Chinese Herbs and Breastfeeding

Herbs rarely get into the breast milk.

Many new mothers have this very legitimate question. Is it okay to take herbs while breastfeeding?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: there is only one herb that I personally know of that may enter the breast milk. The herb in question is Da Huang (Rx. Rhei). That’s rhubarb root for those of you who enjoy baking. We don’t want to give your nursing baby any of this herb and so you should avoid it until you’ve weaned your little one. It isn’t poison or anything, but can give your infant diarrhea. (Chen & Chen, Art of Medicine Press, 2004)

There may be, over time more herbs that are added to the list of herbs that can enter the breast milk and we’ll do our to stay on top of this concern. There are oodles of herbs that are thought to be worthy of caution, but none that have been actually observed to cause problems.

One option for breastfeeding mothers is to avoid nursing from 60 to 105 minutes after taking herbs. During that 30 minute window, the concentration of herb materials is at its highest in the blood stream and milk. After that point, it begins to diminish again. The best way to take your herbs then, is to take them immediately following your nursing, that way the blood and milk concentrations can peak and then drop by the time little one is hungry again. Obviously for those who are nursing every 30 minutes, this would not be especially useful.

There’s an ancient treatment principle used in Chinese medicine. It says simply that to treat the child, you must treat the mother. Thus, whatever the mother’s health status, if we can make her more healthy, that can turn in to more nutritious breast milk. So, while there is a potential downside of an herb ingredient ending up in the breast milk, there is also the very positive affects that the herbs will have on the one who is producing that milk, and that can end up benefiting the child very much.