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Herbs for Mother and Baby

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 97 - March 2004

Anne McIntyre describes how breast milk can be regulated through Ayurvedic principles of medicine and how this can improve the wellbeing of both mother and baby. Ayurveda views our health in the light of three doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. If these become imbalanced in the mother due to poor diet, environmental, climatic or psychological factors, it will affect the quality of her breast mild and thus the baby.

Vata is affected by tension, anxiety, too little or too light food, excess pungent, bitter and astringent foods, cold, dry, windy weather and insufficient rest; Pitta by pungent, sour or salty foods, hot climate, fevers, anger and frustration, and Kapha by sweet, sour or salty foods, inactivity, excess sleep in the daytime and damp cloudy weather.

Vata disturbance is likely to make the baby low weight and susceptible to trapped wind, bloating, colic, retention of urine breathlessness, frequent crying and insomnia. Pitta disturbance will lead to loose stools, indigestion, acidity, fevers, inflammatory rashes, excessive sweating, thirst, anaemia, yellow tinge to skin, jaundice and conjunctivitis. Kapha disturbance can lead to overweight, wind, abdominal distension, constipation, excessive salivation, vomiting, anorexia, tenemus, colds, cough, breathlessness, puffiness of face and eyes, itchy skin, excessive sleep and drowsiness.

Anne McIntyre recommends herbs for each condition and gives a case study of an 8 month year old baby with severe eczema and an obvious pitta disturbance similar to that of the mother.

Recently I was consulted by a couple who had a 8 month old baby covered from head to foot with one of the worse cases of eczema I have encountered. The baby's skin was severely inflamed; it had been recently infected and was so hot that there was no need to touch it to feel the heat radiate off it. His eczema had started when he was 2 weeks old while his mother was breastfeeding him, which she continued to do completely until she introduced solids around 5 months. While interviewing the parents it transpired that the baby's mother also had a history of hot, inflammatory eczema. Since pregnancy, she complained of abnormal heat, which had become so intense that she sweated profusely, was disturbed at night by the heat and had great difficulty holding her baby boy as she could not tolerate the proximity of his equally hot body.

It was clear that treatment was required by both mother and baby and that this was a good illustration of how a mother's health can affect her breast milk and subsequently the well being of her baby. This is certainly vindicated by the wisdom of Ayurvedic medicine which holds that the mother's diet and nutrition, her level of activity, psychological, climatic and environmental factors, and any ill health, both during pregnancy and after, can affect the balance of her doshas, the quality of her breast milk and thus the health and balance of her baby.

According to Ayurveda, tension and anxiety, eating too little, too much light food, excess pungent, bitter and astringent foods, cold, dry, windy weather, insufficient rest, relaxation and sleep and excess activity will all increase Vata in breast milk. As a result, the milk can be thin, depleted of nutrients, light, (i.e. not oily), frothy, slightly dark in colour, its sweet taste could be tinged with a hint of astringency or bitterness, or it could be almost tasteless, its temperature a little cooler than normal. The baby may be frequently hungry, as such milk is likely to less satisfying than it should be.

Eating excessive pungent, sour or salty foods, a hot climate, fevers, inflammation in the body, getting overheated, angry or frustrated can cause the milk to be disturbed by Pitta. The milk will be of normal consistency perhaps with a yellowish or reddish tinge, a slightly bitter, sour or pungent taste and a strong rather unpleasant smell. Its temperature could be slightly warmer than normal and it may also be rather unsatisfying for the baby who may tend to be hungry frequently.

Eating too much, particularly an abundance of sweet, sour or salty foods, inactivity, lack of exercise, sleeping excessively in the daytime and cold, damp, cloudy weather can all cause the milk to be disturbed by Kapha. The milk can be heavy, oily, thick and sticky, dense white colour, more sweet tasting than normal with a slightly salty taste, an oily smell and a slightly cool temperature. It will be more satisfying than milk disturbed by Vata or Pitta and the baby will tend to be satiated for longer.

The effects of doshic disturbance of milk on the baby will vary. Vata disturbance can predispose to low body weight, trapped wind, bloating, colic, constipation or hunger diarrhoea, retention of urine, breathlessness, frequent crying, restlessness, and insomnia. Pitta disturbance will have a heating effect, predisposing to loose stools, indigestion, acidity, vomiting, fevers, inflammatory rashes, excessive sweating and thirst, anaemia, yellow tinge to the skin, jaundice, and conjunctivitis. This was clearly the case with the baby with eczema. Kapha disturbance predisposes to overweight, wind, abdominal distension, constipation, excessive salivation, vomiting, anorexia, tenesmus, colds, cough, breathlessness, puffiness of face and eyes, itching of the skin, excessive sleep and drowsiness.

The aim of treatment is to purify the breast milk and to balance the doshas through the use of correct diet and herbal medicines. Ghee, medicated with specific herbs to purify the milk, is generally followed by bowel cleansers such as Triphala (a mixture of Emblica off, Terminalia chebula and Terminalia belerica) or Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) with ghee or honey and then sweating is induced. Detoxifying herbs can also be given in the form of a decoction and these include licorice, Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodar), guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), sariva (Hemidesmus indicus) and kutki (Picorrhiza kurroa).

A well known general formula for purifying breast milk is a decoction of herbs which includes: triphala, ginger, cumin seeds, long pepper, patha (Cissempelus pareira) licorice, cinnamon, cedrus deodar, and mustard, which can be administered with honey.

Treatment for vata disturbance: Herbs recommended include vacha (Acorus calamus), celery seed, black pepper, and chitrak (Plumbago zeylanica). A daily oil massage with warm sesame oil followed by sweating or a warm bath or shower will also help to balance Vata. A decoction or ghee medicated with citrak (Plumbago zeylanica), Acorus calamus, patha (Cissempelus pareira) kutki, kushta, (Saussurea lappa), celery seed, bharngi (Clerondendron serratum) cedrus deodar, long pepper, ginger and pepper is given. Mild oily purgatives like castor oil or bulk laxatives such as linseed or psyllium seeds are recommended. The above Vata reducing herbs can also be applied as pastes to the breasts. For the baby, a little ghee medicated with celery seed, cedrus deodar, long pepper (Piper longum) by applying it to the mother's nipple.

Treatment of milk disturbed by pitta: Herbs include guduchi, shatavari, (Asparagus racemosus), neem (Azadirachta indica), sandalwood, and sariva. Traditional formulae used include a decoction of triphala, musta and kiratatikta (Swertia chiretta) or Shatavari, patola leaves (Trichsanthes) neem, sandalwood, sariva, (Hemidesmus indicus), padmaka (Prunus cirasoidus), guduchi, and sandalwood. Cold pastes or sprays of Pitta calming herbs such as sandalwood and sariva can be mixed with ghee and applied to the whole body and locally to the nipples before feeding so that the baby can benefit.

Treatment of milk disturbed by kapha: Herbs such as Ativisa (Aconitum heterophyllum), Cassia fistula, Cedrus deodar, musta, patha, ginger and haritaki are all recommended. Ghee mixed with rock salt and long pepper powder is applied to the nipple for the baby to suck. A warm paste of Bael root (Aegle marmelos) and licorice can be applied to the breast, allowed to dry and then washed before feeding. A paste of neem, long pepper and ginger with honey and ghee may also be helpful.[1, 2]


1. Kumar A. MD (Ay) Ph.D: Child Health Care in Ayurveda. Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi. India.1994.
2. Athavale V. Bala Veda. Chaukhamba Sanskrit. Pratishthan. Delhi. India. 2000.


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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096

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