There are many remedies for breast engorgement, ranging from massage, to cold packs, to cabbage.
But did you know that herbs – in the form of a poultice – can also help reduce swelling and inflammation associated with engorgement?
What’s a poultice? It’s an age-old way of treating soreness and inflammation, using moist herbs applied directly to the skin, usually held in place with a cloth.
Herbs that work well in a breast compress are anti-inflammatory and reduce swelling (comfrey, chamomile, calendula, lavender), increase lymph circulation and drainage (cleavers, burdock root, yarrow), and draw out infection (slippery elm, marshmallow root). Mullein leaf relieves pain.
To prepare, pour boiling water over the herbs and steep for 10-15 minutes. When cool enough to touch, apply herbs as a poultice directly to skin. You can also dip a cotton cloth in the warm infusion, wring it out and wrap around the breast and under the armpit. Keep the poultice on until it cools. Reapply throughout the day. If infection is present, a clean poultice or cloth should be used every time.
For a comprehensive discussion of engorgement, including prevention, treatment, and when to seek help, see this page on Kellymom.com.
Image credit: Chamomile, Wikimedia Commons
But there’s good news: the scent of herbs may help lift your spirits. Scents can be powerful mood changers, stimulating many regions of the brain and influencing emotional, immune, and hormonal functions.
The essential oils of a number of herbs can be helpful at this time of year. You’ll find them in lotions, bath salts, and massage oils. You can use them in an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer. Or you can create a quick steam inhalation bath by putting two drops of oil in a tub of hot water and leaning over it while covering your head with a towel (*Kathryn – are all of the oils below safe to inhale in these small amounts?). Just remember that essential oils generally shouldn’t be applied to the skin in undiluted form.
Here are a few of our favorite scents to lift the spirits in winter:
Citrus fruits (lemon, orange, grapefruit) have invigorating scents which many people find energizing. Research has even found that they can reduce stress and improve mood. Other energizing scents include basil, ginger, lemongrass, juniper, mint, sage, and thyme.
Lavender is a familiar, clean and crisp scent. It’s traditionally used to relieve headaches, depression, exhaustion, and to promote relaxation and sleep. You’ll find the herb and scent used in many herbal body care products, sachets and sleep pillows. Other soothing and relaxing herbs include: chamomile, elder, hops, jasmine, rose, and valerian.
Pine. When you’re stuck indoors, the scent of pine can bring your mind right back outside. Pine has been used traditionally for many purposes, including stress reduction, pain relief, and for strengthening concentration. Research suggests that it’s an effective mood-elevator.
Rosemary is another energizing scent to lift late winter spirits. It’s used for stress, anxiety, depression, and even strengthening brain function. Its strong scent may also be useful as a decongestant for winter colds.
In this podcast interview, Kathi Barber, author of The Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Lactation Management: Strategies for Working with African American Moms, discusses the history of breastfeeding in the black community, from a strong African breastfeeding tradition, through slavery and wet nursing, to the present day. She also provides guidance for breastfeeding support people working with African American mothers.
These are common concerns during breastfeeding, and they’re perennial hot topics at breastfeeding and new mom support groups. Of course, there are many books that cover these issues, too.
But what if you want quick, reliable information from a trusted source in your purse and on your nightstand any time of day or night?
Nancy Mohrbacher, author of many of the best books on breastfeeding money can buy, like Breastfeeding Made Simple, Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple, and Breastfeeding Solutions, has produced a new app for iPhone and Android devices that covers all the basics. We spoke with Nancy last year in a podcast interview about night nursing.
Based on her book Breastfeeding Solutions, this app providing straightforward solutions to the 30 most common breastfeeding problems, from birth to weaning. There is a “Solutions” section to help you pinpoint a problem’s cause, and for for answers to common concerns there is a comprehensive “Articles” section. It’s ad free and not sponsored by a formula or other company. Its creator is a board certified lactation consultant and is one of the most knowledgeable individuals on breastfeeding on the planet.
The Breastfeeding Solutions app sells for $6.99 and we think it’s one of the best investments you could make to ensure that you meet your breastfeeding goals. You can find it at the iTunes and Amazon (for Android) and Google Play stores.
Here are ten important ways partners can help make breastfeeding a good experience for the whole family:
Learn about breastfeeding. During pregnancy, attending a breastfeeding class with the mom-to-be helps partners understand what’s involved and how to prepare. Or if a class isn’t available, partners can read a breastfeeding book to get the basics down.
Help to develop a breastfeeding-friendly birth and newborn care plan. There are many decisions to be made regarding both labor and birth and also the newborn care period, and these decisions can have a big impact on breastfeeding. Partners can read up on breastfeeding-friendly birth and newborn care plans, and work with the mom to develop one that sets her up for success.
Help prepare for a lower intervention labor and birth. Research has shown that lower intervention birth makes breastfeeding easier. So a partner can learn ways of helping a mom cope with the discomfort of labor, including learning non-drug means of pain relief such as partner massage, hiring a doula, and choosing a practice and hospital with a record of lower intervention births.
Help her find breastfeeding help. Many nursing moms need help getting breastfeeding going well in the early days and weeks, but it’s hard to seek out help while caring for a new baby and recovering from birth. Partners can take off some of the burden of finding help by identifying sources of support such as lactation consultants, WIC, La Leche League, and Breastfeeding USA, making appointments if necessary, and getting everyone out of the house.
Take over other responsibilities. Breastfeeding and recovering from birth are big jobs, leaving little energy or time for much else. So partners can take over other responsibilities – diapering, cooking, shopping, caring for older children, even returning well wishers’ phone calls.
Help her get comfortable while feeding. Since moms clock many hours sitting or lying down to breastfeed, partners can make them comfortable by arranging pillows, stocking snacks and drinks – even finding the remote control!
Cheer her on. For nursing moms, there’s nothing like hearing “great job!” and encouragement like this is priceless. Pointing out how a baby is growing on her milk helps a mom step back from the daily routine and appreciate the big picture.
Listen. There are a lot of emotions swirling around birth and breastfeeding, and simply stopping to listen to a mom talk about her feelings can be very powerful. If her emotional state has you concerned, help her find help from a health care provider or other postpartum resource.
If planning to introduce bottle, take over those feedings. If your family is planning to have your baby fed by bottle – as part of a return to work, for example – a partner is probably best positioned to introduce a bottle and regularly do bottle feedings.
If feeling left out, do skin-to-skin and wear your baby. Finally, if a partner is feeling left out of the feeding equation and is craving the closeness that breastfeeding provides, regular skin-t0-skin can do wonders! Babywearing can also be a great source of connection.
And one extra: Document! Nursing moms often treasure pictures of the experience, but it’s hard to be both nursing and behind the camera. So take pictures and video to help preserve the memories.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
What is birth like for them? How long do they have with their babies before they’re separated? Why do some birth in shackles? And is it possible for incarcerated mothers to breastfeed?
To answer these questions we spoke with Marianne Bullock, co-founder of The Prison Birth Project, a non profit organization providing support, education, advocacy, and activism training to women at the intersection of the criminal justice system and motherhood.
This week we thought we’d point to a few plants which may help* with another common complaint: premenstrual syndrome (PMS). From bloating to acne to mood swings, PMS is estimated to affect at least 85% of menstruating women.
While there are many things that can help to alleviate PMS symptoms, we’d like to point out a few friends from the plant world which may make this time of the month easier.
Evening Primrose. Evening primrose oil is derived from the seeds of the Evening Primrose plant, a North American wildflower. It was used as a wound healer by Native Americans, and has traditionally been eaten as a leaf vegetable. It’s commonly used to treat symptoms of PMS, including breast tenderness related to menstrual cycles.
Chasteberry. Chasteberry is the fruit of the Chaste Tree, a shrub-like tree native to Asia. It has been used for thousands of years to ease PMS symptoms and to increase breastmilk production. It is thought to balance hormones produced by the pituitary gland.
Motherwort. Motherwort is a perennial plant in the mint family that derives its common name from its traditional uses as a uterine tonic and to regulate menstruation. It may calm emotions around menstruation as well.
* This information is provided for educational purposes only, and not as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider for care suited to your individual needs, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
And then there’s the second night.
On the second night, babies often nurse on and off for hours. Many new parents are caught off guard by this pattern, and some assume that their babies are starving. But it’s likely just an awakening, after a nice day’s rest, to the fact that their world is now very different!
If you’re home on your baby’s second night, it may also be the first time that your baby and you have some peace and quiet, as research has shown that mothers and babies are interrupted by hospital staff, visitors, and phone calls an average of 54 times on the first day, and the average time mothers and babies have alone is 1 minute.
Research has shown that feedings on this second night tend to cluster in the 9 pm to 3 am time frame. This can be unnerving. What do you do? Lactation consultant Jan Barger has some good advice in her piece, “Baby’s Second Night:”
So, what do you do? When he drifts off to sleep at the breast after a good feed, break the suction and slide your nipple gently out of his mouth. Don’t move him except to pillow his head more comfortably on your breast. Don’t try and burp him – just snuggle with him until he falls into a deep sleep where he won’t be disturbed by being moved. Babies go into a light sleep state (REM) first, and then cycle in and out of REM and deep sleep about every ½ hour or so. If he starts to root and act as though he wants to go back to breast, that’s fine…this is his way of settling and comforting.
Another helpful hint…babies need to touch – to feel – and even his touch on your breast will increase your oxytocin levels which will help boost your milk supply! So take the mittens off and loosen his blanket so he can get to his hands. He might scratch himself, but it will heal very rapidly – after all, he had fingernails when he was inside you, and no one put mittens on him then!
So don’t panic, just settle in for that special, second night!
Motherlove was founded on the idea that the gifts of the natural world can nurture the most the most basic elements of life – pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. So we are always looking for ways to give back in support of breastfeeding and the appreciation of nature.
In 2005 we established the Nurturing Life Foundation, part of the original vision of our founder Kathryn Higgins. Today, a portion of every sale of Motherlove products is directed to the Foundation, which in turn grants funds to organizations that nurture life through support of breastfeeding and nature programs for children. It’s our way of giving back so that more children can grow, blossom, and have the opportunity to experience the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
We invite you to check out some of the breastfeeding organizations below that have benefited from our Foundation, and consider supporting them, too! You can also see this page for a larger list of the organizations we have supported.
Maternal Wellness Center, Philadelphia: The Maternal Wellness Center’s Healthy Mom’s Initiative provides holistic birth education programs to low-income women, including breastfeeding education.
Nurse-Family Partnership, Larimer County, Colorado. The Nurse-Family Partnership is a voluntary prevention program which provides nurse home visitation services to low income, first-time mothers throughout pregnancy and until their babies are two years old. We provided funds for the purchase of several multi-user breastpumps for loan to mothers.
BELLAS (Breastfeeding Encouragement, Learning, Liaison, and Support), Charlotte, North Carolina. BELLAS provides breastfeeding support for low income, minority and teenage mothers who often lack the resources to obtain lactation assistance. Our donation enabled BELLAS to train six peer counselors.
Breastfeeding Resource Center, Philadelphia. The Breastfeeding Resource Center is a community based nonprofit organization committed to providing expert clinical and educational breastfeeding services for uninsured, under-insured or low-income families.
Clara Maass Medical Center Foundation, New Jersey. The Clara Maass Medical Center Foundation supports the Clara Maass Medical Center, a community hospital which provides health care regardless of an individual’s ability to pay. Low income women who give birth there are in particular need of breastfeeding support. Our donation supported a part-time lactation specialist.
Which breastfeeding organizations do you support? Feel free to share!
At this time of the year we also love using herbs in fragrant, beautiful, and useful gifts. Our founder Kathryn Higgins has taught classes with kids during the holiday season, helping them create potpourri, wreaths, and bath bags for their parents.
These crafts make great gifts for teachers and day care providers, colleagues, and friends. And they’re simple enough to make with kids. Here are some of our suggestions for making your herbal gifts!
Potpourri: Fragrant herbs in potpourri sachets, placed in clothes drawers, closets, and even in cars provide a lasting reminder of the generosity the season. For an energizing blend, use herbs such as citrus, ginger, lemongrass, mint, and rosemary. For an uplifting blend, use herbs such as bergamot, clary sage, lemon, lime, and sage. For a soothing and relaxing blend, use herbs such as chamomile, jasmine, lavender, lemon balm, and rose.
Wreaths: Herbs can be used to create beautiful and fragrant wreaths. The simplest way to create an herbal wreath is to buy a small, premade wreath like those you can find at craft stores, and place some herbs in it. For more of a challenge, you can make a completely new one with lavender, with sage or with a stunning mixture of herbs. Herbs can also be used to create these adorable herbal wreath holiday cards!
Bath teas and salts: Make soothing and detoxifying bath products like herbal bath tea or herbal bath salts. Soothing and relaxing herbs to add include chamomile, jasmine, lavender, lemon balm, and rose. Detoxifying herbs include burdock root, citrus peel, dandelion root, echinacea root, fennel seed, juniper berries, and nettle. For soothing muscles, aches and pains, use herbs like chamomile, camphor, cinnamon, ginger, and eucalyptus.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
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