Being able to breastfeed is a big want for many new mothers, although sometimes difficulties arise. In addition to seeing your doctor, one of the ways to help with breastfeeding problems or any other issues that new mothers face, is by speaking with other women who are nursing.
This communal approach to solving problems that surround nursing is done through blogs, social network pages and other avenues, so women can bounce ideas off each other and share solutions to a host of challenges.
Breastfeeding topics commonly discussed by moms include milk production, newborns not drinking breast milk, or women experiencing pain and discomfort while breastfeeding.
To help with these problems, we spoke to Dr. John Schaffir, an OB/GYN from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, about breastfeeding and the tradition of women sharing ideas with each other to make nursing a little easier.
One of the ideas that many nursing mothers have passed on to each other is using an herbal supplement called fenugreek which increases milk production.
“Fenugreek contains phytoestrogens, which are plant chemicals similar to estrogen,” said Dr. Schaffir in an interview with ConsumerAffairs. “A key compound in this, called diosgenin, has been shown experimentally to increase milk flow. It has been found that fenugreek can increase a nursing mother’s milk supply within 24 to 72 hours after first taking the herb.”
Schaffir also says that although fenugreek and other herbal remedies are used by nursing mothers, natural remedies as a whole aren't generally supported by physicians and regulators.
“The FDA provides only general guidelines on natural herbs, and fenugreek is included in FDA’s list of herbs generally regarded as safe," Schaffir said.
“There was a study in 1945 in Egypt on fenugreek, and there have been some other much smaller ones but they often were met with mixed results. There is an increasing amount of observational and anecdotal evidence that shows it works. Research on pregnant or nursing mothers is always difficult to get through regulatory boards, because it is important to demonstrate safety before starting a randomized or standardized trial, and this data is lacking,” he said.
The Wexner Medical Center recently released an informational video about breastfeeding, and showed that besides using fenugreek for milk production, nursing mothers can also take milk thistle and eat oatmeal.
To help with the pain that surrounds breastfeeding, the video shows that women can apply cabbage leaves or tea bags to reduce some of the discomfort.
Schaffir says that because a lot of women have gone through nursing a child and have a wealth of information to share, many of these home solutions get passed around from person to person, while the list of remedies seems to grow continually.
Dr. Schaffir also says even though the remedies mentioned in the video have been known to be useful, taking care of new moms is paramount if a woman wants to successfully breastfeed.
“Most importantly, take care of mom,” he said. “That includes a lot of rest, relaxation, drinking fluids and eating a well-balanced diet. “Remove more milk from the breast. Do it frequently, so less milk accumulates in the breast between feedings. Avoid pacifiers and bottles.”
Also, “give the baby only breast milk, do not supplement with formula,” said Dr. Schaffir.
What's best for baby
When it comes to mothers deciding whether to breastfeed or not, they should first consider what’s healthiest for the baby, Schaffir advises.
“There are many health benefits to both mom and baby associated with breastfeeding, so that is often a big factor for women to consider,” says Schaffir. “These benefits include a reduced chance of the baby developing allergies, dying of SIDS, and increasing the baby’s IQ. For mom, benefits include a lower risk of developing certain types of cancer, nursing also helps the uterus heal after birth. Moms also can burn more calories wile breastfeeding.
“Some mothers consider the cost when deciding whether to breastfeed or not. Formula obviously costs money, while the breast milk is free. When breastfeeding there are fewer bottles and nipples to sterilize, and you don’t run the risk of running out in the middle of the night.”
“Mothers who breastfeed often miss fewer days of work because their infants aren’t sick as often. While every patient is different, I would recommend that women at least try to breastfeed."
Of course, there are instances where breastfeeding is ill-advised.
Mothers with HIV should never breastfeed because they can pass the virus on to their babies. Also, mothers taking certain prescription medications should consult with their doctor before breastfeeding, Schaffir notes.
He also says that mothers should take a proactive approach to remedying problems associated with breastfeeding, and many times, problems that are thought to be very serious are actually quite easy to fix.
“Breastfeeding frustrations are common in new moms and nothing that they should feel embarrassed, guilty or sad about, says Schaffir.
“Don’t wait to ask for help. Sometimes the trouble mothers are having can be cleared up in just a couple of visits with their doctor, nurse or lactation consultant.”