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Alternative Methods for Treating Breastfeeding Woes

It’s no secret that breastfeeding, while widely considered the most natural and wholesome choice for feeding a child, is often simply not that much fun. Insufficient milk supply, blocked ducts, engorgement, mastitis (a breast-tissue infection that can cause flu-like symptoms) and pure frustration can make any well-intentioned nursing mother want to stop altogether. And though books abound and lactation consultants often step in with valuable advice, some women choose to treat the difficulties with alternative medicine, including acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

“Breastfeeding is a way to nourish and bond with your baby,” says Corinne Kohrherr of Akoya Acupuncture (121 W. 27th St., New York; 502 Corporate Dr. W., Langhorne, PA; 646-484-9335;, a licensed acupuncturist, licensed massage therapist, board-certified herbalist and DONA-certified childbirth doula. “When it’s not going smoothly, the effects are immediate and frustrating. I think women seek out alternative ways [to help] in order to be supported through the process.”

She frequently uses acupuncture, an arm of traditional Chinese medicine that uses hair-thin needles placed at various points throughout the body to balance energy, to reestablish healthy milk flow and relieve the pain and inflammation associated with engorgement and mastitis. The needles are inserted into points that impact milk supply and flow and are left there for roughly 20 minutes; needles aren’t placed into the breasts themselves.

“It’s pretty similar to my other acupuncture treatments,” says Kohrherr. “Needle points are indicated for the condition and allow the mom to relax and de-stress.”

A Hands-On Approach

Breast massage is another modality used to help open blocked milk ducts and alleviate engorgement—and you can either enlist the help of a professional or learn to do it yourself.

“Our massage therapist shows our patients specific massage techniques for the breast,” says Jill Blakeway, a licensed acupuncturist, board-certified herbalist and clinic director of New York’s YinOva Center (74 E. 11th St.; 212-533-2255;

She advises women to start by taking a shower or a bath or putting a warm washcloth on breasts for five to ten minutes. The heat increases blood flow and helps with milk let-down. Then, using a natural lotion or lubricant (she recommends coconut oil), gently rub breasts with the flats of your fingertips in small circular motions. “Start at the outside of your breast and work your way toward the nipple,” says Blakeway. “If you feel a milk duct, make little circles around it. Do this for about two minutes until your breast feels warm, which is a sign that blood is flowing.”

Supplemental Options

Chinese herbs are another way to address difficulties. Blakeway recommends choices like fenugreek to increase milk supply; alfalfa and marshmallow, both breastmilk enhancers; and blessed thistle, which can also escalate milk supply and works best when used with fenugreek and alfalfa.

She also points out that studies have shown taking a tablespoon a day of oral granular lecithin (a fatty supplement, components of which are typically found in breast milk), or a 1,200-milligram lecithin capsule three to four times a day, can aid in treating and even preventing plugged milk ducts.

The Bottom Line

Breastfeeding experiences vary widely. But forgetting to focus on one essential element—you—is never an option, no matter what else is chosen to bolster the cause.

“Ask for and reach out for support, since breastfeeding is a fulltime job,” says Kohrherr. “Have your family take care of things that you do in the household and have them on hand for when you need a break. Reach out to lactation consultants and breastfeeding support groups and hotlines for support and troubleshooting, and know you’re not alone.”

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