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Breastfeeding and Chinese Medicine

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Breastfeeding and Chinese Medicine, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

Benefits of Breast Milk

Breast milk is the best source of food and nutrients for babies until six months of age. Not only is it always the perfect temperature and easily digestible, but its composition actually changes over time to meet the changing needs of the growing baby. Breast milk promotes brain development and lowers the risk of allergic reaction. It also contains a lot of antibodies, which can raise a baby’s immunity and lower their chances of developing an infection.

Babies who are exclusively breastfed tend not to have digestive problems and rarely suffer from constipation. They do not need additional water. As babies’ digestive organs are still in the process of developing, solids should be introduced slowly, beginning no earlier than 6 months.

Breastfeed your baby on demand to avoid problems such as engorgement, insufficient milk production, and mastitis.

Mother's Diet

In Chinese culture, the mother’s digestion is considered to be somewhat weak after giving birth. A simple, balanced diet consisting of warm, nourishing, easy-to-digest foods is recommended to help replenish blood and make breast milk. Traditionally, soups and stews are emphasized, and foods or drinks that are cold in temperature should be avoided. Adding a small amount of fresh ginger to soups or steeping and drinking it as a tea can be helpful.

In Chinese medicine, it is believed that hot, spicy, and fried foods should be avoided because they can upset the baby’s digestive system.

Foods to Promote Lactation

  • Drink plenty of water!!
  • Eat organic foods as much as possible
  • Herbal tea, especially mint, rose, and barley
  • Bone-in meats or fish (always organic)
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Gelatin (from grass-fed sources) or pig trotters (in a soup) 
  • Sea vegetables for trace minerals
  • Sweet potato 
  • Grains: oats, millet, barley, sweet rice
  • Legumes: adzuki, chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, soybeans
  • Papaya (especially green) - eat one a day, if possible
  • Fennel and fennel seed - increases supply 
  • Coconut water 
  • Young coconut meat
  • Herbs: basil, marjoram, anise, dill, caraway, turmeric (also helps reduce inflammation)

Plugged Ducts

Plugged ducts can show up as pain, tenderness, and warmth in one breast, a hard painful lump that may or may not look red on the surface, and skin irritation. If caught early, mastitis and plugged ducts may be massaged out and treated with hot, moist washcloths and frequent nursing on the affected breast.


Mastitis is an acute infection of the breast accompanied by a fever of 101°F or higher, flu-like symptoms (such as chills, body-aches, and fatigue) or even pus discharge or red streaks extending outward from the affected area.  There is often a rapid onset of symptoms and antibiotics or infection-fighting herbs may be needed.

Plugged Duct Home Treatment

  • Nurse or express milk frequently to avoid letting your breasts become engorged.
  • Gently but firmly massage the lump towards your nipple before and during each feed.
  • Change feeding positions to let gravity help empty the breast. For example, if the blockage is on the armpit area of the left breast, lie on the right side, and lean over to feed the baby from the left breast.
  • Massage the affected breast in a warm shower or try to hand express while under the warm water. 
  • Apply hot, moist compresses to the affected area. 
  • Get plenty of rest, drink sufficient fluids, and wear bras that fit appropriately and provide sufficient support.

Colic Tips

  • Chew a teaspoon of caraway seeds for five minutes, occasionally swallowing the juice. The carminative properties pass through breast milk and reduce infant colic. 
  • Make a tea by steeping 1 teaspoon of either fennel or anise seeds in 2 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain and drink.
  • Massage the baby’s abdomen, using gentle, clockwise strokes.
  • Lay the baby on your arm face down, with their legs straddling your elbow and their chin near the palm of your hand. Place your clean thumb in the baby’s mouth, nail side against the baby’s tongue, and allow them to suck it. The pressure from your arm on their belly, along with the sucking, can help expel gas and soothe the baby.

How Can Chinese Medicine Help?

  • Moxa or “mother warming’ starting at 4-5 days postpartum to warm up a depleted new mom. 
  • Chinese herbs to replenish the body, improve digestion, support milk production, and treat infection.
  • Acupuncture to reduce pain and soreness, improve energy levels, promote lactation, stabilize emotions, balance hormones, and ease recovery from childbirth.

Chinese Medicine Can Treat:

  • birth trauma
  • sore and swollen breasts
  • mastitis
  • insufficient breast milk
  • urinary problems
  • vaginal soreness
  • hemorrhoids
  • constipation
  • edema/water retention
  • hair loss
  • fatigue
  • body aches & pains
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • depression


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