Ayurvedic Perspective On Breastfeeding
Since the birth of Lil’ Bub, I have felt deeply honored to experience the indescribable parental bond that up ‘til recently I had only heard of and read about. I also have gained a much greater appreciation of my body- and women’s bodies in general that have the ability to carry life- whether each individual woman chooses to exercise that ability or not. We are full of creative power!
Like any mother, I’ve wanted only the best of everything for my little one since the moment I learned that there was a new life growing inside of me. I fell in love with him right away, from hearing his heart beat the first time on the ultrasound, and that love has only grown deeper every day. Sometimes I feel like my heart is going to burst!
From the moment of his birth, it felt like the most natural thing in the world for me to practice aspects (not all) of what is now called ‘attachment parenting,’ meaning that Bub is breastfed, sleeps in a co-sleeper right next to me at night, and usually worn wrapped to my body during waking hours (he know has some tummy time and play time on his back). We’re besties! And it provides him with the constant feelings of comfort, confidence and security that come from being on Mama’s heartbeat, which he heard so intimately in the womb.
In my personal experience- and everyone’s is different- I have found that the closeness puts us in complete sync with on demand breastfeeding. He is always there so he can just easily feed when he is hungry. I often wake up right before he does, full of milk! And I also get this tingly feeling in my breasts right before he calls out for food.
When I started venturing out, I held him in different carriers and just fed him in there whenever he wanted to eat. It didn’t occur to me that it was “weird” or “wrong” in ANY way. It honestly never crossed my mind. Women feed all the time in my shop, Glow Bio, and sometimes I was confused why they asked me if it was okay…until I became a mom myself and started learning more about how much “controversy” there is around breastfeeding in public. It’s a very real, and in my opinion, unfortunate phenomenon.
Thanks to strong moms who have had the courage to stand up and refuse to buckle under to societal pressures, we are beginning to see a shift in these distorted views that are responsible for causing so many thousands to lose this precious connection to their natural role as mothers – to simply give up and put their babies on formula! If a woman wants to breastfeed and is able to, I strongly feel that she should be able to anywhere and everywhere she needs to. She should not feel shamed or embarrassed to breastfeed in public. Of course, she can cover up (I sling a swaddle over, I don’t use any of those formal nursing covers).
Let me iterate with compassion, as we will get into in more detail in just a moment, that there are many women that want to breastfeed but for a multitude of reasons, simply can not, and therefore must use formula. I am talking about women that can and choose to breast feed, but don’t because it’s too hard for them to do it around other people.
I recently had a wonderful visit with my beloved teacher, Dr. Jay to discuss the Ayurvedic perspective on breastfeeding, where he offered a number of very helpful insights on the subject.
Would it surprise you to know that this problem is really pretty exclusive to Western culture? It’s absolutely true. In other areas of the world, like India and Africa, there is no stigma to overcome because it is entirely commonplace for mothers to breastfeed their infants in public.
In many cultures, formula feeding is something that is done only in extraordinary circumstances, like when the mother is unable to produce enough milk for the baby’s needs. In these other cultures, it is a universally accepted truth that “what is best for baby is what is best for everyone.” Wise words indeed! Breastfeeding in public is absolutely accepted.
Ancient wisdom traditions all embrace breastfeeding as essential to raising a healthy child. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is no substitute for the nutritional value of breast milk, and in Ayurvedic tradition, breast milk is thought of as nectar.
Again, for women that can’t breastfeed and want to, we offer some suggestions below to hopefully help you with that…but if it is simply not possible there are many other wonderful ways to nourish your baby and in no way should you feel bad or inadequate about yourself! The following info is meant to be informative as a perspective of breastfeeding from an ancient system (Ayurveda), and is in no way meant to be judgmental if you can not or choose not to breastfeed. You are still an awesome Mama! :)
As many of you know, I am currently in my second year of a six year (or longer, at my current pace!) Aurvedic doctoral program. I have immense respect for this ancient science and have been incorporating aspects of Ayurveda into our Beauty Detox recipes, my upcoming book, Radical Beauty, and in my and my family’s life.
Ayurvedic medicine is all about natural healing and wellness – quite literally the “science of life.” It is based on the belief that health is our birthright, and empowers us to be proactive in our approach to wellness – principles which align beautifully with the Beauty Detox Lifestyle.
According to Ayurvedic teaching, it is the infant’s privilege to nurse, as well as the mother’s pleasure, honoring the natural balance that is the underpinning of life. It is understood that the child learns to understand the mother and his/her world through the breastfeeding connection. In fact, each breast is thought of as a “knowledge pot” for the baby.
Ayurvedic teaching honors the unique and beautiful practice of breastfeeding for you and your baby:
- Breast milk is always the perfect temperature for your baby.
- It is naturally sterile and offers the optimum nutritional value for human babies.
- Breast milk actually strengthens the baby’s immune system, containing valuable immunoglobulins which supply his/her first line of defense against many air and surface borne pathogens.
- Breast milk contains the perfect combination of digestive enzymes which make it ideal for the new/ developing digestive system of your baby.
- Breast milk contains the perfect amount of fat, protein and nutrients that baby needs.
Breast milk is perfect nourishment for baby!
As a nursing mother, it is super important to keep your milk production plentiful and healthy for your growing baby, so now more than ever, your nutrition is of the utmost importance. Remember, the Beauty Detox principles are really core nutritional concepts that emphasize a whole foods approach to your nourishment, supporting your health, stamina and natural beauty.
Keeping processed foods and dairy OUT, animal products to a minimum, and focusing on fresh, organic fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats will help your body produce the best nutrition for your baby (and reduce the chances that environmental and industrial toxins will find their way into your breast milk!).
Go With the Flow
Not surprisingly, one of the most common worries for new moms is that their milk supply will not be sufficient for their babies. After all, this is yet another new experience at a time when there are so many changes and new things coming at you that it is quite natural to experience a bit of overwhelm – maybe even a lack of confidence that things will happen the way that they should.
First, have faith. While insufficient milk production does happen, it may help to remember that it is the exception, not the rule. Your body successfully grew this life over the course of the last nine months, and as long as you are making sure that you are hydrating yourself and eating healthy, natural foods, there is no reason to think that your baby will not get the very best nutrition from the milk you produce.
Nevertheless, we all need to reassure ourselves that we are doing things right from time to time, so there are a few things you can look at to verify that all is going well for baby:
Diapers are a Mom’s Best Friend – While most people are going, “Ewwwww,” it doesn’t take long for a mom to learn to “read” a diaper like it was the morning paper. It is important to note that your new baby is getting both nutrition as well as hydration exclusively from your breast milk. Moms look at diapers very differently than the rest of the population because even though you may not be able to measure what is going into the baby, if he/she is favoring you with at least 4 or 5 wet diapers each day and producing at least 2 loose stools, you have concrete evidence that he/she is getting plenty of nutrition and hydration from you. However, this too changes as baby grows. There can be periods where they don’t produce stools for a few days at a time.
*Conversely, smaller amounts of dark colored urine, and harder, more formed stools may indicate that the baby is not getting enough milk from you.
- On we grow! – I think this is easier for Mama’s to note then just diapers, for as I mentioned, sometimes they go through periods where their digestion shifts. When breastfeeding is successful, your baby will begin to steadily gain weight almost immediately. Baby’s stomach is tiny, so he/she will need to feed as much as 8 to 12 times in a 24 hour day, and if your baby is gaining between 4-7 ounces per week, you can relax and stop wondering if your milk is sufficient. Bubs was in the 90% and then 95% percentile in his regular checkups ensuring the feeding was going great!
- Hello, Bright Eyes ☺ – Your little one should reasonably alert, engaging with you during waking periods, however brief. Baby’s healthy color and muscle tone are also always a good indication that he/she is getting plenty of nourishing milk from mama. Since you are intimately familiar with every aspect of your baby’s appearance, you will definitely be the first to notice if there is something amiss in this department.
The Beauty Detox Foods are ideally suited to not only support your wellness at virtually every stage of life, they also closely align with most principles of Ayurveda, assuring your optimal nutrition as a nursing mother. All that said, if you are still concerned that your milk supply is low, there are a few things you can try in order to increase your production.
- More feedings – Your milk production is stimulated by the baby’s suckling. Simply put, the more you feed your newborn, the more milk your body will produce to keep up with demand. This is the reason your baby was born with a need to suck (we haven’t used a pacifier at all yet either, at 4 months). By satisfying this need, he/she is literally ordering groceries for future meals!
*TIP: Always empty each breast completely. IF baby falls asleep, or stops nursing before you are empty, then make sure you finish off with a high quality breast pump to ensure your increasing supply.
- Hydrate! – Because your new baby is relying on you for literally everything that goes into his/her little body, it is easy to become dehydrated, and chronic dehydration can definitely place a strain on the milk supply. Water, water and more water!
*TIP: Keep a big mug of fennel tea steeped in warm barley water next to your nursing chair, or if you are going to be out, always have some fresh lemon water in your sports bottle.
- Herbs – Ayurvedic herbs such as fennel, cumin and fenugreek are believed to stimulate milk production, and they are very easy to procure and prepare.
Dr. Jay’s favorite galactagogue is fenugreek. He shared with us that a very simple tea can be made with 1 Tbs. of fenugreek seeds soaked in water overnight. This cleansing tea will make your breastmilk not only more plentiful, but also soothing for your baby’s delicate digestion, discouraging gas and colicky pain. Alternatively, you may want to add some fenugreek seeds to your daily GGS® or Power Protein Shake, and take it to go!
For more breastfeeding diet suggestions, check out this other blog I wrote.
Life can be stressful enough without feeling that everything we do has to be so complicated. In the end, the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is listen to your body. When you are hungry, feed yourself clean, organic whole foods. Eat as much as you need! This is not the time to diet or worry too much about losing all your baby fat overnight (breastfeeding helps with that naturally anyways). Make sure to stay hydrated, and try to rest as much as possible.
In the beginning, I don’t recommend doing overly taxing, sweaty exercise. Walking and yoga are great though, when you feel up to it. Your body will let you know when you are ready to start incorporating more vigorous exercise post-birth. If you feel you are getting too depleted, definitely pull back and rest more.
Sending you and your little Bubs lots of love and joy!!!
So much love,