Acupuncture and Chinese medicine: World Breastfeeding Week 2023

World Breastfeeding Week is an annual celebration held every year from 1 – 7 August in more than 120 countries. This is a great opportunity to raise the profile of the use of acupuncture and Chinese medicine to support new mothers. BAcC Member Sharon Martin has kindly written a guest blog detailing how she uses acupuncture to boost lactation in new mothers.

Boosting lactation with acupuncture and TCM: A natural solution for new mothers

Welcoming a new life into the world is a magical experience, but it comes with its own set of challenges, especially for new mothers. One of the most crucial aspects of early motherhood is breastfeeding, as it provides essential nutrients for the baby’s healthy growth, and strengthens the bond between mother and child. However, some mothers may face difficulties in producing enough breast milk, a condition known as postpartum hypogalactia. Thanks to research, there’s evidence that might help resolve this issue – the application of specific acupuncture points and herbal medicine can significantly boost lactation quantities.

A small baby hand lays on a white fluffy blanket whilst reaching hold to hold it's mothers index finger.

The science behind acupuncture and lactation

Research conducted at the Hanzhong Shaanxi Hospital involving 116 women with deficient secretion of milk, known as hypogalactia, shed light on the potential benefits of acupuncture for lactation. The study revealed that acupuncture effectively increased breast milk secretion from an average of 49.63 ml to an impressive 115.21 ml. But that’s not all – the lactating mothers who received acupuncture also experienced an improvement in prolactin levels (a hormone that stimulates milk production) and oxytocin.

Postpartum hypogalactia can be caused by various factors, including weakness after delivery, congenital dysplasia, dietary issues, and stress. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles, childbirth brings significant changes to the reproductive organs and the entire body, making it susceptible to imbalances during the 坐月子 or ‘sitting month’. To ensure sufficient breastmilk production, which is vital for the baby’s health, it is essential to promptly diagnose and treat postpartum hypogalactia. TCM attributes postpartum hypogalactia to deficiency of qi and blood or stagnation of liver qi, both of which can lead to insufficient milk production.

The results: Acupuncture vs. routine care

The research compared milk secretion levels at several data points: 48 hours before treatments, one week after completing all treatments, and two weeks after the treatments. The results were remarkable: the group receiving acupuncture treatment outperformed the control group, which only received routine nursing care and nutritious dietetic meals.

Before treatmentsAn adult hand fist-bumping a baby's hand whilst laying on a white blanket, both groups produced less than 50 ml of milk. However, after one week, patients in the acupuncture group produced 86 ml of milk, while the control group only managed an average of 52 ml per patient. The real difference became evident at the two-week mark. The control group showed no significant increase in milk production, while the acupuncture group produced an impressive average of 115.21 ml of breast milk. Additionally, the prolactin (PRL) index in the acupuncture group increased from 251.96 ng/ml to 293.43 ng/ml, whereas the PRL index in the control group dropped by approximately 10 ng/ml.


More benefits of acupuncture and TCM for lactation

Apart from boosting lactation quantities, acupuncture and TCM has shown promise in various other lactation-related scenarios. For instance:

  • Supporting caesarean section mothers: acupuncture has been found to Improve lactation initiation and increase milk production in women who face lactation insufficiency due to caesarean section deliveries and congenital invaginated nipples.
  • Treating milk stasis (engorgement): studies have shown that acupuncture can effectively treat breastfeeding-related milk stasis or engorgement. Women who received acupuncture were less likely to develop an abscess.

If you’re a new mother struggling with breastfeeding issues, consider exploring the benefits of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine with a licensed and experienced practitioner.

Sharon Martin is a qualified TCM practitioner, acupuncturist and fertility coach who runs The Natural Fertility Clinic, based in Dumfries Scotland.

Image of BAcC member Sharon Martin smiling into the camera with long brown hair swept over her shoulder.

Sharon Martin – Consultant Acupuncturist & Chinese Medicine Practitioner BSc (Hons) Ac, Lic Ac, MBAcC, BMAS, BSc (Psych), MRCHM

Instagram: @natural_fertility_clinic

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