In recognition of World Breastfeeding Week earlier this month, I wanted to share what the wisdom of traditional medicine has to offer to mothers during this important time.

The benefits of breastfeeding to the baby as well as to the new mother are beyond any doubt. Not only is it invaluable for building a lasting bond, numerous studies clearly show the many positive effects on the baby's emotional and physical development. Breast milk helps to protect the baby against respiratory, urinary and digestive infections, such as enteritis and diarrhoea, and boosts immunity to allergies and infections to name just a few benefits.

Most women are eager to heed the slogan "breast is best" but many find it is not as straightforward as they thought. However, the sooner breastfeeding is started after birth the easier it will be in the long term. If there is a lack of sufficient milk then specific nutrient-rich herbs can help to increase milk supply.

For mothers struggling to produce sufficient milk, I recommend a traditional European formula for support during breastfeeding. It contains Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus). This combination of medicinal plants assists in the regular production of breast milk and helps to maintain good quality and flow.

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Fennel has been used since ancient Greek times to promote the flow of breast milk and aid digestion. The breastfeeding mother passes the oils on to the baby to soothe digestive troubles, helping to relax spasms in the digestive tract and relieve indigestion, wind, colic and hiccups. Fennel also increases appetite, enhances the secretion of digestive enzymes and assists in the proper absorption of nutrients, important for both mother and child at a time when nutrition is of upmost importance.

Like Fennel, Aniseed is a traditional galactogogue (a substance that promotes lactation) that has the dual property of increasing breast milk and supporting digestive health. The oils in Aniseed have a carminative action used to ease griping, intestinal colic and flatulence.

Nettle enhances the nutritious quality of breast milk with its abundant supply of minerals including calcium, magnesium and iron, trace minerals, vitamins (A and C) and enzymes.

Raspberry leaves act as a galactogogue as well as supporting uterine repair after birth, helping to restore the strained pelvic floor muscles. The addition of Chamomile provides gentle sedation for tired muscles and nerves, ideal for soothing both mother and child in the demanding times after birth.

Together with a healthy diet, medicinal plants can provide support to breastfeeding mothers in this important time. They can be safely taken long-term throughout the lactation period. For best results, I recommend a tea infusion of these plants at a dose of 3-5 cups daily. The higher dose is best for women struggling to make sufficient breast milk. I recommend making the full amount up once in the morning and keeping it in a thermos for easy access throughout the day.

If you are experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding don't hesitate to contact a lactation specialist, your GP or Plunket. Getting the right support early on can make all the difference to your experience.