues to feed her baby.