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Some Causes of Low Milk Supply that Respond to Foods and Herbs

by | Jun 23, 2022 | Lactogenic Diet, Low Milk Supply | 0 comments

Lactogenic foods and herbs are commonly “insulin sensitizing,” “blood-sugar balancing,” or have an “anti-diabetic” effect.

These foods also have an anti-inflammatory effect, quieting the “noise” of inflammation caused by insulin resistance but also by exposure to toxins, BPA, and PFORs. This quieting or calming of inflammation allows the hormones to communicate clearly about building and maintaining mammary glandular structures. (You can learn more about this in my class.)  

The following may help you understand why this may be important for you.

Hormones

These hormonal imbalances can create lactation difficulties in a portion of mothers.

  • Insulin resistance (IR),
  • Thyroid imbalance (too high or too low),
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS),
  • Metabolic Syndrome, Syndrome X,
  • Gestational Diabetes, Pre-Diabetes, and types 1 and 2 Diabetes.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is an integral part of many hormonal imbalances. But why is insulin important to milk production?[i] Insulin resistance affects many systems in the body. Even the thyroid can be impacted by the inflammation that goes hand in hand with insulin resistance. So what is insulin resistance? Why is it so central, so important?

Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, plays a key role in the development of mammary tissue during adolescence and pregnancy. It plays a role in the initiation of milk production after childbirth, and it contributes to the steadiness and reliability of milk production for the long term.

Insulin also plays a central role in fertility. When breastfeeding women begin to menstruate soon after childbirth (3 – 5 months, instead of returning only after a year or longer), insulin resistance is likely the cause.

For insulin to be fully functional and effective, our cells must be sensitive to its signals. Our cells must respond to its signals. When we become insulin resistant, the opposite occurs: our cells become insensitive and unresponsive to insulin.

Americans tend to acquire insulin resistance (IR) because:

  • We grow up eating the standard American diet
  • We are under stress at home, work and school
  • We tend to over-eat and under-sleep

The good news is that we can turn insulin resistance around and improve insulin sensitivity with:

  • Dietary changes (see Dr. Jason Fung’s books and lectures online),
  • LACTOGENIC Herbs and foods that improve insulin sensitivity, and
  • Anti-stress methods such as progressive relaxation and / or mindfulness.

Disclaimer: talk to your doctor about your health questions regarding insulin. Do not take the information in this book as a prescription.

[i] NommsenRivers, L.A., Riddle, S.A., Thompson, A., Ward, L. and Wagner, E. (2017), Milk Production in Mothers with and without Signs of Insulin Resistance. The FASEB Journal, 31: 650.9-650.9. https://doi.org/10.1096/fasebj.31.1_supplement.650.9

IGT

During adolescence, some girls will only partially develop their mammary glandular tissue (the glands that produce milk). While this is not common, it is also not rare. The medical term for this is mammary or breast hypoplasia. It is commonly referred to as IGT.

IGT stands for “Insufficient Glandular Tissue,” and it encompasses the entire range of partial development: slightly less mammary tissue than optimal, half the tissue, very little tissue, or practically no mammary tissue at all.

IGT has many causes, including hormonal imbalances during adolescence, radical weight loss and dieting during adolescence, and exposure to pesticides and pollutants in childhood.

IGT and PCOS (Polycystic ovarian syndrome) often appear together. In our online group, mothers often have both IGT and PCOS.

 

During pregnancy and also after childbirth, mothers with IGT can use a lactogenic diet to best develop their mammary glandular tissue at those times. For instance, mothers may drink infusions of herbs that are rich in nutrients and also insulin sensitizing, which improves mammary gland maturation. 

Nutritional Lacks

Nutritional deficiencies, especially low vitamin D, A, the B’s, iodine, iron, zinc or calcium, can impact lactation.[i] [ii] In the United States, magnesium and trace minerals are often lacking in our commercially grown, processed and packaged food. To handle the exertions of pregnancy, childbirth and lactation, and to maintain our own best health, we simply have to eat whole, fresh foods, and, if needed, to supplement with vitamins and minerals.

I know one mother with chronic low milk supply who was suddenly able to produce sufficient milk after her doctor prescribed a mega-dose of vitamin D. Another mother reported improvement only when she began eating foods containing vitamin B12, such as eggs, liver and dairy. I recall one mother whose supply rose considerable after eating steak. Did she need the iron, or the protein?

A well-balanced, whole foods diet along with any needed supplements is a common sense way to build reserves of all the nutrients needed for milk production.

 

[i] Lee, S., & Kelleher, S. L. (2016). Biological underpinnings of breastfeeding challenges: the role of genetics, diet, and environment on lactation physiology. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 311(2), E405-422. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00495.2015

[ii] Kuznetsov, V. (2017). Clinical and pathogenetic aspects of hypogalactia in post-parturient women. Актуальні проблеми сучасної медицини: Вісник української медичної стоматологічної академії, 17(1 (57)), 305-307.

Not Always Obvious…

Mothers and healthcare providers can easily overlook the underlying causes of a mother’s lactation difficulties. A mother with insulin resistance, PCOS or Metabolic Syndrome might have a perfectly healthy outward appearance; persons with Pre-Diabetes are often unaware of their condition; and IGT may not be visibly apparent. Nutritional lacks are also invisible. Even thyroid disorders can come as a surprise, as they can develop suddenly after childbirth, even if the thyroid was not a problem before.

Medical Testing

Because underlying problems are not always apparent, healthcare providers should routinely test for thyroid function, blood sugar balance, and nutritional deficiencies if a mother has lactation difficulties. In most cases, treating the thyroid, improving insulin sensitivity, and supplementing as needed with zinc, iodine, magnesium, the B’s and / or vitamin D3 will support a mother’s efforts to improve her milk supply. 

 

[i] Lee, S., & Kelleher, S. L. (2016). Biological underpinnings of breastfeeding challenges: the role of genetics, diet, and environment on lactation physiology. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 311(2), E405-422. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00495.2015

[ii] Kuznetsov, V. (2017). Clinical and pathogenetic aspects of hypogalactia in post-parturient women. Актуальні проблеми сучасної медицини: Вісник української медичної стоматологічної академії, 17(1 (57)), 305-307.

For information on our classes for mothers, IBCLCs and postpartum caregivers, go HERE.

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