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Ayurveda and Breast Feeding

Lactation is the secretion of milk from breasts. It is an infant's privilege and a mother's pleasure to breast-feed. It is a natural phenomenon, which benefits both the mother as well as child and should not be avoided. Ayurvedic scholars have praised breast feeding and mentioned many advantages of the mother's milk in the ancient scriptures. Brest feeding is a best method to give the love to the child. This makes also the mother a total. A child understands the mother through breast-feeding. In ayurveda breast milk is called as nectar. Each breast should be considered as the knowledge pots for the child.

Following facts about lactation support this comparison.

  • Mother's milk is naturally sterile and it protects the baby from many infections and diseases.
  • It is always available at right temperature, suitable for the child.
  • Mother's milk serves as a good store of IgA ad lectoferrin, which is not available in such a high concentration in any other milk. It increases the immunity of the child against a variety of bacteria and protects the infant from many diseases.
  • Various digestive enzymes present in human milk make it more suitable and easily digestible for the baby.
  • Milk lactose present in the milk inhibits growth of E. coli, and poliovirus, thus protecting the baby.

Ayurveda ascribes its Vata-Pitta-Kapha dosha qualities on the milk and blames the mother's diet for any health problems in the child. This is because breast-milk is Upadhatu of Rasadhatu and is directly influenced by the quality of Rasadhatu which in turn is made up of the food we eat.

The quality of milk produced can be assessed very easily. Let a drop of milk fall into a container of water. If it disperses, the milk is of good quality; if it sinks, it is heavy with Kapha (hence, Kapha provoking items have to be removed from the diet) If the milk floats, it is because of the airy Vata (the child will pass gaseous stools and suffer from gripes). Dashmoolarishta in this case is the herb of choice. If Pitta is in excess, it will tinge the milk yellow. Shatavari is the herb given to the mother for excess Pitta.

Dietetics for lactating mother -

  • Regular intake of the canned foods, hot, pungent, and spicy food recipes should be avoided, as these decrease milk secretion.The best diet for a nursing mother is a simple, bland vegetarian menu.
  • Also, Ghee and oils should be taken in adequate amount to improve digestion, facilitate the evacuation of bowels, nourish the traumatized tissues, and subdue the vitiated Vata Dosha, which gets aggravated during the process of childbirth.
  • Exposure to polluted and infectious climatic conditions should be avoided, since any infection to the mother during lactational period can be easily transferred to the child.
  • Care should be taken while taking drugs during lactation, since many drugs are excreted through mil and might exert an adverse effect on the baby.
  • Breast-feeding should be stopped in cases of breast abscess, when milk is infected. It should be squeezed out and discarded to avoid further congestion.
  • Even when there is profuse milk secretion, semi solid food should be started from the age of 4th month. Gradually, breast-feeding should be stopped and the child should be given solid food from the age of one year. This is known as weaning and is described in the Ayurvedic texts as Annaprashan Samskara. The first food item given to the child should be semi solid paste of well-cooked rice with sugar and cardamom. Initially, only ½ to 1 tsp of the food should be given. Gradually, over months, the quantity should be increased and by 10-12 months, regular solid diet should be started.
  • If milk secretion is more than what is required by the baby, extra milk should be squeezed and discarded, otherwise it can cause congestion and result in the formation of the breast abscess.

Useful Tips -

  • If your breast milk is scanty, try this mixture of almond milk and herbs, soak ten almonds in water overnight. Then peel them, put them in a blender, add a cup of hot milk and puree them. Pour the almond milk into a glass and stir in a pinch each of ginger powder, cardamom and saffron and a teaspoon of date sugar (available in most health food stores) or honey. Drink this twice a day, morning and evening, to help strengthen the quality and quantity of your breast milk.
  • Women with pitta or kapha doshas drink three to four cups of pomegranate juice (available in most health food stores) daily to regulate lactation. Vata women should avoid pomegranate juice since it can aggravate Vata dosha.
  • Powder of Asparagus recemosus (Shatavari) should be taken in the dose of 1 GM daily along with milk to maintain the quality of lactation. Shatavari Kalpa is a formulation very useful as ‘ galactagogue ’ for mothers after delivery. Its regular use is very helpful in maintaining quality and quantity of milk.
  • Other generic preparations of Asparagus recemosus (Shatavari) and Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) such as Shatavari Ghrita, Ashvagandhadi Churna, etc., can also be taken for maintaining the quality as well as quantity of milk.
  • For the cases of cracked nipple, local application of 'Shatadhouta Ghrita' on the affected nipple is very useful.

There are still nearly 11 million children who die every year of preventable causes. Almost always they are the poorest and most marginalised. According to best evidence, appropriate breast feeding could prevent at least 1.3 million of these deaths. Improvements in breast feeding and complementary feeding are essential for success in child survival, in reducing hunger, and to ensure that children develop in a manner that they may best benefit from education and opportunity.
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