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When I was pregnant with our last baby, Aury, I had contemplated having an artist do henna on my big ol’ belly.  After some research, I felt convicted that hiring someone to do it would possibly jeopardize my values, knowing that there is a lot of symbolism in henna art, plenty that may conflict with my personal beliefs.  And not being experienced or knowledgeable enough in this area, I didn’t want to compromise accidentally.

Earlier this year, however, a dear friend of mine posted about this wonderful ministry through International Mission Board called “Share the Gospel with Henna.”  I ordered their e-book, chalk full of stories and henna art and symbolism that tells the story that I find the Greatest Story on earth.  What a cool concept!

The problem?  Well, two summers ago we had a majorly failed attempt at mixing our own henna paste, and buying pre-made paste was a) not fresh, and b) often full of yucky chemicals that I have no desire to share with our unborn baby or myself.  You also have to know the “right” kind of henna to buy, and there are a zillion recipes out there.  I felt like it was way over my head.

With renewed inspiration – and encouragement from two girlfriends who were extremely supportive of my desire to share the Gospel through my swollen belly – I went at it again.  This time, with much more success.  I’ll share my recipe (and tips) below.  Meanwhile, I want to share with you what a blessing this was for me.  You see, at heart, I’m a DIY’er. I wanted to beat this thing – this defeat – of last time.  Temporary tattoos with meaning could be something I’d enjoy so much if only I could figure it out!

Freshly pasted belly.

I also want to share here some changes in our lives that made this henna’d belly such a blessing to me.  Y’all should know by now that change is not my favorite thing.  In fact, this was one that left me feeling pretty vulnerable and uncomfortable at first.  But, as always, God is good – and provides peace if we’re willing to accept it.

Halfway through this pregnancy, I found out that we would no longer be able to continue with our previous midwives unless we were paying cash.  In fact, unbeknownst to us, we had racked up many thousands through them that our insurance would turn out unable to cover.

Knowing we have excellent insurance, we had to make a hard decision and decided it’d be best to find someone who was able to utilize our resources.  Until this pregnancy, we’d always had a plan from the get-go, and stayed with our same midwives through birth.  In fact, in previous pregnancies, we were doubly covered with both OB’s and midwives, “just in case.”  So we were definitely fish out of the water this time.  And five months pregnant, oh my!

Thanks be to God, I had the immense privilege of walking side by side with a sweet friend as she journeyed through her first pregnancy late last year.  She had been seeing a midwife group that was unfamiliar to me, and I got the honor to watch in action as I doula’d and photographed her birth.  Having been to some prenatal appointments with her as well, I was really impressed with the practice’s services.  At the time, though, I wasn’t shopping.  Then just like that, here we were, provider-less.  Ah ha!

Fast forward to now, and we’re in love.  They meet almost all of our criteria and have pre-authorization with our insurance, shockingly less than expected, and so we were able to pay up front – and know what to expect.  No surprises.  Whew!  I cried with relief when I found out.

You’ll note I say they meet most of our desires.  Here are a few of those:

  • Covered by our insurance
  • Confident they can make it to the birth (we birth fast!)
  • Have a similar (very natural) philosophy as us, and yet:
  • Have the ability, wisdom, and medical know-how to handle what-if’s
  • Have privileges, but not be in partnership, with a local hospital

Feeling protective of my first-timer girlfriend, I had asked a lot of questions of them when I had attended her prenatal visits.  One was how they handle over-due birthers.  We’ve gone significantly over our estimated due date several times, and you’ll recall that it got a little dramatic with Flynn.  I wanted to know what their game plan would look like for my girlfriend’s sake, just in case.  Their answer was spot on, which has been an immense relief to me then and also now that we’re using them as well!

A huge selling point?  They have copies of Nourishing Traditions in their waiting room.  Bingo!

Early on when searching for new midwives, I was surprisingly concerned with the fact that there was a possibility that the people providing for me during birth – one of the more intense and intimate times of life – may not share my beliefs (aaaaaaand we’re coming back around to the original point of the post, and the “thing” I wasn’t sure they fit with what we’d “want”).  I don’t know why this bothered me so much, because it really doesn’t meet my general jive of what I think about midwives, birthing, etc.  It was this feeling, though, that led me to want to be a witness, even in birth… even on my belly.

48 hours after application, nice and dark.

Since we made the decision to go with these midwives, I have gotten to know one of the two particularly intimately and feel extremely comfortable talking openly with her about any subject.  The bond with women is real, sisters.  And I’m so thankful to have it with her instead of feeling like she’s a “new person” in my life that I have to filter my beliefs with, etc.  I feel quite similar with the other midwife there, but haven’t yet had as many intimate opportunities with her.  Well, I guess I will soon if she’s the one on-call!  And I’m very, very comfortable with that.  I’m so thankful!  Why was I so worried?!

We’re not fish out of water when we allow God to direct our lives and do not fear.  We never are.  Let that sink in.

One of my favorite ladies and someone I consider a second Mama will also be at our birth, Lord willing.  She’s made it to each one yet.  We’ve prepared and are ready when this little one’s ready, and once again, realize there will be less change than fear caused us to believe (fear is a liar, after all).  We are also, once again, supported and surrounded by so many wonderful friends and family – for the birth and the days after.

Today, I must admit, I’m excited for labor to start.

Henna Paste

  • 14 T. henna (we used this one, and since it worked, I’m linking it for my future reference)
  • 6 T. white sugar
  • 5 T. eucalyptus essential oil
  • 1 T. clove bud essential oil
  • 3 T. espresso powder diluted in 1 cup water
  • more water, as needed

I mixed the first 4 ingredients, then added the espresso water bit by bit, stirring aggressively along the way.  I did end up adding a couple more tablespoons of water to get the consistency I was wanting.  It should be gooey like toothpaste, and very stretchy/elastic.  But still thick enough that it doesn’t dribble out of the fine-tipped applicator you’ll be using.  You also want to be sure to not have ANY lumps.  You can get this by sifting the henna through cloth (we didn’t) at least 3 times.  We also found that letting this mixture sit overnight in a semi-warm spot to “cure” (to allow the dye to release) made nearly all lumps there may have been dissolve by the final mixing that next day.

We made our own cones to apply out of page protectors, as this YouTuber suggested.  Turns out, we used about a tablespoon total of henna paste for my whole entire belly.  We filled and froze cones (with about a tablespoon each) for later use.  The recipe above made approximately 18 cones.

I also made a “henna balm” with beeswax, cocoa butter, castor oil and coconut oil.  Apparently applying some before water exposure (shower, pool, etc) will help the art last longer.  And it smells amazing, so there’s that.  Update: after several uses, I’m convinced I’ll be using this regularly long after the henna is faded and gone.  It just may replace my trusty Palmer’s pump bottle (the goo that I’m convinced have kept stretch marks away for six full-term pregnancies now).

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Back in the day when I did ballet, I was exceptionally flexible. So much that I was told by professionals to avoid working on additional stretch, instead focusing on supportive muscles, so that I wouldn’t suffer long-term problems.

Well, at last I’m seeing some ramifications for what was a lovely blessing during my dancing days: After Aury was born (I didn’t notice during pregnancy at all), I suffered for 9+ months Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), also called pelvic instability or pelvic girdle pain. I didn’t realize what my problem was until this pregnancy when it started around week 26 and I recognized the feeling.* It has gotten progressively worse and is what (even minor) makes pregnant women “wobble” as they grow. Some women experience it more/less than others. It can potentially become a big issue, but not often.

Hoping to keep post-birth recovery more simple and shorter than after Aury’s birth, I’ve been doing a lot of research and bringing out some of the tools from my dancing days. Thanks to my sister who is a professional athletic physical therapist, I’ve been doing several exercises & implementing restrictions (below) to help, and have added kinesiology tape to my bag of tricks (it’s been a surprisingly wonderful thing!).  I also just got a supportive belt last week (and will wear it after birth, as necessary). Rather than support my growing BELLY or back, it just snugs up my whole pelvis to keep flexibility to a minimum. So far, so good. I’m feeling so encouraged after a couple of weeks of pretty intense discouragement!

The pain was slight at first, ramping up as I made errors in judgment.  The first time was when I was back-wearing Aury and slipping in the mud – flip flops on a rainy day to do chores?  Stupid fool.  It was the incident that made me ask for advice more aggressively.  Thanks to a referral from a friend (and then my midwife), I went to my first ever physical therapy appointment last week.  The PT was compassionate and empathetic.  She helped me with additional exercises at home (below) that I could use to support my pelvis.  I was in a good amount of pain on this visit, but by my follow up visit two days later, I already noted significant improvement.  They did some deep massage and had me working on some more exercises.  I had another set back late last week, but already am feeling encouraged by a decently quick recovery after a weekend of being doted on by my kids and husband.  And very, very little movement.

This gets me excited.  This flies in the face of the research I initially did on the internet.  Everything I read said there was no cure, other than waiting out hormone adjustments after birth.  Umm, I’d rather that not be an option.  I want to be more proactive with my body, even if I get their reasoning.  Surely there’s something one can do in the event that my SPD is not extreme!?

Here are a few immediate changes I made as soon as it started, and have noted has definitely kept things in check:

  • Less picking up the babe – This guy’s a snuggler, and has intuitively started needing me more as I’m nearing the due date of his little brother, so this is tricky.  But I stopped wearing him.  And I stopped loading him in and out of the car (thanks to big kids!).  I found alternatives, like snuggling on our over-sized bean bag in the living room.  A lot.  That’s been fabulous for both (all!) of us.
  • Keep knees together when rolling in bed at nighttime – This made a huge impact on nighttime pain.  In fact, I really can’t complain about SPD while sleeping at this point.
  • Sit while putting on bottoms – This was the worst part, trying to get un/dressed.  Lifting one leg at a time was a real doozy, and limiting that motion in general not only made the activity itself easier, it made the rest of the day so much better.
  • No crossing legs at knees –  sitting cross-legged has not been an issue since the pelvis stays level.  However, crossing at the knees (feet down) causes the pelvis to twist.  And twisting is b-a-d.
  • Fewer stairs – since our bedrooms are upstairs, this can’t be completely eliminated, but rather than head up for every little thing, the kids are really stepping up (see what I did there?) and helping me if something’s needed, including putting our little fella down for nap.** When necessary to climb stairs, use support.  Hold on to that railing, by gum!
  • Live like a mermaid – I’ve been taking this one more and more seriously as time goes on.  Here is The Tummy Team’s video on the matter, giving a great visual of what you want to avoid.  The Tummy Team is an excellent resource for SPD and Diastis Recti, and strengthing your core before/during/after pregnancy if you’re in the PNW!  I have many friends who have had wild success there with repairing and recovering and building.
  • SLOW DOWN – this has been the most important and most challenging one.  It’s time to just take it a bit easier.  No huge projects.  No big shopping days.  It’s time to just relax a bit.  And that’s okay.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

One last thing that I’m just now looking into is grapefruit seed extract.  I have a gal friend that just had baby #9, and has said using this particular blend (can be bought at Costco, etc – I’ve no affiliation to link) to keep cartilage and ligaments tight has been a huge asset in her pregnancies and general ladies health.  I’m on it!  It looks like it supports heart health, too.

This feels a lot like my Roy Family story (and subsequent songs of praise despite such a sensitive subject).  I’m a pretty self-sufficient gal, and sometimes I poo-poo “help,” often judging that it’s silly or a waste of time.  Yet I continually learn that there are resources out there that can literally be game-changers, despite my assumptions.  Why must I resist?!  It’s really embarrassing how I have to explain – in shock – to the PT’s that it’s working.  I guess they know that what they do works.  I’m thankful for their patience with me!  And I’m thankful that mobility and pain have been subsiding and improving immensely!  I guess I don’t have to “suffer” it out, but instead can enjoy pregnancy as much as I always have!

Closing in on the finish line in theory. In reality, we often go up to a couple weeks late. I’m just happy I can still see my toes. #aprilshowersbringmaybabies #ourfirstspringbaby #readyornothereyoucome

 

*I had a lot of struggles on our Alaska road trip last summer because of my pelvis hurting, especially as I lugged my big fat (healthy) baby around. I wasn’t about to let that stop us, tho’, so quietly endured (I’ll confess: there were tears some nights).  I was taking supplements (collagen, etc) thinking the pain was “just” depleted minerals from baby-birthing and age, and tho’ I’ve no doubt those were beneficial, now realize what I was actually dealing with – and am better prepared! Super thankful for this!

**Aury is a man of routine, similar to one of his big brothers.  This has been good for him as he learns to let his siblings nurture him as we make some transitions to a new babe joining the family.  He adores his siblings, but often resorts to me for sleepy comfort. He’s finding that he has loving nurturers all around him instead (we’re all learning and embracing this, more than usual).  It’s been a really special thing to experience.  And has been good for everyone here.  Thankful for this time of bonding and excess love in these last days before our family expands once again.

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Shepherd’s Purse – Tincture Blend

This one is new to my personal use.  But it’s one that I’m in the middle of adding to my apothecary now.  I’ve been learning a lot about Shepherd’s Purse, and have noted that it’s a blood coagulant and vasoconstrictor, traditionally used immediately after birth to control potential hemorrhaging and to promote blood clotting.  This website had an extremely useful blip about mixing it with Motherwort, Black & Blue Cohosh for a tincture useful to promote uterine contractions (never to be used pre-birth), help uterus clamp down, and stop bleeding quickly.  Would be a very useful tool in your labor or birth bag.  Brewing some up in my cupboard.

After Birth Soup

This one is a real treasure, and is as good as hidden gold.  My Aunt made this for me right after I gave birth to my first babes.  Her midwife had made it for her.  It’s so full of all of the important – and depleted from birth – minerals and vitamins a new Mama needs.  This isn’t something that can be purchased or stored or begged, but rather is a gift of love.  If it’s something you want to make to minister to your new mama friends, consider making a bone rich broth.  Don’t skimp.  Simmer for 72 hours (or pressure cook for a minimum of 4 hours) using quality grassfed bones with joints, eggshells, vegetable scraps, herbs like astragalus and garlic and parsley.  Home make herbed noodles with quality, fresh-ground grain and pastured egg yolks.  Add high-quality pasture raised chicken, as-fresh-as-possible root vegetables (reddish colored root vegetables like carrots, beets & yams are great galactagogues!), and fresh herbs such as black pepper, basil, leaks.  The recipe I make is a cherished, passed-down secret – but with some sweet thought and lots of love, you can create your own to pass on for generations to come!

hanging pasta

Traditionally, before we got all picky and squeamish with our palate, women consumed their placenta’s.  Not only does it replenish minerals and nutrients lost during labor & delivery, it can offer a real maternal boost as well as balance hormones that can otherwise go nutty.  Some women have theirs dried and encapsulated (often adding supportive herbs) to prevent their mind from wandering to the grotesque part of it all.  If encapsulating, one would take several a day just after birth, tapering down to last up to 4 weeks postpartum.  Many swear that this keeps the baby blues at bay!

Goldenseal

Goldenseal is known to be a potent antibiotic and is excellent in fighting infections. It has been used on scrapes, burns, hemorrhoids – and a slew of other things, but these are the ones that are significant to this season of application. Because of overharvesting concerns (it’s native to the northeast U.S. and Canada), it’s an endangered plant (and not a cheap one!). Use minimally and responsibly.  With our first couple of babes, we used alcohol around their umbilicals until they were dried and sloughed off. In my last birth kit – with Aury – there was a tiny envelope of powdered goldenseal root to use (some come with 3-4 capsules, more than enough). Genius. This made so much more sense from a holistic standpoint! His umbilical never smelled (the others: like death – cuz let’s face it, it’s literally decaying flesh), and fell off in a matter of days vs. over a week. This, paired with a cord ring instead of clamp made a huge difference in umbilical healing. Swift and easy. No challenge or guck. I’d recommend it!

 

miniature things for gigantic postpartum health

 

Nest Tea

It’s so important to stay nourished during the precious times after birth.  Make sure to consume lots of good fats and protein, fruits and vegetables.  Don’t forget that you are still supporting your baby nutritionally 100%, even tho’ she is now on the outside!  There are many teas on the market that support these after-birth times.  Be sure to get one that has some (or all) of the following: red raspberry leaf, nettles, oatstraw, alfalfa, lemon balm, red clover flowers & herb, rosehips – these are women-friendly herbs that serve as a tonic, a stimulator, a milk-booster, and an over-all nutritive booster for you. IF you need additional lactation support, consider checking out this post in my Nursing Tips series of a list of herbs that may be helpful, and/or consider purchasing a tincture for quick help.  As always, a lactation consultant can be your best friend in times of trouble.  Often a simple pointer may be all you need!

Sweet Relief

This tea is for external use after birth (hemorrhoids, tears, swelling, stretching).  It’s incredibly healing and soothing to sore parts. I soak a thick feminine pad (or flannel) generously with some tea, and wear it on top of a winged pad while nursing or sitting or any other time — 15-minute bouts every couple of hours is soothing, a cleanser and healing. It has a ton of herbs in it. I try to keep things simple, but there are SO many good healing ones that I got carried away when I made my own: calendula, comfrey leaf, plantain leaf, rosemary leaf, yarrow leaf & flower, myrrh gum powder, self heal, st. johns wort, gota kola, marshmallow root.  There are oodles of recipes online, but this is my favorite.  I find when I make things myself, I understand them better.  Also, several purchasable teas online are more simple, and tend to miss some of the ingredients I really like added, and aren’t always made with top-notch ingredients.  Make some tea (1/4 cup herbs to a quart of boiling water). Sit overnight. Strain. Keep in fridge for three days before making new, or when needed.

Coconut Oil

A tablespoon a day of coconut oil keeps things “smooth”. Be sure to get extra virgin, expeller-expressed, high quality oil.  Add it to your hot beverage, put it on your toast or mixed with some peanut butter, eat it in a “fat bomb”.  Lots of ways to get it in without having a swallow a spoonful of oil *gack*!  If you’re struggling with that first elimination (nerves or consistency), or any after, considering eating more fruits & vegetables, too.  Also considering drinking a tea with ginger or marshmallow to keep things moving nicely.

Coconut oil is my #1 favorite nipple cream.  I used to swear by lanolin, but after my struggles with Aury, I switched to coconut oil and noticed instant results.  It was much more soothing and didn’t stick to nursing pads (which can be hellacious if you’re having any troubles).  And it’s nutritive and good for baby too!  Lanolin is my runner-up, but only in moderation, and if neither of us are having any trouble.  I used it exclusively for my first several seasons of breastfeeding, and then didn’t use it once with Aury.

If your newborn develops cradle cap, coconut oil will be a huge helper rubbed on babe’s scalp.

Lastly, coconut oil is a great slippery aid to getting your nookie game back on when the time is right!

*****

If you’re interested in any (or all!) of this in a kit without having to shop for the best quality, contact me!  I’d also happily give you pointers on your After Birth Soup, and have encapsulated placenta (w/ or w/o herbs) as well.

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This is the last (I think! Ha!) in my Nursing Tips series.  I am writing these to myself as a reminder for future needs I may have.  I also hope that any Mama’s reading may be able to glean a bit of help from it if they find themselves in a similar situation.  As always, these are simply my [not always right] thoughts, and none are recommendations for you.  Please seek professional help if you need!  Other posts in the series:

One of my favorite herbal books about this particular subject is Susun Weed’s Herbal for the Childbearing Year.  She has a fantastic page devoted to this topic here that I’d recommend you check out – I’ve noticed that a lot of my notes came from there, and she does a much better job of relaying info than I!  I have several go-to books that I use as references, as well as – with a grain of salt – the internet (in all fairness, there are several reputable sites).  This is just a compiling of a variety of resources and is by no means accurate.  I consider it a work in progress, and more of a compilation of note-taking, not something you (or I) should rely on in any way.  I’ll update it as I learn!  Feel free to share your experiences or knowledge in the comments section!

HOLD YOUR JETS.  Before you read further, it’s a good idea to consider why you may need a boost in production.  Are you getting enough calories? Is it a hormonal shift? Are you sleeping/drinking enough? Are you stressed out? Is your baby latching properly?  Is your baby going through a growth spurt? Is your bra too tight?  Are you taking any medications that may be affecting production? Are you sleeping on your stomach? Do you smoke? Are you tandem nursing? Different scenarios will require a different approach to increasing your milk supply.  Because there can be so many idiosyncrasies, it’s important to find a support group or lactation consultant to work with.  I never realized just how important it was until I had it.  So please, please don’t try to battle this alone if you’re not finding the road easy or smooth.

PitaTandem

feeding two at once, photo courtesy of Pita Rivera-Jones

Consider nursing MORE as a potential solution.  Your body is amazing, and rigs itself to make more when it things more is needed.  This doesn’t always work, depending on your needs.  But don’t give up nursing, even if there is little or no milk.  It’s so good for you and baby, emotionally if nothing else.

Breastfeeding is considered the best cure for postpartum depression (PPD).  It helps moderate hormonal swings, increases endorphin level, allows the body to regain hormonal balance slowly and evenly.  Also, consider using placenta (encapsulated or extracted) to assist with PPD.  Several other herbs listed below that report to combat the baby blues.  The substance that is used to increase mother’s milk is called galactagogue, which can be found in a variety of foods and herbs.  Many of those listed below are considered a galactagogue:

alfalfa – Contains phytoestrogens or plant-estrogens, which can increase breast tissue and milk supply.  If taken in too high volume, can cause loose stools in your baby.  Use in tea or sprout for adding to soups and salads and sandwiches!  As a farmer, I’ll mention here that it is the primary food source for our lactating animals.  We’ve seen it firsthand made a significant difference in milk production!  It has been noted that it may increase butterfat in milk as well.  Can aid in balancing blood sugar levels.  Some suggest lowering your use if you’re pregnant and approaching your due date as it can cause over-supply issues.  Other pregnant women use it more as your due date approaches to assist in minerals and vitamins that are needed more for the Big Day and after.  Research so that you’re on top of this when consuming (or not).

anise seed – Is said to increase milk supply, soothe a colicky baby through breastmilk, treats clogged ducts and other problems in milk glands by maintaining a constant milk flow, treats menstrual discomfort and pain (inadvertently potentially easing childbirth, too), increases sex drive.  Another particularly hormonal-balancing herb, this can act to regulate milk decreases due to hormonal shifts.  Do not use star anise while lactating.

borage (leaves) – 1/2 cup infusion each morning ensures strong supply and soothes nerves.  Make as weak tea as it can be hard on infants liver (similar to comfrey).  Taken two or three times a day will ensure an abundant supply of milk, act as a mild laxative, and soothe jangled nerves. I’m in love with the use of the word – not mine – “jangled” here!

brewers yeast – (NOT bakers or nutritional yeast) May combat fatigue and fight off baby blues. contains protein, iron, and B vitamins, as well as chromium, selenium, and other trace minerals.  May lower blood sugars. May lower cholesterol. It helps nourish skin & hair. May cause colic or irritate digestion.  If so, back off or stop.

barley  Soak 1/2 cup pearled barley in 3 cups cold water or boil 25 minutes.  Strain.  Pour 1 cup barley water (hot) over 1 teaspoon fennel seeds and steep no more than 30 minutes.  Combo increases milk and eases after pains and settles digestion.

blessed thistle – Anti-depressant, stimulates milk flow. It’s said to restore vitality.  Mild contraceptive (thistles). Use only in moderate amounts.

cumin – A commonly used digestive aid, it can keep colic at bay through milk.  Use sparingly, as it can also aid in dieting.  So if you’re watching your calories, be ever aware that you may need to bump up calories.

fennel – treatment for digestion and menstrual problems and aids (hormonal?) balancing. May relieve colic. May increase metabolism and can cause weight loss. May increase libido. Do not use during pregnancy, if diabetic, or have seizure issues.  Used in excess, it can decrease breast milk production.  Fennel is found in a lot of “lactation cookies” etc.

fenugreek – Acts like estrogen. Milk glands sweat. Can cause colic or diarrhea in babe (use with digestive aid or probiotic?). Known to make moms milk smell like maple syrup.  Avoid if migraines. Can cause uterine contractions. Don’t take if diabetic. Could reduce blood sugar levels.  Reduces menstrual cramping. Pair with blessed thistle. Lower fever, aphrodisiac, antioxidants, lower cholesterol, reduce appetite, arthritis relief.  Sprouts in 5 days.

garlic – Contains vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.  Will increase babies appetite.  The more of an appetite baby has, the more your body will often try to produce.  Will also aid Mama in staying healthy and aids in warding off sickness.  Can change flavor of milk, so check for signs your baby is rejecting it.  The easiest way I find taking it is adding it to scrumptious food in abundance.

goats rue – Latin name galega officinalis, means gale (milk) and ega (to bring on).  Native to the middle east, goat’s rue is used commonly around the world to increase milk production.  This particular herb is known to stimulate mammary gland tissue.  Facilitates let-down.  Is said to lower insulin and blood sugar levels, and has been used in diabetic patients.  It is said that the fresh plant can be toxic, so only take in properly prepared (dried) forms.  A good tea: 1 teaspoon dried per 8 ounces, steeped for 10 minutes, up to three times a day.  If it’s not a new herb to me, and I’m not checking my ability to handle it, I like to mix different milk-producing herbs in my tea.  Maybe consider adding another scrumptious something.  One could also take goats rue in capsule form, up to 3 a day.  Some take the tincture form, 1/2 teaspoon 2-3 times a day.

hops – Hops tea is a suitable partner to nighttime feedings, as it brings sleep along with increased milk flow.  Better flavor (supposedly) as a beer than other ways to prepare.  You can get alcohol-free hops-rich beers if you’ve avoiding alcohol.

“Milk Rich” or “Mothers Milk Plus” – Both of these are pre-mixed tinctures that are marketed to increase mothers milk production.  Includes herbs: red raspberry leaf, goats rue, fenugreek, fennel seed, nettles and blessed thistle.

nettle – Vitamins, minerals, calcium. tones digestive system. Curtails colic.  So good in so many ways.  Not enough room to say enough about how good nettle is.

oatstraw – A nourishing herb, this herb is a wonderful addition to your box of tricks to increase breastmilk.  Once can use this in their tea, or eat oats as a morning breakfast cereal, we’ve seen oats/straw successfully increase milk production in farm animals, and I happily use it myself!

prickly ash – Increases immunity to mastitis (oh, this would be fabulous!).  But otherwise, I can’t find a lot of positive reasons to use it while breastfeeding.  In fact, I see lots of reasons why not to, so I think I’d just avoid it for now.

raspberry leaf – Full of vitamins and minerals and calcium, it’s considered a go-to galactagogue.  You’ll find it in most pre-made mixes (tinctures, capsultes or teas).  It tones digestive system. Curtails colic.  A uterine toner as well, it’s an excellent addition to postpartum recovery, both physically, as well as aiding with the baby blues.

shatavari root – A wonderful woman’s herb, some say it is one of the most popular lactating herbs used worldwide. It is said to help regulate hormones, which is lovely for the Mama who may be pregnant-tandem nursing and hormones are creating a diminished supply.  Has been used – in addition to increasing milk – to aiding in these hormonal situations: threatened miscarriage, decreased libido, leukorrhea, or even monthly cycles and menopause shifts.

other – I’ve heard rumors about, but would like to research more: black tea, coriander, dill, marshmallow root

***

I really love how each particular thing seems to assist milk production in a different way.  Some promote mammary tissue growth, some promote baby’s appetite to get him/her sucking more, some allow Mama’s body to utilize calories or absorb vitamins & minerals needed for production better.  Just a good reminder to not use a “blanket cure,” but rather implement the use of several herbs depending on why you need a boost, if your body can handle it, and if it’s safe to consume for you and your baby.

***

Aromatic seeds, such as anise, cumin, fennel, caraway, coriander, and dill is said to increase milk production and tone the digestive system. Their powers are carried through the breast milk, curtailing colic and indigestion. To brew, simply put a heaping spoonful of dried seeds in a cup and fill to the top with boiling water. Let steep for 5-10 minutes. Drink warm with honey. Up to two quarts a day can be consumed.

Nourishing herbs, such as raspberry leaves, stinging nettle, oatstraw, and red clover blossoms—prepared as strong infusions, not taken in pills, capsules, tinctures, or teas—not only encourage a plentiful supply of breast milk; they also support the overall health of mother and child. The minerals in these herbs are amazingly abundant, so they counter mineral loss from nursing, and help keep mom calm and alert during those first few weeks of round-the-clock infant care. One gal specifically recommends not combining the herbs but using them individually, to derive each one’s unique benefit.

Foods rich in carotenes, such as cooked apricots, asparagus, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and all cooked leafy greens—including kale, collards, mustard greens, beet greens, parsley, watercress, and dandelion leaves—are considered critical for women wishing to increase or sustain lactation. Carotenes are most available when foods are well cooked: tomato sauce has over 2000 times more of them than a fresh tomato. And carotenes are more easily utilized in the body when consumed with plenty of fat. (Olive oil or butter are my favorite fats.)

Triple Blessing Brew (Susun Weed’s recipe) Combine 1/2 ounce dried blessed thistle leaves with 1/2 ounce dried oatstraw or nettle. Place in a quart jar. Add boiling water until the jar is full. Cap tightly and let steep overnight or for at least four hours. Strain out herbs. Refrigerate liquid until needed. Before nursing, pour off one cupful of the brew and heat it nearly to a boil. Pour it over a teaspoon of anise, cumin, fennel, caraway, coriander, or dill seeds (not a spoonful of each). Let it brew for five minutes before drinking. Blessed thistle stimulates the milk flow and helps restore vitality to weary mothers. Both oatstraw and nettle are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, notably calcium, magnesium, and potassium. The aromatic seeds improve the quality and quantity of milk and ease digestion.

***

Herbs that have been associated with decreasing breastmilk production (not a complete list): chickweed, cocoa, ginger, menthols, oregano, parsley, peppermint, periwinkle, sage (often used for weaning), sorrel, thyme

Noted as dangerous while breastfeeding (not a complete list): aloe, angelica root, basil, borage (tho’ is often marketed for breastfeeding?), coltsfoot, gingko, ginseng, kava, licorice, rhubarb root, senna, star anise, valerian, wormwood, yarrow

Here is a link I really like that addresses using herbs while breastfeeding AND pregnant, which poses different risks as some herbs are not recommended for pregnancy that one could use while breastfeeding, etc.  I may try to expound on this on my own in the future, but she has it covered so well, I don’t feel a strong need for now!  A few rules of thumb: avoid herbs that are potentially uterine stimulants, abortives, or even stimulant laxatives.  Also avoid bio-actives, hormonal shifters, low-dose toxic herbs, or pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

My rule of thumb is that if I don’t know the herb well, I don’t use it until I’ve sought counsel.

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This is the second in my Nursing Tips series.  I am writing these to myself as a reminder for future needs I may have.  I also hope that any Mama’s reading may be able to glean a bit of help from it if they find themselves in a similar situation.  As always, these are simply my [not always right] thoughts, and none are recommendations for you.  Please seek professional help if you need!  Other posts in the series:

***

Since I started this Nursing Tips series, a very dear friend of mine suffered a severe heart attack.  In an effort to team up with a few other ladies, I’ve been increasing my supply and pumping every day.  This has been a particular challenge for me because I thought I wasn’t a good pumper, and wondered if I still could since my struggles early on with Aury.  But it’s proven to be much more successful than I anticipated, and we feel blessed to be able to love on them in this way.  Meanwhile, focusing on keeping supply UP!

I’ve always said I struggle with my milk supply, but if I were to take a good hard look at our last several children, I’d realize it was only with Adyn & Kendra.  With Adyn, I was quite petite and fit, and probably didn’t eat enough calories if I’m being honest.  With Kendra, I became severely sick after her birth, and so supply issues were a given.  Since then, I’ve never had a problem.

Here are measures I’ve taken to proactively make sure supply stayed up, just in case:

When I was pregnant with Colby, we bought a pair of Dwarf Nigerian goats.  I figured their milk would be an excellent supplement if I needed the help. They never bred while we had them (but were awfully fun for our two littles to play with!), and I never needed their milk.  We’ve since moved [far, far, far] away from goats, and now keep a homestead flock of dairy ewes that keep me content with a back up in the event that our babes would need it.

When I feel like I’m running shy (or when I’m trying to build supply, like now, as I’m pumping for Max), I take a dropper full of WishGarden’s Mil Rich (there’s another brand called More Milk Plus) tincture every time I nurse.  I also drink a minimum of a quart of Mother’s Milk herbal tea per day (preferably more).  I have been having loaded oatmeal most mornings.  And I’ve taken fennel and blessed thistle, switching off which one daily to keep my body awake (instead of acclimated to them individually).  I’m boosting my calories, but making sure they’re nutrient-rich.  More nuts, cheeses, bone broth, pastured proteins, dark chocolate (ha!), and always yogurt to support my digestive system as it deals with the new onslaught of goodness.  Oh, and drink more fluids.  Don’t waste your fluid space: drink herbal tea. ❤

The quickest way I’ve gotten a boost in production is by drinking 8oz of beer.  I really have no favor toward the flavor, so for me, it’s an act of love and one I’ve only done a couple of times in my years of lactating.  But it does the trick quick-like.  Some gals say that adding a tablespoon of brewer’s yeast to their daily regime acts similarly as well.

Here is a list of things *I* do.  It is by no means comprehensive, suggested, or in any particular order.  I’d recommend you research and find a professional to walk you through your lactating journey, as needed.  Lactation consults are truly your best friend.  I’d recommend Amber Ham Langelier in a heartbeat.  She’s Aury & my breastfeeding hero.

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Boosting production

  • brewers yeast – 1 T. / day.
  • yeasty beer – 8oz makes for a quick boost (consider barley / hops if you’d prefer no alcohol)
  • fenugreek – 1 T. / day herb, or 2 droppers of extract (for some, fenugreek decreases milk – be careful!)
  • fennel – same as fenugreek
  • blessed thistle – same as fenugreek
  • Milk Rich or More Mother’s Milk tincture – 1 dropper each nursing, or every 3-4 hours; this is my quick, lazy go-to
  • Traditional Medicinals “Mothers Milk” tea; another lazy go-to when I don’t have better quality herbal tea at my leisure — I usually have a home-made version of this tea at my disposal
  • pumping can be an effective tool toward increasing production.  I, however, have no experience in the methods one can take to use it like this.  Research it, if interested.

Supporting my body for increased production (I usually make into tea infusion)

  • nettle
  • alfalfa
  • oatstraw
  • red raspberry leaf
  • red rooibos

Things to AVOID while breastfeeding (or be wise/moderate about)

  • peppermint
  • ginger
  • sage
  • coffee
  • lots of other herbs/etc, but these are my guilty pleasures that I need reminded against
  • … I want to note here, too, that steamed cabbage leaves can be used to decrease milk production, so be careful when considering it to help breast infections.

After finishing this post up, I just decided to take an extra step and add another post to my Nursing Tips series that is simply a list of herbs that I (or others) like to use during lactation seasons, why I use them, etc.  Be patient – it’s coming!

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This is the second in my Nursing Tips series.  I am writing these to myself as a reminder for future needs I may have.  I also hope that any Mama’s reading may be able to glean a bit of help from it if they find themselves in a similar situation.  As always, these are simply my [not always right] thoughts, and none are recommendations for you.  Please seek professional help if you need!  Other posts in the series:

***

When Aury was born, the midwife checked his mouth and said that he had both a tongue and lip tie.  If you know me, you know I balk at this ‘silly nonsense’ as trendy lunacy.  Well, not anymore.  If you remember, his poor latched caused bleeding inflamed swollen nipples within a few days of his birth, leading to infection and mastitis, and almost ten weeks of recovery.  But we prevailed!  Despite some rather bleak moments when I wasn’t sure we’d succeed at breastfeeding, I can report that we are still at it – and everything is going swimmingly at last!

On Day 6 postpartum, the first bit of relief arrived.  With an injection of local anesthetic, Aury had both his lip & tongue tie corrected.  He cried for 10 seconds.  I cried for 20 minutes.  I couldn’t even fathom doing the every-two-hour exercises to making sure things healed correctly.  Scott did it as often as he could, and Adyn did when Scott couldn’t.  After almost a week, I finally built up the courage to do it, and took over.  It wasn’t all that bad.  By then, the heebeejeebees were minimal, and Aury really didn’t have much of a problem with it, even from the beginning.

The next two nursings after the tie corrections were slightly better.

My midwife had suggested using a nipple shield to keep things better protected as they healed; and to keep pain just a little bit less.  Scott left in the late night hunting some down.  He came home with several, all the same size, but different brands.  I was surprised that they all fit very differently; one just right.  Because of the poor latch and angry nips, I was incredibly swollen (I may have referred to myself as an “amazon woman” at one point as I cried to our lactation consultant), which made for fitting a bit different during this time vs. after things settled down.  I was glad for the variety.

I’ve never used nipple shields, and it made no sense to me at first.  I did some internet searching about how they work, and how to use them, and found them to be a real psychologic buffer that made nursing much more … well, less petrifying (the pain was intense).  Because of Aury’s poor latch, I had scabbing, which plugged the shields at the beginning of each nursing.  I’d have to take them off and clean out in order to finish nursing.  Also, for several weeks due to my initial infection, my milk was very stringy – but usually passed through the shields holes.

I’ll be honest… I cried the first several (and randomly after that) times that I used the shield.  It felt like a breastfeeding loss.  I had to grieve a bit before I could accept that it would help.  I didn’t like having this “fake” nipple being what my baby learned to nurse.  I was jealous of it.  I was mad at it.  But I definitely learned to love it!  I was concerned it may become a necessity for our entire breastfeeding journey, but am thankful that with time we were able to wean away from it completely and back to al la natural.

That night, feedings became incredibly painful again.  I was so discouraged.  After midnight, I emailed a lactation consult an emergent request for help.  I really felt like I was at my wits end.  I was a huge mess.

Amber Ham Langelier, the lactation consult, arrived at 9am the next morning.  We talked about the ties. We talked about the infection and the damaged nipples.  She was calm.  She was kind.  And she found the fix: positioning.  I thought I had tried it all, and yet her simple solution was perfect.  It was the big turning point on our breastfeeding journey.  Apparently Aury had been tucking his chin while nursing, due likely to his lip and tongue ties, which was irritating my nipples and was causing the pain.  We moved away from the cradle position (she mentioned this is actually not a very good position in general) to either Aury “standing” in front, or the “football” position or both of us laying down.  In all of these positions, I could really make him stretch his chin upward and reach for the nipple, which was exactly what we needed.  Even now, months later, his natural tendency is still to tuck his chin.

I continued using the nipple shield for more than a month, longer for my damaged/infected side.  The first time I didn’t use it, I was so scared.  It took several days to wean from it entirely (mostly because I wasn’t psychologically ready).  I continued having latch-on pain in my left side until Aury was almost 10 weeks old.  The pain went deep into my tissue, all the way to my ribs.

I wasn’t sure whether or not the damage was permanent at this point.  I had some pretty intense (and deep) scabbing for a long while.  It got smaller and smaller oh so slowly until at last it all [tissue, not scab] sloughed off after a nursing.  It was disgusting.  And horrifying!  But after that, milk flowed much more freely.  I’m happy to report that I’ve successfully pumped on that side again as well – A feat I thought literally impossible after that roller coaster!

Thankfully, right around his 3 month bend, I remember one day realizing: “huh!  it hasn’t hurt for a while!”  What a blessing that the pain slipped away like that!  Now we are nursing well, things have healed back miraculously (IMO) nicely – the tissue filling back in – and our little chunk of a fellow has apparently thrived!  I chalk it up to God’s great provision.  He is in the 90% for weight, and 75% for height, weighing almost 17 pounds at his three month check up.  His older siblings weighed that at one year old!  And have never been anywhere near his height percentile.  We may have a football player on our hands.

I learned a good lesson about my mockery of tongue ties: it’s real, folks, and it can be awful.  I still think babes are diagnosed (or rather, treated) too often for it, but also realize that I need to get off my soapbox and admit I’m wrong: I need help.  I’m thankful for the gals in my life that supported me through that, and especially Mary & Pita who were able to correct it, and Amber who taught me how to form new habits out of it!  I’m especially thankful to our Creator who made all things so adaptable and unique.  I’m so thankful that my body was able to heal from that whole ordeal and for being able to nourish my wee one in this way through it all.  I count both a huge blessing and privilege!  I’ve learned I cannot expect these things ‘just because,’ but instead thank God each day for the gifts we have, day by day.

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I just wanted to provide an update, and a whole lot of notes for myself – and any other gals out there who could use this information in their own lives.  NONE of it is a recommendation to you.  Please do your research as you pursue health and wellness.  Also seek professional help, as necessary.

Other posts in the series:

Aury and I have been progressing nicely since his birth and our nursing woes.  The infection that I got early on led to some fairly long-term issues.  In fact, it’s only now (he’s 9+ weeks old) that I can honestly say nursing is going “normal.”  I’m so thankful for that!

In an effort to clean out the infection and (Lord willing) keep supply up, Aury and I were working hard at nursing as often as possible for the first several weeks.  This left us hunkered down at home most of the time.  The side effects were that nursing was still painful since I was recovering from his early poor latching, and the tissue in my infected breast had been severely damaged to the point of zero milk production by one week postpartum; yet [lots of] fluid draining (never have had this for more than a day or two).  This caused a lot of belly aches for my poor nursing babe.  We were both frustrated more than once.  But neither of us were about to give up at this point.

It literally took over 5 weeks for my milk ducts to clear, and for milk to begin to return (no more stringy-ness; no other fluids; exterior bruising gone; nip swelling diminished).  I’ve never had an infection have such long-term effects.  Only this week do I finally feel like it’s back to full production.  Despite all of this, praise God, we have a very healthy chunky monkey, and have been pleasantly surprised that there has been so little scarring.

As we carried no schedule during those weeks, it’s took a week or two to get into a good rhythm.  Aury is definitely a more happy baby with a clear cycle.  We both have really appreciated the calm we now can enjoy.  We both appreciate the freedom to leave as well, him and I both emotionally (ha!) doing outings smashingly now.

So I wanted to talk a little bit about the healing measures we took during the time of engorgement, infection and poor latch, as well as what I’ve done to work on maintaining a good supply during – and after!  I’ve decided to go at it one subject per post, so check for my others in this Nursing Tips “series” if you’re interested.  Perhaps start here to get a full view of what we were dealing with.

#treeoflife

#treeoflife

There are many techniques and recommendations to treat mastitis (breast infection), milk fever, and nipple health (poor latch, etc).  I cannot cover them all here, and do not hope to.  I want to share what worked for me, tho’, in hopes that it can offer some practical help to your own toolbox of information.  I also want to keep records for my future benefit.

I’ve had a lot of breast infections in my lactating years, and so at the onset of my first with Aury – only 3 days after he was born – I knew what was coming.  I got a flax seed bag warmed up, removed restrictive clothing, filled up a water canister and went to bed.  Unfortunately, Scott was laid out on the bathroom floor with a migraine, hugging the toilet all night long.  So Kendra slept in our bed all night, getting up and helping so much during the night.

I was delirious.  Hot.  Cold.  Sweaty.  Headache.  But we had to press on.  The sweet fresh babe would need new milk as I was also just starting to become engorged.  The combo was quite the trip.  Not realizing yet that it was a poor latch that was contributing to the infection, I went at it with my normal tricks:

Nurse as often as possible.  I realize that when you have an infection, it’s hard to want to let a baby nurse it out.  It’ll hurt like the dickens.  But it’s so important!  If your baby won’t take it, try pumping to clean out the infected duct.  Make sure that the pump, however, isn’t exacerbating the problem.  It was with Aury because of his poor latch and the damage it was inflicting on my nips, and after Day <5?>, I was pumping a shockingly scary amount of blood.  My mammaries were mad.  Aury was gassy and belly-upset (this continued into his 4th week of life, thanks to this infection).  All that to say: Stick with hand expressing and nursing if pumping is problematic.

Drink lots!  Your body needs to flush out the infection.  You also are at risk for becoming dehydrated as a breastfeeding Mama, and as your body fights infection.  Drink water if it’s easiest, or have an herbal tea nearby – always, infection or not!

Take a hot shower.  Or warm bath with epson salts!  It will help your milk let down, stimulate blood flow, soothe your body and calm your nerves.  Add some essential oils or herbs (below), if wanted.

Use compresses.  In the same light as showering, hot compressing is fantastic, as well as cold.  Some gals will use boiled cabbage leaves alone (there’s conflicting information that cabbage leaves can help diminish supply for weaning – so I avoid it) or grated raw potato.  I like to soak a cotton cloth (or nursing pad!) in an herbal tea and place over my whole chest.  I had a pot warm on the stove that I’d just dunk, squeeze a bit and repeat all day long.  When using cotton, I’d start with a layer of plastic wrap, put on the compress and top it all with a hot pad (I use a flax seed bag, but sometimes the weight of it isn’t my friend if I have an infection).  I’d use any of the herbs listed under “herbal oils” below.  Raw apple cider vinegar compressing also has been known to be helpful.  It’s cooling effect was soothing, but the smell… I just couldn’t do it for long.  Be sure to clean your nips before next nursing so babe isn’t getting anything other than your milk.

Tuck in hand warmers.  A sort of hot compress “cheat,” Scott bought a box of 10 that served an awesome help.  I was in no position to leave my house, but when I did (or if I was up and at ’em), I’d stuff one of these in my top against the infected area.  Often with a soaked nursing pad (compress).  I keep one in our diaper bag at all times just in case.

Herbal oils.  Y’all know I’m not a huge proponent of using essential oils excessively, but this was a particularly useful time that I put them to work.  I didn’t have a lot of energy to make up concoctions all day, so infused some olive oil with a few herbs and applied generously on my chest, particularly the affected areas (but away from my nipple so Aury wouldn’t be consuming any of it).  I used rosemary, sage, lavender, garlic, marshmallow, calendula and comfrey.  Nearly all of these herbs would do well for you/Mama in tincture or tea (internal) form as well except those noted.  I’d use comfrey internally with caution, at best.

Massage.  This is one of the first things I do if I feel an infection coming on.  That, heat and rest.  I massage the affected area in a circular motion as often as I think of it.  It will help work out your ducts.  This was a good time for me to use the infused oils (above).

REST.  I know, I know.  You have a baby (and possibly a passel of children besides that).  Responsibilities loom.  But it is SO important that you rest.  Now is one of those times that you should plug in a movie (or twelve in a row) and let the kids chill as you do.  Give you nips a rest, too.  When not in a compress, leave them exposed as much as possible.  No bra or restrictive clothes.  No shirt.  Fresh air.

Coconut oil. I adore lanolin.  I’ve used it on my nips (and lips!) for a decade and a half now.  I love how thick it is, and how healing it is.  BUT I had to let it go when I had this rough time with Aury.  It’s tackiness was not helpful.  It caused me to stick to my nursing pads (tearing off scabs from poor latch – shiver), and also is so thick that it doesn’t allow your nipple to breathe.  I switched to coconut oil and instantly noticed improvement – and it was sooo soothing – and good for the little man nursing, too!  Once things are under control with nursing, I suspect I’ll go back to lanolin just because I adore it.

Antibiotics.  I use propolis because it has a lot of antibiotic properties.  I sprayed (YEE-ouch!) a tincture straight onto my tips right after each nursing session when I had cracking, preventing further infection, and hopefully getting into my ducts to work some magic.  If natural remedies aren’t working, your doctor will recommend antibiotics.  I’ve resorted to this once early on in my mastitis years when I didn’t know how to work on it myself and it got way out of hand.

To help your body fight the infection, consider boosting your Vitamin C, echinacea, and probiotics.  You’ll want to boost your immune system as it fights and to prevent further infections.

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