The current recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics is for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life. Then, continued breastfeeding along with complementary foods from six to twelve months of age. For more information on these recommendations, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website.
Breastfeeding Is a Personal Decision
The decision to breastfeed or not is a personal choice and one that each mother must make. Women should seek out as much education, knowledge, and support as possible when determining if breastfeeding is the right choice for them and their baby and should not feel pressured into choosing one option or the other by their family or friends. Each mother must make the decision to breastfeed or not based on their own individual circumstances and what works best for their family.
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies
Breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs for the first six months of life. It is rich in nutrients and has been shown to help protect your baby against a range of infections, allergies, and other medical conditions. Research shows that breastfed babies have lower risks of:1,2
- Chest & Ear infections
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Leukemia (during childhood)
- Obesity (during childhood)
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI)
- Type 2 diabetes
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mothers
Breastfeeding can also benefit a mother's health following childbirth. Breastfeeding has been shown to lead to a lower risk of these health problems in mothers: 3,4
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain types of breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the risk of bleeding after the birth and it can delay the return of your periods.
A bonus benefit is that it’s cheaper than using formula. Some reports say that breastfeeding can save up to $2,000 in the first year of your baby’s life.
Best Herbs for Breastfeeding Mothers
One of the most frequently asked questions that we are asked from mothers that do decide to breastfeed is: "Which herbs are safe during pregnancy and lactation?"
We put this question to Dr. Mary Bove, who was previously the Director of Medical Education at Gaia Herbs before transitioning to her current role on the Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Bove has more than 40 years of herbalism experience and 25 years of work as a naturopathic physician and is the author of An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants and co-author of Herbs for Women’s Health.
According to Dr. Bove, many herbs can be taken safely during lactation. Below are five of her favorite herbs that are appropriate to use while breastfeeding to support both mother and children.
5 Herbs for Breastfeeding Mothers
Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Supports: respiratory system, immune health, and is a good source of antioxidants*
The Elder shrub has two parts traditionally used to make herbal medicines: the well-known berry and the delicate flower, which is a traditional children's herb to support the respiratory system.* The berry is best known for its immune-supportive properties and support for the body's natural immune defenses.*
Research studies have shown Black Elderberry to have immune-modulating and antioxidant properties due to its high flavonoid-rich compounds.* Gaia Herbs offers a wide variety of Black Elderberry products in syrups, liquid extracts, gummies, powders, and Liquid Phyto-Caps®, making it easy for new moms to find a format that fits their lifestyle and preferences.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
This herb has always been thought of as a child's herb and it has been traditionally used to calm a restless child, settle an occasional upset stomach, or soothe the skin.* This gentle herb provides a sense of calm to the nervous system and supports a healthy digestive process.* Used topically as a lotion, it also supports baby's skin.*
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Gaia Herbs Fenugreek seed supports the production and secretion of breast milk in nursing mothers.* Fenugreek seed has long been recommended by midwives and according to research, a serving of 2 grams of powder taken three times a day has been found to be effective for increasing breast-pump volume within one week of supplementation.*
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Supports: concentration and focus*
Lemon Balm, a member of the mint family, is known for its role in supporting the nervous system, providing a sense of balance, and allowing for deeper focus and concentration.* Several clinical studies have looked at the support this plant provides for mood, cognitive function, alertness, calmness and sleep.*
Gaia Herbs Lemon Balm, Certified Organic liquid extract is grown on our certified organic farm and the delightfully fragrant smell of this herb makes it one of our favorite herbs on the farm. This Lemon Balm liquid extract is delicious tasting and easy-to-use, as you can simply add 30-40 drops in a glass of water. It also makes a delightful addition to a warm cup of tea.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Supports: Sinus support, respiratory health & lactation*
Nettle is a perennial herb that is native to Europe, Asia, Northern Africa, and North America. While you can cultivate this herb in a garden or field, as we do on our 350-acre Certified Organic farm in Brevard, North Carolina, this herb is also commonly found growing in forests and alongside roads and meadows.
Nettle is known for helping to maintain sinus health and supporting upper respiratory health.* It also has a long history of traditional use for stimulating milk production and increasing the supply of breast milk in breastfeeding mothers.*
Gaia Herbs Plant Force Liquid Iron® is a highly popular supplement amongst both pregnant and breastfeeding women that contains Gaia-grown® Nettle in it plus Beet root, Dandelion, Fennel, Parsley, Rice, Sea Buckthorn, Star Anise, Yellow Dock and organic honey to form a delicious, orange-flavored syrup that is free of any fillers and binders.
During pregnancy, a woman's iron needs increase and for some women to get enough iron while you're pregnant, as well as when you're nursing, your doctor may suggest taking an iron supplement. Plant Force Liquid Iron delivers a highly absorbable form of iron the body can quickly use and it is non-constipating, easy on the digestive system, and safe for use during pregnancy and for breastfeeding women. Each 10 mL serving contains 10 mg of elemental (absorbable) iron, and with appropriate daily dosing, can help to maintain healthy iron levels.*
Consult Your Doctor or Lactation Specialist
An important thing to note is that while this article lists some of our favorite herbs for breastfeeding mothers, not all herbs are appropriate for everyone. The use of herbs used during lactation requires specialized knowledge, so please consult your healthcare practitioner or a lactation specialist before taking any new herbal supplement to find out which ones are right for you and your unique needs.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics; 129(3): e827-e841.
- Harder, T., Bergmann, R., Kallischnigg, G., Plagemann, A. (2005). Duration of breastfeeding and risk of overweight: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology; 162(5): 397-403.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2013). Committee Opinion No. 570: Breastfeeding in Underserved Women: Increasing Initiation and Continuation of Breastfeeding.
- Schwarz, E.B., Ray, R.M., Stuebe, A.M., Allison, M.A., Ness, R.B., Freiberg, M.S., et al. (2009). Duration of lactation and risk factors for maternal cardiovascular disease. Obstetrics & Gynecology; 113(5): 974-982.