Acupuncture for Breastfeeding and Low Milk Supply.
If you ask a mother why she gave up breastfeeding or why she had to switch to a formula, the answer will always be something like "my milk was weak" or "my milk was not enough". That is nothing but a common misconception that many nursing women tend to believe in. The truth is that it is rare to see a woman who is naturally unable to produce enough milk. Breastfeeding is a phase of adaptation to a new life, with a lot of challenges, pressure, and stress going on.
The hormones responsible for lactation are oxytocin and prolactin, which are released in normal conditions and make the breasts produce milk.
However, oxytocin is inhibited by adrenaline when you are under stress, so adrenaline and oxytocin don’t get along. Sometimes, the new mother is influenced by other people who mean well, but whose remarks make her not trust her own body and doubt her capacity to feed her baby. This is enough to increase the level of stress and decrease milk production.
Acupuncture can be an effective treatment to help regulate the body and significantly boost lactation. There are many randomized controlled clinical* trials demonstrating a successful increase of breast milk secretion and the increase of prolactin levels in mothers that received acupuncture after delivering a baby.
Proper diet and hydration are also key. The partner has a great responsibility in this case, as the mother is too busy being a mother and she sometimes can forget about herself. It is also recommended that the mother work not only on her stress levels and adjust her diet, but it is also important to make sure the baby is latched on and positioned well. Talk to your doctor, midwife, doula, or breastfeeding specialist if you are unsure about the correct position.
So, why does it happen, according to Chinese Medicine?
In Chinese Medicine, we divide insufficient lactation into two different syndromes: Deficiency of Qi and Blood and Liver Qi Stagnation.
Deficiency of Qi and Blood:
Blood loss during labour or long labour: “Profuse blood loss during labour leads to deficiency of Blood: since Blood is the source of breast milk, deficient lactation results. A long and difficult labour leads to depletion of Qi and this may result in insufficient lactation when there is not enough Qi to express the breast milk” - Maciocia.
Because of the deficiency of Qi and Blood, the source for milk production is insufficient, leading to scanty secretion, pale face, dry skin, poor appetite, and loose stools. In this case, the mother should also have nutritional guidance in order to nourish the source of milk.
Liver Qi Stagnation:
Stress may come in different ways, and again, stress can decrease milk production. Frustration, finantial worries, a partner that claims attention, pressure from family, social media and friends, and more. The liver is the organ responsible for the free flow of Qi, and it is easily affected by emotions. When the Liver is affected by stress, the Qi doesn’t flow properly, leading to a blockage in the meridians, which can be expressed as distending pain in the breast, obstruction of the milk, hypochondriac pain, epigastric distention, headaches, and irritability. Liver Qi stagnation can impair the movement of Qi and Blood in the Ren Mai and Chong Mai, affecting directly the uterus and the milk production.
Ren Mai and Chong Mai
Ren Mai and Chong Mai are two extraordinary channels related to Uterus and Blood. Through the Chong Mai and Ren Mai, the Qi flows upward from the perineum to the breasts, and these are the main channels to have the obstructions removed.
Zhang Jing Yue says in his Complete Works of Jing Yue (1624): “Breast milk is a product deriving from the transformation of menstrual Blood by the Ren Mai and Chong Mai: these two vessels are the source of menstrual blood below, and of breast milk above.” It means that the menstrual blood is converted into breast milk once the baby is born.
The main acupoints I use when treating insufficient lactation:
Chong Mai (SP-4 and PC6): Sea of Blood. Activate the channel to unblock and promote lactation.
Si1 (Shàozé): Empirical point to promote lactation. Promotes lactation and benefits the breasts.
PC6 (Neiguan): Command Point of the chest. Restores the free flow of milk.
Si11 (Tiānzōng): Moves qi and unbinds the chest and Benefits the breasts.
Ren17 (Shānzhōng): Influential point of Qi, eliminates stagnation of Qi in the chest, benefits the breasts, and promotes lactation.
ST18 (Rugēn): Local point. Regulates lactation and benefits the breasts.
GB21 (Jiānjing): Regulates Qi, promotes lactation, and benefits the breasts.
GB34 (Yánglíngquán): Relax the sinews and promotes the smooth flow of Liver Qi.
GB41 (Zulinqi): Benefits the breasts
KD21 (Yōumén): Spreads Liver qi, benefits the chest and breasts. The final point of Chong Mai.
ST36 (Zúsānli) and SP-6 (Sānyīnjiāo): regulates and tonifies Spleen and Stomach, and promote the transformation of milk from blood.
LV3 (Tàichōng): Spreads Liver qi
Acupuncture is definitely a good treatment option if you are having problems with breastfeeding.
Send me an e-mail if you need help or if you just want to learn more about acupuncture for lactation.
*Wang HC, An JM, Han Y, Huang LN, Zhao JW, Wei LX, Dong L, Zhai GR, Li XP, Yang AJ, Gu M. [Multicentral randomized controlled studies on acupuncture at Shaoze (SI 1) for treatment of postpartum hypolactation]. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2007 Feb;27(2) 85-88. PMID: 17370485.
Wei Lixin, Wang Hongcai, Han Ying, Li Caifen. Clinical Observation on the Effects of Electroacupuncture at Shaoze (SI 1) in 46 Cases of Postpartum Insufficient Lactation, Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Volume 28, Issue 3, 2008.
Maged AM, Hassanin ME, Kamal WM, Abbassy AH, Alalfy M, Askalani AN, El-Lithy A, Nabil M, Farouk D, Hussein EA, Hammad B. Effect of Low-Level Laser Therapy versus Electroacupuncture on Postnatal Scanty Milk Secretion: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Am J Perinatol. 2020 Oct;37(12):1243-1249. doi: 10.1055/s-0039-1693428. Epub 2019 Jul 21. PMID: 31327162.