Herbal Safety Tips for Breastfeeding Moms

Many women are concerned, and rightly so, about what gets passed on to their babies through their breast milk. Considering that we are exposed to thousands of chemicals now (even rocket fuel is being detected in breast milk!), things are rather complicated when it comes to discerning what’s best for the health of our babies.

Women who want to live healthy lifestyles are often interested in herbal medicines and supplements. Unfortunately, there are few easily accesible studies done on the safety of breastfeeding and herbs. Almost all supplement packaging says “do not take if breastfeeding” due to the lack of research. I think this is another example of the lack of support for maternal health issues after pregnancy. Women’s health after pregnancy is pretty much neglected. Until better research is provided, you need to make your own decisions on this topic.

How much gets into breast milk?

About 1% of whatever chemical you ingest will go into your breast milk. This includes pesticides on your food, over the counter medications, caffeine, alcohol, etc. I know most breastfeeding women are concerned about the quality of their breast milk. When considering herbal safety, you should also remember that plants add micro nutrients and photochemicals which help our bodies function better and create better quality breast milk. Along with safety concerns we can also appreciate the healing gifts of herbs and the advances in using vitamins therapeutically.

Here are some guidelines to help you to determine if or how to use supplements or herbs safely while breastfeeding.

  1. Choose herbs with the mildest possible side effect or the widest margin of safety.
  2. Choose the best possible quality product. Do not take herbs that you aren’t 100% certain of what they are or the quality of the manufacturing.
  3. Choose simple formulas with only one or a few ingredients. Keep things simple so you know exactly what you’re taking.
  4. Pick product lines that do not use fillers such magnesium stearate.
  5. Start with the lowest dose that will be effective.
  6. Take a rest from your herbs for a couple of days if you are taking herbs for over 4 weeks.
  7. Be aware if an herb is known to increase or decrease milk supply or to affect fertility.
  8. Unless working with a doctor, licensed practitioner of Oriental Medicine, midwife, lactation expert, or licensed naturopath, wait until after your baby is several weeks (6 weeks) old before starting on any herbs.
  9. If your baby was born premature or has any metabolic disorder, or if you have a complicated disorder and take multiple medications, avoid taking herbs and supplements (multivitamin is still okay). Focus on homeopathy, nutrition, mind body practices, emotional support, and acupuncture.

Dosage Safety

  • Understand what a  typical dose is for your weight and size, take into account how you generally react to medications, and only take higher dosages if recommended by a licensed health care practitioner or highly experienced herbal expert.
  • Respect your own body and know that each person will respond differently to different herbs, supplements and even similar products from different companies. We are each unique. So is your baby.
  • The weight and size of your baby and how often they breastfeed need to be considered when determining dosages. Breastfeeding exclusively will give more concentration to the baby than if you are also supplementing with formula.
  • The younger your baby the lower your dosage should be. The older your baby the better they can metabolize. A newborn is still developing internal organ systems.

By taking these mindful steps, you can feel better about the choices you make regarding breastfeeding and herbs or other supplements. Please consult your pediatrician and or a lactation consultant for more information.

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Mariana Kurko

Mari is a licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine, a singer/songwriter and the creator of Mamashine. She is also a survivor of postpartum depression. Mari lives with her energetic son, her husband and various animals in Austin, TX.