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What Herbs Can I Take for Anxiety While Breastfeeding

English: catnip , Nepeta cataria ;leaf
English: catnip , Nepeta cataria ;leaf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

<< Does anyone routinely use any calming herbs often enough to know if they  are safe for nursing mothers?  I was thinking of Valerian, hops and  passionflower for my sister’s second child (the oldest still wakes during the night)…>>

The time after giving birth is normally somewhat anxiety producing.  A new mother who typically had interrupted sleep follows what might be the most physically challenging event of her life with insufficient sleep and the overwhelming  responsibility of a helpless new baby (particularly if the baby has colic. )

Catnip might work as well as valerian and is definitely fine for the baby.  In fact you can give it to the baby directly.  Valerian is listed as safe during lactation, but make sure she gets fresh root tincture rather than dried capsules because the dried herb can be stimulating instead of sedative and calming. I prefer teas to tinctures for breastfeeding moms because fluid keeps up the milk supply, which makes catnip, which can be dried, preferable.

Mints are fine, fennel is good for the milk, fenugreek is too but can make you fertile sooner, astragalus is good if you need an immune booster.  Garlic is good although some babies don’t like the way it makes the milk taste- but others adore it.  Oat straw is a nourishing nervine.  Carrot juice will help, especially if anxiety makes your milk supplies lag.

A new mother can experience anxiety if she does not know what herbs are safe for other conditions she may experience during the breastfeeding period.  Other herbs listed as safe during lactation are:

Adaptogens:  borage flower, nettles

Analgesics: valerian root, passionflower, lavender

Alteratives:  nettles, red clover, alfalfa

Antidepressants:  vervain leaf, melissa, lavender, borage, lemon verbena, vitex if due to hormonal imbalance postpartum (also dong quai, red clover)

Antiemetics:  black horehound, raspberry leaf, melissa (lemon balm), chamomile, ginger

Antimicrobials: garlic, corn silk, echinacea, shitake mushrooms, thyme (go easy)

Antispasmodics: cramp bark, valerian root, chamomile

Astringents: yarrow, witch hazel, periwinkle

Bitters: chicory root, dandelion, chamomile, burdock

Carminatives:  peppermint, fennel, anise, dill, ginger

Demulcents: marshmallow, slippery elm (also can be fed to infants)

Diuretics:  dandelion (good for breast abscesses), corn silk

Galactogues: fennel, anise, nigella, milk thistle seed, vervain leaf

Hepatics: dandelion, lemon juice

Nervines: oatstraw and oats, catnip, St. Johnswort, melissa, skullcap

Relaxants: chamomile, skullcap, lemon balm

Tonics:  astragalus, dong quai (for blood), ginseng, eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)

Vulneraries: chamomile, plantain, St. Johnswort

First off I would see that she gets ton of liquids.  Catnip tea is especially good for calming and colic, and if the mother drinks it, her milk will reflect it.  A quart per day is not unreasonable.  Better yet, she could make an overnight infusion which contains 1/2 ounce oatstraw with heads (avena sativa) and 1/2 oz. catnip, put in a quart jar, pour on boiling water, cap and strain in the morning.  It is easy- she can boil the water while she is brushing her teeth and it will help protect her bones and build the child’s.  It is also a nutritive nervine.

Milk production is primarily related to the amount of liquid consumed, the suckling of the child which stimulates milk and stress.  If she has other children and a non-sleeper, she should be getting help during the day so she can nap whenever the baby does.  It is worth the money- and not just for milk production!

Milk production is normally cyclic and usually reflects the baby’s hunger patterns, which may change.  They seem to go on milk binges just before growth spurts and when teething- and the teething pain seems worse when the teeth are cutting through the internal gum layers, long before they emerge.  Probably not the issue now, but I know of two babies who were born with teeth, so you never know.  Having a bit extra breast milk is good in a pinch (and a caregiver can give it to the baby when the mother is exhausted and needs a nap or a break.)  Airplane trips, as an aside, are great times to pump extra milk because the air pressure makes it easier- so if she has any trips coming up she can bring a pump and cooler.  😉  Just make sure that the milk is NOT heated in a microwave because it kills off the antibodies, is hard to digest and the baby will not thrive.

When the baby is a bit older she can give it catnip tea as well, by bottle.  I’d wait until the second month, and make sure that it does not displace the milk consumption.  1/2 bottle per day under 6 months and a bottle after, in divided doses, as required.  The oatstraw/catnip infusion would be particularly good.

The mother can take fennel, fenugreek  or mint teas as well.  Mothers Milk tea by Traditional Medicinals is good.  She should watch her diet (broccoli, onions and other foods high in sulfur are common foods to cause colic but again depends in the baby.)

I would also encourage the mother to sleep with the baby when she feels anxious or overwhelmed.  The baby is more likely to sleep, less likely to awaken and  can learn to nurse while the mother sleeps.  (He’ll even learn to help himself after a few months.)  I firmly believe that it makes it much easier on the family if the parents take the baby to bed.  Everyone sleeps better, there are fewer SIDS deaths (unless she sleeps with him in a waterbed), the father gets to cuddle more than usual and the baby feels more secure.  They do outgrow it and the parents usually kick them out when they insist upon sleeping sideways.

If she hasn’t read them lately, the La Leche League has two excellent books “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” and “The Family Bed”.  The information is not just basic stuff, and bears re-reading if it has been a few years since we usually remember what applied to the first child if it was read then.  La Leche can give her advice and provide lactation counselors who do more than help make sure there is enough milk.

Note:  The list of safe herbs probably derives from one developed by herbalist Amanda McQuade.  I have been using and adapting it for years and am no longer certain of its provenance.

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