Writing the book “Mother Food”

Writing the book “Mother Food”

A Slow Gestation

The idea for this book was conceived and then took hold of me, a little more each time, with the births of each of my children. With each child, I learned a little more about overcoming my low milk supply issues by using traditional herbs and foods — an area of knowledge that was not at all in the mainstream twenty, or even ten years ago, and that today is still little understood.

 The catalyst to actually begin researching and writing was the birth of my forth child and my only daughter. That was in 1992. With her, I encountered new and considerable obstacles to breastfeeding and bonding. I was able to overcome these with the knowledge I had gleaned with my older three children — knowledge that I believe every mother has a right to know.

Childbed Fever

The first major challenge was childbed fever and a stay at the hospital. A sliver of placenta had remained in my womb, and when it began to decay, bacterial infection invaded my body. My daughter was ten days old when I was rushed to the emergency room, shaking from fever, too weak to stand. Fortunately, my breastfeeding-friendly doctor agreed that I could continue nursing in spite of undergoing surgery and taking high-dosage antibiotics. I was also allowed to room-in with my daughter: she slept in my bed, right next to me on the extra-large pillow.

Although I was so weak, I responded to her needs as quickly as possible, day and night. I changed her clothes and her diapers right there in bed with me. At the first sign of hunger or fretfulness, I fed or comforted her. I loved being close to her and feeling the warmth and emotion flow between us, that incredible exchange of finest feelings, as comforting to the sensitive new mother as to the baby.

Each afternoon, a friend came by and was available to carry her around during the hours when she might be fretful. Evenings, my husband was there to do the same. The quintessence: my daughter never felt abandoned to discomfort.

As mentioned above, I struggle with chronic low milk supply. The causes were hormonal (mild PCOS), a minimal amount of glandular breast tissue, and possibly also my having a medical condition that suppresses my immune system (Lyme disease). To prevent milk supply problems in the hospital, I asked my husband to bring me bottles of “Rivella,” a soft drink flavored with herbal extracts that is drunk in Switzerland (where I lived) to increase milk supply. In addition, the nurses made me pots of an herbal lactation tea. The result was that although my body was struggling to maintain milk production throughout this medical crisis, I did indeed manage to exclusively breastfeed my daughter.

The Nurses

Then something happened that made a huge impression on me. Nurses I had never seen before began to visit us, to stand quietly and respectfully inside our room for a while, and then leave without saying a word. I finally asked one what was going on. She told me that the nurses “downstairs” were talking about my baby — about the remarkable baby who ever cried. The nurses wanted to see for themselves if it was true! She explained that in the maternity ward, the babies were fretful and crying a lot of the time.

You see, in Switzerland, health insurance pays for up to ten days of rest at the hospital after birth. During this time, mothers are supposed to learn about babycare from the nurses. In my case, however, I had gone straight home a few hours after the births of my first two babies. My last two had been homebirths, so I had never had the benefit of their guidance.

Well, the nurse’s amazement amazed me! Obviously, they didn’t understand the kind of interaction necessary to prevent a baby from becoming fretful. Indeed, I remembered the questionable “support” I’d received the first few hours after my two hospital births. With my first, because he was fretful, the nurse put him in a little bed, all alone, crying, so that I could rest. That separation ripped my heart, and his crying began to sound horribly angry. Being born and immediately initiated into anger and separation is not my idea of a good start in life! But since the nurse seemed to think it was okay, and I was a new mother and insecure, I trusted her. With my second, the nurses took him for testing and then didn’t return him for a half hour. I was aching for him all that time. When I asked about the delay I was told it was because he was so cute, and a very special baby. They had enjoyed their time with him. When a nurse then saw that I was attempting to breastfeed him, she said, “What? So soon? Don’t you want to rest?” It was now 45 minutes after birth. Didn’t she know that the best time to initiate breastfeeding was the first hour after birth?

Well, with my daughter cooing on my lap I assured the nurse that she was no angel. She would cry like any other baby if her needs were not met. The secret was recognizing her signals and responding to them as soon as possible — even within a split second. But there was more to it. I also knew how to keep up my fragile milk supply, and I knew that I should eat certain foods and not others to avoid risking my baby’s digestive distress. Indeed, I knew from repeated experience that a baby who has enough milk, and whose milk is easy to digest, is very simply going to be an “easier” baby. Every baby is different, of course, but a mother can learn how to be sensitive to those differences and gauge her choices accordingly.

Postpartum Depression

A few weeks later I encountered the next big obstacle: postpartum depression. I had gone through a long phase of exhaustion following each birth, but had not experienced depression before. Now I saw what it was like: parts of my brain shut down; I no longer felt involvement in life; I felt no joy in being a mother, or in my new baby.

Nonetheless, because I knew it was important, I continued doing things that contribute to a bonded relationship: I gave my baby the contact she required (she was the sensitive kind of baby who never sleeps if put down, so she had to be carried in a sling or snugly during the day, even when sleeping, the first three months of her life). I continued taking foods and herbs to maintain my supply. I observed which foods caused her digestive distress, and I avoided these. When I watched TV, I wore a headphone. I believe that babies who listen to television or radio and who hear, for instance, sudden loud sounds or music that convey shock, horror, surprise, or pathos are at greater risk for the sensorial disorganization that many children have today. I also sang to her throughout the day, including when I watched TV with headphones on, even though it felt very odd to do so. The result was that when I came out of depression (the healing process took about four months; I was not informed enough to take medication), I had a trusting, happy baby, (and a very musical child as we would discover) who would continue to be confident in our relationship, and to nurse for several years.

My Happy Baby

My happy baby was my little miracle. How had I come through postpartum depression with an intact relationship to my daughter, including an intact breastfeeding relationship? Everyday, I marveled and rejoiced. I also rejoiced that I had known how to overcome my low milk supply, and to produce milk that did not cause my daughter to have an upset stomach. (She would get an upset stomach and become colicky whenever I ate certain foods or combinations of foods, so I was sure to avoid these.) I had learned these tools not from doctors but from mothers, especially mothers from the “anthroposophic” community (Waldorf school) which, in Germany, has studied the effect of foods and herbs on mothers and babies for decades.

I felt as though I had stumbled upon a treasure chest of insights – to which mothers held the key. This set of insights seemed ancient in its “rightness.” I believed that all mothers should have access to it.
Putting this key back into the hands of all mothers was the motivation for researching and writing Mother Food.

Now, there are two types of persons in my family: scientists and artists. I lean toward the latter. My degree is in music. I also love to write, especially poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Well, research shows that musicians use their brain in an integrated way, using both halves creatively. That was the approach I took to researching this material: get the whole picture, discover the interconnections, and explain these in simple terms that make the reader think, “Oh, I get this now! It’s so clear!”

Imagine a mother of four lively children, bringing home boxes of books from the university library, and reading these each evening in bed while nursing her baby – then toddler, then young child. My daughter was four years old when I published an article in “c u r a r e,” a German academic journal of ethnomedicine, titled, “Have Lactation Medicinals an Influence on Culture?” This article summed up my findings: that lactation medicinals had been ignored by science (this has now changed), that foods that increase milk production were the crops earliest cultivated by Neolithic peoples (perhaps because breastfeeding mothers preferred these foods), that lactation medicinals are plentifully found in world mythology, associated with breastfeeding goddesses or mother goddesses. Finally, I included a description of some of the chemical pathways that lactogenic foods and herbs use to increase milk production.

What Kind of Book Should I Write?

In 1996, I sent my initial manuscript, then titled “Ancient Tools of Motherhood,” to a Swiss publishing house, the Kreux Verlag. Their main editor responded that I was writing not one book, but two: I was writing a self-help book, but also a book about history and culture. She said that this combination would be hard to market, and that I should instead write one book or the other.

I thought about this suggestion a long time, but remained convinced that mothers deserve and require a book connecting both history and culture to their practical experiences today. One of the remarkable moments of motherhood is the realization that one is sharing an experience common to women of all times and places. The next step is to understand how this universality includes our choices for diet and health, with respect to how these choices influence our breastfeeding and mothering experience.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I believe that understanding motherhood has never been as crucial as it is today. More of our children are born prematurely, or are born at term but with neurological damage such as learning problems (and suck problems), concentration or sensorial disorders, and a spectrum of autistic disorders. Indeed, it is estimated that 1 out of 96 children are born with an austistic disorder, and nearly every second boy has some degree of concentration or sensorial integration disorder. We need to understand how we got where we are today and what we can do about it — for although this problem belongs to society as a whole, and as a society we will eventually have to come to terms with it, we mothers can be proactive now, both before conception, during pregnancy and birth, and again through our choices for our baby’s nourishment. “Mother Food,” precisely because it is many books in one, can offer important impulses to this discussion.

In 1999, I was thrilled to learn that a new venue of publishing had opened up: “Print on Demand,” a digital publishing arrangement that leaves complete responsibility for content and editing to the writer. This venue would allow me to write the combination how-to and cultural book that I had planned. I was energized to concentrate on writing again.

In 2000, I was almost ready to publish. Then I was bit by a tick and my life turned upside down. My doctor believes I’d had Lyme disease since my early twenties, but without its having broken out actively. With the new tick bite, Lyme disease quickly developed and put me out of function for six months of antibiotic treatment. When I began to recover, enough that I could consider working on this book again, I realized that I could not return to this book as it was. I had to re-write it in order to remember what it was about (Lyme disease affects memory and thinking processes)! And that was a good thing.

Again I had boxes of books to read. Wonderfully, everything I read in the very most recent books on diet, the immune system, allergy, and babycare confirmed and complimented what I already knew. Now I had many more insights for mothers. I continued to work toward publication, and in 2001, became a certified holistic lactation consultant in a new school founded in Switzerland. Local midwives referred mothers to me who had extraordinary problems with milk supply. Most wonderfully, I moderated a breastfeeding group on the internet where mothers with exceptional breastfeeding difficulties congregate for support. In 2005, this group became a non-profit, MOBI Motherhood Intl. (Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues).

What is Unique about Mother Food?

The central goal of Mother Food is to address breastfeeding issues that are linked to a baby’s apparent suffering at the breast, such as persistent hunger from true low supply, and pain from colic, reflux, and allergy. These conditions are the least well explored in breastfeeding literature today, and mothers who describe having these problems often feel misunderstood by their healthcare providers.

Another goal is to include a historic overview of mother foods from ancient Greece, India and China. These comparisons offer fascinating surprises and insights that are the birthright of all mothers.

About Hilary Jacobson

About Hilary Jacobson

In December, 2020, Mariana Gambande, a student at the Douglas College Breastfeeding course for Health Practitioners, asked me for an interview and sent me the following questions. I appreciate the breadth of the questions, and am publishing the interview here as an introduction to my work.  

Question: You are a holistic lactation consultant, how did you end up studying that and what motivated you? Did this information lead you to the use of galactagogues? Where did you study?

Hilary Jacobson: I discovered herbal and dietary galactagogues in 1988 while living in Switzerland. This was a time when doctors and lactation consultants were legally not permitted, per their certifying medical boards, to talk about such “unscientific” things with mothers. 

My personal success with galactagogues and a lactogenic diet motivated me to dive into the research, using the Swiss University Library system as my main resource. 

As I learned more, I resolved to write a book, Mother Food. Coincidentally, the first school of Holistic Lactation formed in 1999 in a Swiss town called Rapperswil, and I was one of the first certifying students. The founder, Christiane Husi-Simoniis, helped me understand herbology, TCM, Ayurvedic medicine, acupressure, and mind-body connection. Those insights were incorporated into my book Mother Food.

The website for the Swiss school of Holistic Lactation Consulting ( Ganzheitliche Stillberatung CH.HU.SI.®)  is: www.stillberaterin.com 

Question: You are also a trained Hypnotherapist, what was your motivation to start that journey?

Hilary Jacobson: Over the years I listened to probably hundreds of mothers talk about the emotional toll of their breastfeeding struggles. For my part, a feeling of sadness and helplessness also grew because I did not know how to help them heal from these emotional wounds. I had figured out the herbs and foods part of the puzzle, but I couldn’t help them in this area. 

I believe that every day a mother is stuck in feelings of loss and grief due to breastfeeding or birth trauma is a day that is lost, or reduced, in multiple ways, for the development of that baby and the development of that relationship. 

We can’t just shake off trauma or grief. A mother can’t decide: “Today I’m just going to feel better,” as much as she might try. She can talk to her doctor about medication of course, but it typically takes a month for medication to unfold its effect – that is lost time – and it does change the personality. 

Many mothers start their mothering journey feeling trapped in negative, crushing emotions. They absolutely do need specialized help. The good news is that trauma actually can be moved through and healed, and that this process is accelerated with hypnosis.

In summer 2013,  I took a 3-month certification course in hypnotherapy. It might surprise you to learn that I did not actually intend to become a practicing hypnotherapist. The school had just opened up in the town where I lived, and I thought that learning about hypnosis might be an interesting and a fun way to spend the summer. As a writer, I was curious to experience how words and images can evoke deep relaxation and a state of trance. I have meditated since my teens, and I wanted to see if and how meditation and hypnosis overlap. 

I found the training fascinating, but also surprisingly healing, physically and emotionally. During the last days of the training it finally hit me that I had unwittingly acquired a therapeutic skillset that I could actually use to help mothers. It felt to me as though my wish had been answered.

I began to practice hypnotherapy with volunteers from mothering forums. With time, I developed techniques that are well-suited to mothers in the postpartum. Presently, I offer one-on-one sessions, but I am also preparing mentoring classes for mothers in basic mindfulness and self-hypnosis techniques–a kind of soft introduction to this form of healing. (See mother-food.com for information.)

Question: Based on your historical research, would you state that breastfeeding has become more or less challenging in our modern culture compared to ancient times? Why do you believe so? What aspects  of our culture are influencing this phenomenon?

Hilary Jacobson: I am fascinated by lactation in early hominids and primates. We know that first-time chimpanzee mothers sometimes fail at milk production. I wonder: is there a sub-set of female primates who struggle more than others?

Studies on primates living in their natural environment reveal a breastfeeding hierarchy: mothers who are stronger and able to access more food have a calmer, more secure personality. Mothers who are weaker and who have access to less food are more nervous. These two types have different patterns of milk production, and their offspring have different patterns of growth and temperament. I think this is a really interesting line of thought. Ayurvedic medicine divides us into types, and the vatta type (nervous, mental, creative) is more prone to lactation problems, per this theory.

If we look at early historic times, we see that in early Western civilizations, mothers quickly lost the basic skills of breastfeeding. In Roman times, books written by a doctor named Soranos carefully outline remedies for the breastfeeding challenges of the upper class. Those recommendations would apply to sedentary, city-living women today, too.

There is no question however that today’s breastfeeding challenges are unique to our times. Fifteen years of research into lactation difficulties, both on a mother’s and her baby’s side, confirm that our challenges are new.  

On the mothers’ side, many women have hormonal imbalances that affect lactation, especially insulin resistance. Today, half of the world’s adult population is pre-diabetic or diabetic. And that’s just the part that can be diagnosed. Easy weight gain, obesity, gestational diabetes, type two diabetes and PCOS – all are associated with some degree of lactation difficulty. Not every woman with insulin resistance will have lactation problems, but many will, and many women with insulin resistance will not even know that they have it.

This is new–and it is a tragedy. We know that many of these women, if given proper support, will overcome these difficulties and go on to breastfeed well. But proper support is both subtle and complicated, and must be tailored to each individual mother and baby. This requires highly trained, experience, devoted and intuitive lactation consultants – in a world in which the skills of the highly trained lactation consultant are hardly recognized or valued. And because health insurance rarely covers this kind of care, it is denied to women of lower socioeconomic levels. 

This is where the the “lactogenic diet” gains relevance, as this diet consists of foods and herbs that improve insulin function while also supporting the major organs of digestion, detoxification and elimination – and this improvement is available to anyone willing to change their food choices. What I am saying is that in addition to improving the mother’s milk supply, the lactogenic diet may help correct the underlying metabolic imbalances from insulin resistance, and prevent the progression to serious disease.

On the babies’ side, we see more babies with severe “oral tethering,” in which the tongue, lips and even the inner cheek tissue are “tied” or bound together in ways that prevent free and complete movement of the tongue. As well as oral tethering, we see more narrowing of the jaws. While these problems are not new, their prevalence has increased.

In the 1970s, Swiss doctors wrote that the narrower jaws were the result of zinc deficiency in the mother’s or grandmother’s diet. This was the first I heard of nutritional lacks having cross-generational consequences. The sheer number of children today with structural changes in their mouths and skulls is most likely the cumulative effect of two or three generations who have now lived fully immersed in the western, industrial lifestyle (processed food, medicine, substance abuse, exposure to toxins and stress). 

For a demonstration of such changes, see the documentation of Weston A. Price from the 1920s:  photographs of the facial and dental structures of tribal peoples before and after eating the western diet.

C-sections  also take a toll: they deprive mothers of the natural oxytocin and opiate surges that are produced when a mother experiences birth contractions. These hormones prepare the pituitary for the production of prolactin and also prime the mothers’ and baby’s brain for bonding. Also, a baby born with C-Section is deprived of an important dose of microbiome from the mother’s vagina, increasing the risk of infant colic and intestinal disease later in life.

And more babies born today have torticollis – that is, their muscles are stuck in a state of tension, so they cannot relax into their mother’s arms to nurse. Mothers in most cultures learn ways to massage babies every day, to release the tension – and for the many other benefits that accompany massage. Today, we must take our baby to a skilled physical therapist, a so-called bodyworker, who is specially trained in infants to help these infants relax and nurse well.

And again – this service is not available to all mothers, so naturally, mothers from underserved communities will experience more hard-to-correct breastfeeding problems, and experience more breastfeeding failure, from all of the above mentioned causes.

Question: Why do you believe it is so difficult for mothers to overcome the sadness of not being able to meet their breastfeeding goals? 

Hilary Jacobson: Mothers frequently say that breastfeeding grief is the worst experience of their lives, comparable to the loss of a loved one. I believe that is because it relates so directly to the core and heart of ourselves as a mother.

One reason it is hard to heal is the loneliness that accompanies the experience. Mothers don’t feel understood and so they do not talk about their feelings. The emotions they feel are complex and intense. Not being able to share these feelings only compounds their intensity.

For mothers to be able to overcome these feelings, and to rediscover and embody their mothering confidence and joy, specialized help is needed. I have developed a method that yields wonderful and quick results. I hope more hypnotherapists will learn these skills and that the essential elements of this approach will one day be wrapped into mainstream postpartum care.

One last thing: not all mothers experience these intense feelings. Many can move through the experience of breastfeeding disappointment without feeling stuck in negative thoughts and emotions, and they are soon able to feel well and be present with their baby.

(See my book Healing Breastfeeding Grief.)

Question: What do you think of the use of galactagogues during pregnancy? Is it possible that they help to stimulate lactogenesis in your experience?

Hilary Jacobson: This subject is close to my heart. No mother or baby should have to wait a full week for the milk to arrive. Multiple studies show that lactogenic meals and beverages the week after childbirth bring the milk in earlier and more fully. This option should be available at all birth clinics and from postpartum doulas. We should avoid the powerful galactagogue herbs, as they can cause engorgement and oversupply, but instead serve gentle lactogenic ingredients and teas that support the transition to milk production (called lactogenesis).

To your question, over the years I have seen stark improvement in mammary gland tissue during a second or third pregnancy when certain herbs are used with regularity. I know of three cultures that recommend specific foods during late pregnancy to help with lactogenesis. This really needs to be studied.

I personally advocate for eating a well-rounded lactogenic diet during pregnancy and enjoying gentle lactogenic meals and beverages after childbirth, and I believe this will lead to a more timely and comfortable launch of lactation and to a more optimal milk production long-term. 

Question: Many times, for the sake of avoiding anxiousness in the mother, it is not indicated to prepare for any eventual breastfeeding problems. However, parents are usually prepared for eventual birth issues, reflected in the vast majority of births taking place in hospitals nowadays. What is your opinion about this phenomenon?

Hilary Jacobson: Clearly, just as the AMA enforces medical oversight for childbirth, the AMA should strongly enforce providing a full range of specialized, highly trained professionals to help all mothers with breastfeeding. Instead, what is available must usually be paid for out of pocket. This is not fair to mothers, and in my opinion, it signals insincerity on the part of the AMA as far as infant care is concerned. We know how beneficial breastfeeding is to both baby and mother. Why are so few resources available? 

We also do not communicate the full situation to pregnant or new mothers.

It’s a conundrum. Mothers who struggle to nurse often say they dearly wished someone would have told them about the possible problems beforehand, and saved them a lot of hardship. But mothers who receive this information before or during pregnancy sometimes say they wish they had not been told, because it caused them unnecessary concern and worry.

This conundrum is just one example of the “uncomfortable spaces” that parents and healthcare providers occupy.

I see it this way: our medical system has a legally binding contract with US citizens to inform us about what we might encounter, what we might prepare for, and what we might prevent through lifestyle choices and behavior. To a great extent, this is not happening.

Our healthcare system is a “divided house,” meaning, it has divided loyalties. Actually, it has many divergent loyalties. And the first rule of medicine, “Do no harm,” gets lost in the process.

For instance, a higher-up at the WHO told me in the early 1990s that, “We say “all women can nurse” not because it is true, but because it will remove doctors’ excuses to push formula feeding instead. You think we are aiming this slogan at mothers in the United States, but really we are aiming it at doctors all around the world. We are insisting that they motivate mothers.”

I replied, “But what about the multitude of mothers who take it literally, and when they cannot produce a full supply, feel like failures.”

He explained that how these mothers felt was sad, but not life-threatening. Their priority was to influence the behavior of doctors and women around the world.

I later understood what he meant: if mothers in the United States cannot produce a full supply, it is sad but not fatal. But when women in impoverished areas of the world are not encouraged to nurse, and if they then resort to formula, the cost of formula can drive the family into deeper poverty. It can also cause long lasting health problems for the baby, or death, because the formula was often mixed with unboiled, unhygienic water, and the powder is stretched, to last longer.

This was how I learned about the “individual vs the population” problem. Help the individual, hurt the population. Help the population, hurt the individual. Examples I often hear around breastfeeding are: 

“If we tell all mothers that nursing can be challenging, fewer of them will try to nurse.”  

“If we tell all mothers that their diet impacts the quality of their breastmilk, fewer will try to nurse because they wouldn’t want to change their diet.” 

But for many mothers, and perhaps for the majority of women, being told about potential problems and also learning how to prevent or ameliorate the problems, as well as being encouraged to accept the problem and not blame themselves if breastfeeding does not work out , will not de-motivate them. Just the opposite. They will take the information and run with it. And that can mean better mental and physical health for the entire family and possibly for further generations of that family.

Our medical industry has divided loyalties. Education in nutrition is minimal at best for doctors and nurses. This helps explain why there is so much push-back on the idea that diet could resolve some of our lactation problems and absolutely no research into it – except from non-American countries.

In my ideal world – a fantasy, admittedly – we would teach young people about cross-generational health loss, due to the western diet and the rise of insulin resistance. We would start in fifth grade, provide more info in sixth grade and Jr. High School, invite parents to learn along, and add more details in High School, including the fact that with insulin resistance, fertility problems and breastfeeding problems are more likely.

We might motivate them with examples of how dietary and lifestyle changes that will most probably improve their own health for the longterm and possibly make breastfeeding easier — but that in the short run, will probably improve their concentration abilities and memory for their school work. 

My daughter was shocked to see documentaries about the sixties, and to note that none of the teenagers and young college students were overweight. What happened? How did we get here? How can we turn the trend around?

Bottom line, if a Great Depression were to come again — a time when many families survived with a small backyard garden, by eating simple food and salad made with dandelion greens from their garden — it is good to know that some important lactogenic herbs grow abundantly as weeds in every patch of soil across the country, and indeed the world. They are free for the taking and can be easily transplanted and cultivated in backyards and community gardens–even on window-sills, balconies or fire-escape platforms. 

In my new book about growing lactogenic foods and herbs, indoors and outdoors, I devote a chapter to describing modern lactation problems. I describe what we can do to correct them, as much as possible anyway. And I show ways to grow lactation-supporting  herbs no matter if you live in a small apartment or a farm.

Question:  Have you found any differences between Switzerland and the US regarding breastfeeding practices?

Hilary Jacobson: When I lived in Switzerland, the people were healthier than here in the US. One example: fungal infection of the nipple called “thrush” was unknown. We in the US are more prone to fungal infection because our diet is processed and heavy on carbs,  our doctors over prescribe antibiotics, and more mothers have C-Sections and routinely are given antibiotics at that time. 

Swiss mothers aim to exclusively breastfeed for six months – and most do. There are milk supply problems but not as many as in the US. Lactation teas, non-alcoholic beer, lactogenic vegetables and foods such as oatmeal, fennel root, malt and whey are routinely used by mothers to support their supply.

Question: What advice would you give to a pregnant woman, to a mother who is experiencing low milk supply, and to one that is experiencing breastfeeding grief?

Hilary Jacobson: Read my books. Grow a galactagogue garden. Stay hydrated. Take yourself seriously and treat yourself kindly. Create a network of holistically trained mother-baby healthcare providers, and reach out for support when needed.

Also, please know that breastfeeding is not the end-all of mothering. There are many things you can do to achieve secure bonding and good neurological and immunological development for your baby. I talk about these in Part Three of my book Healing Breastfeeding Grief, but this really needs to be discussed and taught in childbirth and breastfeeding preparation classes: what besides breastfeeding promotes best development and good bonding. 

We need to have a larger discussion. We are truly all in this together. There is no race or area of society that is not affected. We are all experiencing profound cross-generational losses. But we can improve the health of individuals and the population as a whole over the next few generations by learning new self-healing skills, learning new (and inexpensive) approaches to diet, and refusing to go along with the poor food and lifestyle as it is offered to us today.

My websites: mother-food.com; healingbreastfeedinggrief.com, healingwayhypnosis.com

My books: Mother Food, Healing Breastfeeding Grief, A Mother’s Garden of Galactagogues (coming soon).


The Use of Beer as a Galactagogue, historically and today

The Use of Beer as a Galactagogue, historically and today

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The ancient civilizations of Sumer and Egypt discovered the secrets of malting and brewing over three thousand years ago, using the barley grain. Barley is thought to possibly be the first grain cultivated by humans, about 10,000 BCE. It contains a polysaccharide, beta-glucan, that increases the hormone of milk-production, prolactin.

Barley is used around the world in many different forms as a milk-supply boosting galactagogue, like beer, soup, and broth.

According to pictorial hieroglyphs, women and slaves were involved in the labor of large scale beer production in Egypt. Later, in Greek and Roman times, barley was one of many ingredients that might be freely combined in a variety of alcoholic recipes. When these ingredients included lactogenic herbs and fruit, the effect was doubtless noticed by breastfeeding women.

The Greek doctor Dioscorides (1st century C.E.) describes an alcoholic beverage to increase milk supply made using dried black figs, freshly pressed grapes, fennel, and thyme, all of which are known lactogenic ingredients.

The Greek surgeon Antyllus (2nd century CE), mentions a fermented grain beverage that was combined with the crushed unripe seeds of the sesame plant and crushed palm dates–two more strongly lactogenic ingredients.

These were doubtless just two of many beverages that were enjoyed by breastfeeding women across the ancient world.

Moving on to Europe

During the Dark Ages, when the skills and knowledge of the ancient world were largely forgotten (suppressed), the art of brewing was kept alive in monasteries across Europe. Eventually, however, with the development of farmsteads, brewing techniques passed into the hands of women as domestic work. Each thriving family farm brewed its own beer, and the term “Brewster”  referred to a woman who brews in her home.

Brewsters used barley and other grains, and a range of herbs added in for their taste and medicinal properties. The preferred herbs had a bitter taste to balance the sweetness of the grain, were antiseptic to keep the drink free of pathogens, and were anti-parasitic (for instance, they killed intestinal worms). Lactogenic herbs such as pepper, cinnamon, coriander, caraway, and anise were also used in brewing. They may well have been added in when the Brewster was breastfeeding. Mind-altering, narcotic and sexualizing herbs might also be used in brewing. Such drinks were later ascribed to the practice of witchcraft and were forbidden.

Hops flowers, a bitter, relaxing, and slightly narcotic herb that reduces sexual drive and potency, and that most likely reduced violence and rape in the general population, became standard for brewing.

Hops is also an estrogenic galactagogue with a strong reputation for the milk ejection reflex. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), an influential nun, author, herbalist, songwriter, and philosopher of her day, is said to have strongly advocated for hops as the standard herb used in beer. My guess is that Hildegard knew what she was doing for women and mothers. Thank you, Hilde!

For several centuries, brewing remained domestic work. It became a source of family income, with beer sold through local pubs or directly from the farm. As economies began to evolve, however, the upper classes passed laws that successfully suppressed these small family businesses. Brewing recipes were strictly regulated, and fees and fines imposed. Brewing became impractical for small domestic breweries and pub houses, and the way was now clear for large industrial breweries to dominate the market, industries that have prospered to the present day.

Today, small breweries are attempting to break free from the stranglehold of the commercial beer industry. If you enjoy beer, I urge you to support them!

Guinness, one of the big British breweries, specializes in a stout that is made with barley malt and barley grain. The added barley makes the stout “silkier” and “thicker” due to beta-glucan, the viscous polysaccharide (long-chained sugar molecule) in barley that increases prolactin. It makes sense that Guinness is the commercial beer most frequently recommended today for breastfeeding mothers, as it is one of the very few to still contain good amounts of beta-glucan. 

Beginning in the early 1500s, German law limited the ingredients to barley, hops, yeast, and water. Reasons for this went beyond taste preferences. By prohibiting the use of wheat, more wheat was available to bake bread. By restricting the allowed ingredients, various other types of beer were pushed into obscurity and could no longer compete with the large breweries. The law effectively got rid of international competition as it formed a protective barrier to the importation of any foreign beer that used other ingredients. These restrictions would eventually influence the international production of beer, as brewers in neighboring countries conformed to the restrictions so that they could compete within the large German market.

Luckily for breastfeeding mothers, the “pure” ingredients defined by German-type beer, barley, malt, hops, and yeast, are intensely lactogenic. This is why classical European beer is recognized by breastfeeding mothers as the best beer-type galactagogue.

To beer or not to beer

Alcohol is anti-galactagogue. Studies on animals and humans show that alcohol impairs the milk ejection reflex, slows the flow of milk, and leads to a reduced intake of milk by the baby for approximately four hours after mom’s drinking.

As the milk backs-up in the breast, the breast feels fuller. Researchers believe that this combination–the breast feeling fuller, and the baby needing more time to remove milk from the breast, fools mothers into believing that her baby is drinking more milk.

However, in historic beer brewing, the brews of “small beer” and “second brew” (see next section) were preferred by lactating mothers, children, and laborers. In these types of beer, the level of alcohol is considerably lower while the nutritional and herbal value is far higher.

When drinking a small beer or second beer, the nutrients and herbs may have prevailed over the effect of the reduced alcohol content.

Other factors that may override the anti-galactagogue effect would be whether the mother drinks the beer on an empty stomach or if she has recently had a meal, and also how soon after drinking she breastfeeds again. It is likely that if a mother first eats and then drinks, and if several hours pass between drinking and nursing, the effects of the alcohol will have worn off while the effects of the lactogenic ingredients will still be potent.

What beer are you drinking now? #1743 | Page 2 | Community ...

This seems to be the case, according to reports by exclusively pumping mothers who say that by drinking one glass of beer after dinner in the evening (beer rich in barley or hops, such as Guinness Dark Stout or non-alcoholic, malty St. Pauli Girl), they pump measurably more milk the next day. Some also say that they have more frequent and stronger let-downs at the pump that same evening.

Small Beer – Big Effect

In home brewing, the so-called “mashing” (or boiling of malt, grains, and herbs) was performed twice with the same grains and herbs. Whereas the first mashing returns a strong alcoholic beer, the second mashing returns a low-alcoholic beverage called “small beer” that was loosely filtered—a thin, porridge-like fluid that could practically be eaten!

Up until 150 years ago, “small beer” was viewed as a healthy, nutritious beverage that could be given to children, servants, to men performing hard labor, and to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. In Germany, the second mash was called “Nährbier,” meaning, literally, “nutritional beer.” Into the mid-20th century, Nährbier was produced in Germany commercially and recommended to breastfeeding mothers as nutrition and to enhance their milk production.

This then is the typical historic beer used by breastfeeding mothers: stronger in nutrition, weaker in alcohol. It is quite a different brew from any commercial beer today.

It is important to keep this in mind. Our typical, light-colored alcoholic beers do not contain enough lactogenic ingredients to counteract the anti-galactagogue effects of alcohol. Commercial, light beers made with corn and rice and wheat rather than barley can lead to a decrease in supply! Non-alcoholic beer, however, especially if rich in barley and hops, can be a good galactagogue.

Our Grandmothers were Right!

Clearly, our foremothers knew what they were doing when they used beer as a galactagogue. They would use a classic stout-type beer, rich in beta-glucan, or they would drink “small beer.”

The British OBGYN, Charles Routh, writes about beer in his book Infant Feeding and Its Influence on Life (1869). He writes that too much beer and not enough food will reduce supply and risk alcoholism. To use beer as a galactagogue, Routh suggests one oz of dark beer mixed together with one oz cream (delicious!) and drunk every few hours (I believe he was weaning mothers off of their beer habit). He also recommends the specific brands of stouts/ales that were reputed to be most effective by the professional wet-nurses of his time.

Malt Beer

During the 19th century, “temperance movements” formed in many countries around the world to discourage the use of alcohol. In response, beer industries produced non-alcoholic beer-like beverages using hops, yeast, and malt. In the US, malt beer was called Near-Beer; in Germany, Malz-Bier, and in France, bière de nourrice, or “wet-nurse beer.” All were recommended as nourishing beverages for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and were reported to support milk supply.

La bière, une histoire de femmes - Madame Figaro

Malt is derived from barley grain. Both malt syrup and malt powder are a widely used historic galactagoToday, many new brands of malt-beer are available commercially. The best known is the Guinness Malta. Malt beers are very popular in South America, Africa, and Israel. Many mothers swear that Malta helps support their supply

An Italian Doctor Reveals the Facts on the Ground

An Italian Doctor Reveals the Facts on the Ground

This message was posted on the social networks of Daniele Macchini, M.D., an Italian ER doctor at the Humanitas Gavazzeni Clinics in northern Italy. Dr. Macchini gives us an important testimony on the coronavirus and the experience of the doctors who are in the trenches as they tackle this emergency.

I have translated the message and at times simplified the structure to make it more accessible to the English-speaking reader.

This is one of the most important messages you will ever read. – Hilary Jacobson March 8, 2020


Dr. Macchini writes:

Predictably, within the emails that I daily receive from my healthcare department, I find a paragraph entitled “acting with social responsibility” that outlines recommendations as to how we should act and speak about the coronavirus.

After thinking it through, as to if and what I can write regarding the facts on the ground, I find that silence is not responsible. I will therefore write and try to convey to people who are not involved in “the work” of medicine, and whose lives are far away from our daily reality, what we are experiencing in Bergamo during these days of the pandemic.

I understand the need to not create panic, but if the significance of this danger is not communicated powerfully and clearly to people – then, for the people who loudly complain about not being able to go to the gym or soccer tournaments, I shudder.

I understand the economic consequences of speaking openly, and I am worried about that. But even accepting the risk of literally devastating our National Health System from an economic point of view, I allow myself to sound the alarm about the health tragedy that has spread throughout the country.

I find it nothing less than chilling, for example, that quarantines for the municipalities of Alzano Lombardo and Nembro have yet not been established.

During the previous week, when our “enemy” was still in the shadows, the hospital wards were slowly emptied; elective surgeries postponed; even persons receiving intensive therapies were removed, to create as many empty beds as possible. Then containers arrived to create more spaces so as to reduce the risk of infections.

This rapid transformation produced in the corridors of the hospital an atmosphere of surreal silence and emptiness that, at the time, we did not understand. We were waiting for a war to begin, a war that many (including me) were not so sure would ever arrive with the predicted ferocity. And all this was done in complete media silence. Several newspapers actually had the gall to say that private health care was doing nothing to get ready.

I still remember the nightshift a week ago. As I waited for a call from the microbiology lab, to hear the results of a swab on the first suspected Covid-19 patient in our hospital, I trembled about the consequences for us and the clinic. When I think about it now, now that I have seen all that is happening, my acute anxiety about one possible case seems ridiculous and unjustified.

The situation is now nothing short of dramatic. No other word comes to mind.

The war has literally exploded and the battles are uninterrupted day and night. One after another, the unfortunate citizens come to the emergency room. They have nothing like the complications of a flu! Let’s stop saying “it’s a bad flu.” In my two years working at this hospital, I have learned that the people of Bergamo do not come to the emergency room except in a true emergency. Now, too, they waited a week or ten days at home with a fever, without going out and risking contagion. They come because they can’t breathe, they need oxygen.

Drug therapies for this virus are few. The course mainly depends on our organism. We doctors can only support the body. It is mainly hoped that the body will eradicate the virus on its own, let’s face it. Antiviral therapies are experimental on this virus. We learn more about its behavior day after day. Staying at home until the symptoms worsen does not change the diagnosis of the disease.

Now, the drama has fully arrived. One after the other, all the departments that had been emptied fill up. The display boards with the names of the patients, usually printed with different colors that indicate the operating unit they belong to, are now all printed in red with the same cursed diagnosis: bilateral interstitial pneumonia.

Now, tell me please, which flu virus causes such a tragedy?

Here’s the difference: in classical flu, apart from infecting a much smaller number spread over several months, the cases are less frequently severe. The complications derive not from the virus, but only after the VIRUS destroys the protective barriers of the respiratory tract, allowing BACTERIA to invade the bronchi and lungs, and causing the more serious cases.

Covid-19 may have a mild effect in many young people, but in many elderly people (and not only) SARS develops because the virus arrives directly in the alveoli of the lungs and infects them, making the lungs unable to perform their function. The resulting respiratory failure is often serious; after a few days of hospitalization, the oxygen administered may not be enough.

To me as a doctor, it is not reassuring that the most serious cases are mainly elderly people with underlying health conditions. The elderly represent the largest population in our country, and it is difficult to find anyone above 65 years of age who does not have high blood pressure or diabetes. If you could only see the young people who also end up intubated and in intensive care, pronated or worse in an ECMO (a machine for the worst cases, which extracts the blood, re-oxygenates it and returns it to the body, waiting for the organism, hopefully, to heal your lungs), any sense of easy-going complacency regarding the safety of the young is gone.

And while people on social networks pride themselves on not being afraid, and ignore the warnings and safety instructions, protesting they are inconvenienced and that their normal lifestyle habits are in crisis, the epidemiological disaster of their lifetime is occurring.

For us on the ground—we are no longer surgeons, urologists, orthopedists; we are only doctors, a single team facing this tsunami that has overwhelmed us. The cases multiply. We have arrived at the rate of 15-20 hospitalizations a day all for the same reason. The lab results come back one after the other: positive, positive, positive.

Suddenly the emergency room is collapsing; more help is needed and a request is sent out. After a quick meeting to show how the software works, they stand next to us warrior-doctors on the front. The reasons for admittance submitted to the software are always the same: fever and respiratory difficulty, fever and cough, respiratory insufficiency, etc. Exams and radiology always return the same verdict: bilateral interstitial pneumonia, bilateral interstitial pneumonia, bilateral interstitial pneumonia. All who arrive in the ER must be hospitalized. Some are still able to be intubated and sent to intensive care. For others it is too late …

Intensive care is now full; where the wards end, more are created. Each room is valued like gold: even operating rooms have suspended their non-urgent activity and become spaces for intensive care that did not exist before.

I find it incredible—and I speak for HUMANITAS Gavazzeni (where I work)—that it was possible in such a short time to put in place a deployment and a reorganization of resources so finely designed as to prepare for a disaster of this magnitude. Every organization of the beds, wards, staff, work shifts and tasks is reviewed, day after day, to try to give everything and even more to the patients.

Those wards that previously looked like ghost towns are now overflowing. Doctors are exhausted. The staff is exhausted. I have seen fatigue on faces that previously didn’t know the meaning of the word, despite their already grueling workloads. Overtime is habitual. I see solidarity from all. We defend patients from the red tape of the hospital. We offer assistance to our internist colleagues, “What can I do for you now?” Doctors move beds and transfer patients, they administer therapies, all the kinds of tasks usually done by the nurses. I see nurses with tears in their eyes because we cannot save someone, or when the vital signs of several patients at the same time reveal a fate that has already been marked.

There are no more shifts, schedules. Social life is suspended for us.

I have been separated for a few months, and I assure you that I have always done my best to see my son, but for almost 2 weeks now I have neither seen my son nor my family members for fear of infecting them and in turn infecting an elderly grandmother or relatives with other health problems. I must content myself with some photos of my son that I view between tears, and a few video calls.

So you who say you are inconvenienced—you cannot go to the theater, museums or gym—try to have mercy on the myriad of older people you could exterminate. It is not your fault, I know, but the fault of those who put it into your head that the pandemic is exaggerated. Even this testimony may seem like an exaggeration to you. But please, listen to us: try to leave the house only to do indispensable things. Do not go en masse to stock up in supermarkets: that is the worst thing you can do because you risk contact with infected people. You can go shopping as you usually do, in increments, quickly. If you have a simple mask (even those that are used to do certain manual work) put it on. Don’t look for the medical masks. Those should be reserved for doctors and nurses, and we are beginning to struggle to find them.

Oh yes, because of the shortage of safety devices, I and many other colleagues are certainly exposed in spite of all the means of protection we still have. Some of us have already become infected despite the protocols. Some infected colleagues have infected their relatives and some of their family members are already struggling between life and death.

Try to make sure you stay away from crowded places. Tell your family members who are elderly or with other illnesses to stay indoors. Bring them the groceries please.

We doctors have no alternative. It is our job. Even though what I do these days is not the job I’m used to do, I do it anyway and I do so willingly it as long as it adheres to the same basic principles of healing: try to make sick people better and heal, and alleviate suffering and pain for those who unfortunately cannot heal.

I do not value the words of people who declare us to be heroes, and who, until yesterday, were ready to insult and report us. These people will continue to insult and report us as soon as everything is over. People forget everything quickly.

And we’re not heroes. It is our job. We risked something bad every day before this: when we put our hands inside a belly full of blood, not knowing if he has HIV or hepatitis C; and when we do it, even knowing that he has HIV or hepatitis C. When we open with anguish the results of the tests, hoping for good results instead of infection. It doesn’t matter if our emotions are beautiful or ugly, we must take them home with us. We simply earn our living this way.

We just try to make ourselves useful for everyone.

Now consider this:


With our actions, we doctors take on responsibility for the life and death of a few dozen people.

But with your actions, you carry responsibility for many hundreds and thousands more.


Please share this message.

We must spread the word to prevent here what is happening in Italy.


Translated by Hilary Jacobson, http://mother-food.com