Food Molecules pass from Mom to Baby: one cause of Infant Colic and Infant Allergy
Nursing mothers often ask if the food they eat might be what is triggering their baby’s fussiness, digestive discomfort, and allergies. The answer is a cautious yes – quite possibly.
We know that during pregnancy, large molecules from food can pass from a mother’s intestine into her bloodstream and reach the baby in the womb.
These molecules do not belong in the womb. Naturally, they trigger a defensive immune reaction in the baby, pre-conditioning the baby to launch another immune reaction when they encounter these same food molecules in their mother’s milk.
Leaky Gut and Prenatal Exposure
Please note: whole food molecules are not supposed to be present in the bloodstream or in the womb. They are supposed to be broken into their smallest components while in the intestine – into amino acids, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins – before being allowed into the body.
When food molecules leak into the bloodstream, it is a sign that the intestinal lining is damaged, is perforated with tiny holes that allow these larger molecules to pass through.
A permeable intestine also called a “leaky gut,” is sadly not rare. Many of us have a permeable intestine to some extent because of the foods we eat, the medications we take and the toxins we are exposed to. This means that many of our babies are exposed to food molecules while in the womb.
Researchers believe that prenatal exposure to food molecules may be a major cause of infant colic and allergy. They believe that this exposure pre-conditions unborn babies to respond with inflammation when they encounter these same food molecules later on in their mother’s milk. This is particularly the case if there is a history of allergy or autoimmune disease in the family.
A study from 2016 affirms this association. Researchers looked at the amniotic fluid from several mothers mid-pregnancy and were able to identify ten major food allergens in the fluid, including cow’s milk, fruit, egg, fish, nuts, and wheat.1 This means that these babies were being preconditioned to respond with inflammation to these foods–and indeed, that colicky babies are in a state of mild “systemic inflammation.”7
Inflammation, Flora, Colic
Inflammation can show up in different ways in a baby. It can show up as insomnia, wheezing, rashes, eczema, fussiness, restlessness and unhappiness, and also infant colic: the severe digestive pain that repeats nearly every day in about 20% of babies, starting at 2-3 weeks after childbirth and resolving at between 3-4 months of age.
Decades ago, infant colic was a medical mystery. Even today, many pediatricians, MDs, and pediatric nurses are not up-to-date on the research and do not know the causes or best treatments for infant colic. Because it is fairly common (20-40% of all babies worldwide) infant colic has been normalized. Instead of receiving useful information, parents are often patted on the back and assured that colic is normal and will pass.
Another area of research has looked into the intestinal flora of colicky and non-colicky infants. It turns out that the intestinal flora of colicky babies is colonized by fewer strains of helpful bacteria and yeasts compared to the flora of non-colicky infants. The “depleted” flora of colicky babies makes their intestines more permeable and more prone to inflammation.
Research shows that the quality of the intestinal flora is better in babies who have been born vaginally and who are breastfed and that these babies have less infant colic. However, not all vaginally born and breastfed babies are free of infant colic–far from it.
In any case, a 2020 study examined the very first stool of meconium after childbirth of babies who went on to develop infant colic and those who did not, and found that the difference already exists at this time.2
Mom’s own Health Impacts her Baby
Other research has noted connections between the mother’s diet during pregnancy as well as her long-term health history and her baby’s tendency to develop allergies and develop other health problems.34
Researchers are actively looking into ways to improve the mother’s diet and intestinal health, so as to bring improvement to both the mother and her prospective children.5
This is doubly important because research now also documents that infant colic–once considered normal and harmless–is predictive of digestive problems, allergy, and even learning and neurological problems later in life.6
I personally take infant colic very seriously, having gone through it with my firstborn and wishing I had known then what I know now. In my book Mother FoodI describe many of these entangled factors and suggest ways to unwind them and improve everyone’s health and wellbeing. I believe it is possible to prevent infant colic or to improve the symptoms of infant colic, in almost all cases, and that this should be a top priority for new parents and their healthcare providers.
For more information about treating candidiasis naturally (fungal infection is a common component of a permeable intestine and the proclivity for allergies and autoimmune disease) see the article here.
This blogpost began by answering the question: does the food that a mother eats somehow get into her milk and trigger her baby’s colic? The short answer is yes. The long answer has to do with the mother’s permeable intestinal lining, with a baby’s depleted flora, and with other factors that influence the baby’s proclivity to develop allergies. Indeed, many areas of research today are describing links between a mother’s health and her baby’s tendencies toward health or disease.
If you find this article interesting and you would like to do more to reduce inflammation and improve your own and your family’s long-term health, consider purchasing my book Mother Food:
The good news is that parents can improve their own and their baby’s intestinal flora and resilience to inflammation and that the long-term benefits for the entire family are significant.
Pastor‐Vargas, C, Maroto, AS, Díaz‐Perales, A, Villalba, M, Esteban, V, Ruiz‐Ramos, M, de Alba, MR, Vivanco, F, Cuesta‐Herranz, J. Detection of major food allergens in amniotic fluid: initial allergenic encounter during pregnancy. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2016: 27: 716– 720.
Korpela, K., Renko, M., Paalanne, N. et al. Microbiome of the first stool after birth and infantile colic. Pediatr Res88, 776–783 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-020-0804-y
Kim et al., Maternal Perinatal Dietary Patterns Affect Food Allergy Development in Susceptible Infants. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice 7:2337-2347.e7 (2019) 10.1016/j.jaip.2019.03.026
Rhoads et al., Infant Colic Represents Gut Inflammation and Dysbiosis, The Journal of Pediatrics, 2018: 203: 55-61.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.07.042.
1.Hurd L. Optimizing the Microbiome and Immune System With Maternal Diet in Pregnancy and Lactation May Prevent Food Allergies in Infants. ICAN: Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition. 2015;7(4):212-216. doi:10.1177/1941406415595861
Savino, F., Castagno, E., Bretto, R., Brondello, C., Palumeri, E. and Oggero, R. (2005), A prospective 10‐year study on children who had severe infantile colic. Acta Pædiatrica, 94: 129-132. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2005.tb02169.x
Pärtty, Anna∗; Kalliomäki, Marko∗; Salminen, Seppo†; Isolauri, Erika∗ Infantile Colic Is Associated With Low-grade Systemic Inflammation, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: May 2017 – Volume 64 – Issue 5 – p 691-695 doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001340
Healing Breastfeeding Grief – writing the book, developing the therapy
I suffered profoundly with breastfeeding grief when I could not build a milk supply with my first baby. The experience was so shattering and destructive that it took months to recover from. This experience inspired me to research, write and teach about ways to prevent low milk supply and to build a supply in a low-producing mother.
During my ten years as a group moderator, I listened daily to mothers share and vent about the emotional devastation they were going through. I wished with all my heart that I could do more than just listen, though feeling heard is an essential part of healing.
I felt though that there must be a way to help mothers actually heal–quickly and deeply. After all, our baby needs us now. Every week that passes in which we are not able to be present and authentically available is a week too long in those precious first months with our baby.
Where was the therapy that would help? I did not know.
In 2013, a school for hypnotherapy opened in the town where I lived. I actually did not sign up for it–my 21-year-old daughter wanted to study, and I reserved a place for her. When, at the last moment, she decided not to attend, I took her place. I thought it would be an interesting way to spend the summer but I did not expect to actually practice as a hypnotherapist.
Now, I have had several unique opportunities in my life to study and practice different forms of meditation, and I thought this would be a potentially fascinating, complimentary study.
At the end of the summer, I realized though that I had been given a set of therapeutic skills that were beyond anything I had imagined. I had the keys to unlocking rapid and deep change and healing. I would be able to transition mothers out of their negative emotions, out of their sense of loss and failure, and help them re-connect with their positive sense of self as a mother while restoring their joy and confidence.
I felt as though my prayers had been answered.
I jumped in and started giving sessions. Soon I was seeing beautiful turnarounds.
Clickherefor a professional review ofHealing Breastfeeding Grief.
In 2015, I decided to write a book about what I had learned, a book that initself could serve as a form of therapy. It would let mothers know they are understood and are not alone, and would give them tools to process and move through their difficult feelings and experiences.
I worked hard at word-crafting sentences so they would convey understanding and compassion. As one reviewer says, “The healing starts on the very first page.”
If you would like to purchase the book, it is available online or per order from your local bookstore.
If you would like to receive hypnotherapy sessions, contact me by email or phone.
Leave me a message briefly explaining your situation.
The idea for this book was conceived and then took hold of me, a little more each time, with the births of each of my children. With each child, I learned a little more about overcoming my low milk supply issues by using traditional herbs and foods — an area of knowledge that was not at all in the mainstream twenty, or even ten years ago, and that today is still little understood.
The catalyst to actually begin researching and writing was the birth of my forth child and my only daughter. That was in 1992. With her, I encountered new and considerable obstacles to breastfeeding and bonding. I was able to overcome these with the knowledge I had gleaned with my older three children — knowledge that I believe every mother has a right to know.
The first major challenge was childbed fever and a stay at the hospital. A sliver of placenta had remained in my womb, and when it began to decay, bacterial infection invaded my body. My daughter was ten days old when I was rushed to the emergency room, shaking from fever, too weak to stand. Fortunately, my breastfeeding-friendly doctor agreed that I could continue nursing in spite of undergoing surgery and taking high-dosage antibiotics. I was also allowed to room-in with my daughter: she slept in my bed, right next to me on the extra-large pillow.
Although I was so weak, I responded to her needs as quickly as possible, day and night. I changed her clothes and her diapers right there in bed with me. At the first sign of hunger or fretfulness, I fed or comforted her. I loved being close to her and feeling the warmth and emotion flow between us, that incredible exchange of finest feelings, as comforting to the sensitive new mother as to the baby.
Each afternoon, a friend came by and was available to carry her around during the hours when she might be fretful. Evenings, my husband was there to do the same. The quintessence: my daughter never felt abandoned to discomfort.
As mentioned above, I struggle with chronic low milk supply. The causes were hormonal (mild PCOS), a minimal amount of glandular breast tissue, and possibly also my having a medical condition that suppresses my immune system (Lyme disease). To prevent milk supply problems in the hospital, I asked my husband to bring me bottles of “Rivella,” a soft drink flavored with herbal extracts that is drunk in Switzerland (where I lived) to increase milk supply. In addition, the nurses made me pots of an herbal lactation tea. The result was that although my body was struggling to maintain milk production throughout this medical crisis, I did indeed manage to exclusively breastfeed my daughter.
Then something happened that made a huge impression on me. Nurses I had never seen before began to visit us, to stand quietly and respectfully inside our room for a while, and then leave without saying a word. I finally asked one what was going on. She told me that the nurses “downstairs” were talking about my baby — about the remarkable baby who ever cried. The nurses wanted to see for themselves if it was true! She explained that in the maternity ward, the babies were fretful and crying a lot of the time.
You see, in Switzerland, health insurance pays for up to ten days of rest at the hospital after birth. During this time, mothers are supposed to learn about babycare from the nurses. In my case, however, I had gone straight home a few hours after the births of my first two babies. My last two had been homebirths, so I had never had the benefit of their guidance.
Well, the nurse’s amazement amazed me! Obviously, they didn’t understand the kind of interaction necessary to prevent a baby from becoming fretful. Indeed, I remembered the questionable “support” I’d received the first few hours after my two hospital births. With my first, because he was fretful, the nurse put him in a little bed, all alone, crying, so that I could rest. That separation ripped my heart, and his crying began to sound horribly angry. Being born and immediately initiated into anger and separation is not my idea of a good start in life! But since the nurse seemed to think it was okay, and I was a new mother and insecure, I trusted her. With my second, the nurses took him for testing and then didn’t return him for a half hour. I was aching for him all that time. When I asked about the delay I was told it was because he was so cute, and a very special baby. They had enjoyed their time with him. When a nurse then saw that I was attempting to breastfeed him, she said, “What? So soon? Don’t you want to rest?” It was now 45 minutes after birth. Didn’t she know that the best time to initiate breastfeeding was the first hour after birth?
Well, with my daughter cooing on my lap I assured the nurse that she was no angel. She would cry like any other baby if her needs were not met. The secret was recognizing her signals and responding to them as soon as possible — even within a split second. But there was more to it. I also knew how to keep up my fragile milk supply, and I knew that I should eat certain foods and not others to avoid risking my baby’s digestive distress. Indeed, I knew from repeated experience that a baby who has enough milk, and whose milk is easy to digest, is very simply going to be an “easier” baby. Every baby is different, of course, but a mother can learn how to be sensitive to those differences and gauge her choices accordingly.
A few weeks later I encountered the next big obstacle: postpartum depression. I had gone through a long phase of exhaustion following each birth, but had not experienced depression before. Now I saw what it was like: parts of my brain shut down; I no longer felt involvement in life; I felt no joy in being a mother, or in my new baby.
Nonetheless, because I knew it was important, I continued doing things that contribute to a bonded relationship: I gave my baby the contact she required (she was the sensitive kind of baby who never sleeps if put down, so she had to be carried in a sling or snugly during the day, even when sleeping, the first three months of her life). I continued taking foods and herbs to maintain my supply. I observed which foods caused her digestive distress, and I avoided these. When I watched TV, I wore a headphone. I believe that babies who listen to television or radio and who hear, for instance, sudden loud sounds or music that convey shock, horror, surprise, or pathos are at greater risk for the sensorial disorganization that many children have today. I also sang to her throughout the day, including when I watched TV with headphones on, even though it felt very odd to do so. The result was that when I came out of depression (the healing process took about four months; I was not informed enough to take medication), I had a trusting, happy baby, (and a very musical child as we would discover) who would continue to be confident in our relationship, and to nurse for several years.
My Happy Baby
My happy baby was my little miracle. How had I come through postpartum depression with an intact relationship to my daughter, including an intact breastfeeding relationship? Everyday, I marveled and rejoiced. I also rejoiced that I had known how to overcome my low milk supply, and to produce milk that did not cause my daughter to have an upset stomach. (She would get an upset stomach and become colicky whenever I ate certain foods or combinations of foods, so I was sure to avoid these.) I had learned these tools not from doctors but from mothers, especially mothers from the “anthroposophic” community (Waldorf school) which, in Germany, has studied the effect of foods and herbs on mothers and babies for decades.
I felt as though I had stumbled upon a treasure chest of insights – to which mothers held the key. This set of insights seemed ancient in its “rightness.” I believed that all mothers should have access to it. Putting this key back into the hands of all mothers was the motivation for researching and writingMother Food.
Now, there are two types of persons in my family: scientists and artists. I lean toward the latter. My degree is in music. I also love to write, especially poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Well, research shows that musicians use their brain in an integrated way, using both halves creatively. That was the approach I took to researching this material: get the whole picture, discover the interconnections, and explain these in simple terms that make the reader think, “Oh, I get this now! It’s so clear!”
Imagine a mother of four lively children, bringing home boxes of books from the university library, and reading these each evening in bed while nursing her baby – then toddler, then young child. My daughter was four years old when I published an article in “c u r a r e,” a German academic journal of ethnomedicine, titled, “Have Lactation Medicinals an Influence on Culture?” This article summed up my findings: that lactation medicinals had been ignored by science (this has now changed), that foods that increase milk production were the crops earliest cultivated by Neolithic peoples (perhaps because breastfeeding mothers preferred these foods), that lactation medicinals are plentifully found in world mythology, associated with breastfeeding goddesses or mother goddesses. Finally, I included a description of some of the chemical pathways that lactogenic foods and herbs use to increase milk production.
What Kind of Book Should I Write?
In 1996, I sent my initial manuscript, then titled “Ancient Tools of Motherhood,” to a Swiss publishing house, the Kreux Verlag. Their main editor responded that I was writing not one book, but two: I was writing a self-help book, but also a book about history and culture. She said that this combination would be hard to market, and that I should instead write one book or the other.
I thought about this suggestion a long time, but remained convinced that mothers deserve and require a book connecting both history and culture to their practical experiences today. One of the remarkable moments of motherhood is the realization that one is sharing an experience common to women of all times and places. The next step is to understand how this universality includes our choices for diet and health, with respect to how these choices influence our breastfeeding and mothering experience.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, I believe that understanding motherhood has never been as crucial as it is today. More of our children are born prematurely, or are born at term but with neurological damage such as learning problems (and suck problems), concentration or sensorial disorders, and a spectrum of autistic disorders. Indeed, it is estimated that 1 out of 96 children are born with an austistic disorder, and nearly every second boy has some degree of concentration or sensorial integration disorder. We need to understand how we got where we are today and what we can do about it — for although this problem belongs to society as a whole, and as a society we will eventually have to come to terms with it, we mothers can be proactive now, both before conception, during pregnancy and birth, and again through our choices for our baby’s nourishment. “Mother Food,” precisely because itismany books in one, can offer important impulses to this discussion.
In 1999, I was thrilled to learn that a new venue of publishing had opened up: “Print on Demand,” a digital publishing arrangement that leaves complete responsibility for content and editing to the writer. This venue would allow me to write the combination how-to and cultural book that I had planned. I was energized to concentrate on writing again.
In 2000, I was almost ready to publish. Then I was bit by a tick and my life turned upside down. My doctor believes I’d had Lyme disease since my early twenties, but without its having broken out actively. With the new tick bite, Lyme disease quickly developed and put me out of function for six months of antibiotic treatment. When I began to recover, enough that I could consider working on this book again, I realized that I could not return to this book as it was. I had to re-write it in order to remember what it was about (Lyme disease affects memory and thinking processes)! And that was a good thing.
Again I had boxes of books to read. Wonderfully, everything I read in the very most recent books on diet, the immune system, allergy, and babycare confirmed and complimented what I already knew. Now I had many more insights for mothers. I continued to work toward publication, and in 2001, became a certified holistic lactation consultant in a new school founded in Switzerland. Local midwives referred mothers to me who had extraordinary problems with milk supply. Most wonderfully, I moderated a breastfeeding group on the internet where mothers with exceptional breastfeeding difficulties congregate for support. In 2005, this group became a non-profit, MOBI Motherhood Intl. (Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues).
What is Unique about Mother Food?
The central goal ofMother Foodis to address breastfeeding issues that are linked to a baby’s apparent suffering at the breast, such as persistent hunger from true low supply, and pain from colic, reflux, and allergy. These conditions are the least well explored in breastfeeding literature today, and mothers who describe having these problems often feel misunderstood by their healthcare providers.
Another goal is to include a historic overview of mother foods from ancient Greece, India and China. These comparisons offer fascinating surprises and insights that are the birthright of all mothers.
The Use of Beer as a Galactagogue, historically and today
The ancient civilizations of Sumer and Egypt discovered the secrets of malting and brewing over three thousand years ago, using the barley grain. Barley is thought to possibly be the first grain cultivated by humans, about 10,000 BCE. It contains a polysaccharide, beta-glucan, that increases the hormone of milk-production, prolactin.
Barley is used around the world in many different forms as a milk-supply boosting galactagogue, like beer, soup, and broth.
According to pictorial hieroglyphs, women and slaves were involved in the labor of large scale beer production in Egypt. Later, in Greek and Roman times, barley was one of many ingredients that might be freely combined in a variety of alcoholic recipes. When these ingredients included lactogenic herbs and fruit, the effect was doubtless noticed by breastfeeding women.
The Greek doctor Dioscorides (1st century C.E.) describes an alcoholic beverage to increase milk supply made using dried black figs, freshly pressed grapes, fennel, and thyme, all of which are known lactogenic ingredients.
The Greek surgeon Antyllus (2nd century CE), mentions a fermented grain beverage that was combined with the crushed unripe seeds of the sesame plant and crushed palm dates–two more strongly lactogenic ingredients.
These were doubtless just two of many beverages that were enjoyed by breastfeeding women across the ancient world.
Moving on to Europe
During the Dark Ages, when the skills and knowledge of the ancient world were largely forgotten (suppressed), the art of brewing was kept alive in monasteries across Europe. Eventually, however, with the development of farmsteads, brewing techniques passed into the hands of women as domestic work. Each thriving family farm brewed its own beer, and the term “Brewster” referred to a woman who brews in her home.
Brewsters used barley and other grains, and a range of herbs added in for their taste and medicinal properties. The preferred herbs had a bitter taste to balance the sweetness of the grain, were antiseptic to keep the drink free of pathogens, and were anti-parasitic (for instance, they killed intestinal worms). Lactogenic herbs such as pepper, cinnamon, coriander, caraway, and anise were also used in brewing. They may well have been added in when the Brewster was breastfeeding. Mind-altering, narcotic and sexualizing herbs might also be used in brewing. Such drinks were later ascribed to the practice of witchcraft and were forbidden.
Hops flowers, a bitter, relaxing, and slightly narcotic herb that reduces sexual drive and potency, and that most likely reduced violence and rape in the general population, became standard for brewing.
Hops is also an estrogenic galactagogue with a strong reputation for the milk ejection reflex. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), an influential nun, author, herbalist, songwriter, and philosopher of her day, is said to have strongly advocated for hops as the standard herb used in beer. My guess is that Hildegard knew what she was doing for women and mothers. Thank you, Hilde!
For several centuries, brewing remained domestic work. It became a source of family income, with beer sold through local pubs or directly from the farm. As economies began to evolve, however, the upper classes passed laws that successfully suppressed these small family businesses. Brewing recipes were strictly regulated, and fees and fines imposed. Brewing became impractical for small domestic breweries and pub houses, and the way was now clear for large industrial breweries to dominate the market, industries that have prospered to the present day.
Today, small breweries are attempting to break free from the stranglehold of the commercial beer industry. If you enjoy beer, I urge you to support them!
Guinness, one of the big British breweries, specializes in a stout that is made with barley malt and barley grain. The added barley makes the stout “silkier” and “thicker” due to beta-glucan, the viscous polysaccharide (long-chained sugar molecule) in barley that increases prolactin. It makes sense that Guinness is the commercial beer most frequently recommended today for breastfeeding mothers, as it is one of the very few to still contain good amounts of beta-glucan.
Beginning in the early 1500s, German law limited the ingredients to barley, hops, yeast, and water. Reasons for this went beyond taste preferences. By prohibiting the use of wheat, more wheat was available to bake bread. By restricting the allowed ingredients, various other types of beer were pushed into obscurity and could no longer compete with the large breweries. The law effectively got rid of international competition as it formed a protective barrier to the importation of any foreign beer that used other ingredients. These restrictions would eventually influence the international production of beer, as brewers in neighboring countries conformed to the restrictions so that they could compete within the large German market.
Luckily for breastfeeding mothers, the “pure” ingredients defined by German-type beer, barley, malt, hops, and yeast, are intensely lactogenic. This is why classical European beer is recognized by breastfeeding mothers as the best beer-type galactagogue.
To beer or not to beer
Alcohol is anti-galactagogue. Studies on animals and humans show that alcohol impairs the milk ejection reflex, slows the flow of milk, and leads to a reduced intake of milk by the baby for approximately four hours after mom’s drinking.
As the milk backs-up in the breast, the breast feels fuller. Researchers believe that this combination–the breast feeling fuller, and the baby needing more time to remove milk from the breast, fools mothers into believing that her baby is drinking more milk.
However, in historic beer brewing, the brews of “small beer” and “second brew” (see next section) were preferred by lactating mothers, children, and laborers. In these types of beer, the level of alcohol is considerably lower while the nutritional and herbal value is far higher.
When drinking a small beer or second beer, the nutrients and herbs may have prevailed over the effect of the reduced alcohol content.
Other factors that may override the anti-galactagogue effect would be whether the mother drinks the beer on an empty stomach or if she has recently had a meal, and also how soon after drinking she breastfeeds again. It is likely that if a mother first eats and then drinks, and if several hours pass between drinking and nursing, the effects of the alcohol will have worn off while the effects of the lactogenic ingredients will still be potent.
This seems to be the case, according to reports by exclusively pumping mothers who say that by drinking one glass of beer after dinner in the evening (beer rich in barley or hops, such as Guinness Dark Stout or non-alcoholic, malty St. Pauli Girl), they pump measurably more milk the next day. Some also say that they have more frequent and stronger let-downs at the pump that same evening.
Small Beer – Big Effect
In home brewing, the so-called “mashing” (or boiling of malt, grains, and herbs) was performed twice with the same grains and herbs. Whereas the first mashing returns a strong alcoholic beer, the second mashing returns a low-alcoholic beverage called “small beer” that was loosely filtered—a thin, porridge-like fluid that could practically be eaten!
Up until 150 years ago, “small beer” was viewed as a healthy, nutritious beverage that could be given to children, servants, to men performing hard labor, and to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. In Germany, the second mash was called “Nährbier,” meaning, literally, “nutritional beer.” Into the mid-20th century, Nährbier was produced in Germany commercially and recommended to breastfeeding mothers as nutrition and to enhance their milk production.
This then is the typical historic beer used by breastfeeding mothers: stronger in nutrition, weaker in alcohol. It is quite a different brew from any commercial beer today.
It is important to keep this in mind. Our typical, light-colored alcoholic beers do not contain enough lactogenic ingredients to counteract the anti-galactagogue effects of alcohol. Commercial, light beers made with corn and rice and wheat rather than barley can lead to a decrease in supply! Non-alcoholic beer, however, especially if rich in barley and hops, can be a good galactagogue.
Our Grandmothers were Right!
Clearly, our foremothers knew what they were doing when they used beer as a galactagogue. They would use a classic stout-type beer, rich in beta-glucan, or they would drink “small beer.”
The British OBGYN, Charles Routh, writes about beer in his book Infant Feeding and Its Influence on Life (1869). He writes that too much beer and not enough food will reduce supply and risk alcoholism. To use beer as a galactagogue, Routh suggests one oz of dark beer mixed together with one oz cream (delicious!) and drunk every few hours (I believe he was weaning mothers off of their beer habit). He also recommends the specific brands of stouts/ales that were reputed to be most effective by the professional wet-nurses of his time.
During the 19th century, “temperance movements” formed in many countries around the world to discourage the use of alcohol. In response, beer industries produced non-alcoholic beer-like beverages using hops, yeast, and malt. In the US, malt beer was called Near-Beer; in Germany, Malz-Bier, and in France, bière de nourrice, or “wet-nurse beer.” All were recommended as nourishing beverages for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and were reported to support milk supply.
Malt is derived from barley grain. Both malt syrup and malt powder are a widely used historic galactagoToday, many new brands of malt-beer are available commercially. The best known is the Guinness Malta. Malt beers are very popular in South America, Africa, and Israel. Many mothers swear that Malta helps support their supply
Beating Candidiasis (fungal infection) with Breastfeeding-Friendly Supplements
Candidia albicans is a common fungus that lives in parts of the body such as in the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina. Normally, candida albicans (and similar fungi and bacteria) is not a concern. However, if it becomes dominant, it can enter the bloodstream and colonize internal organs such as the kidney, heart, or brain. Candidiasis is the clinical name for this overgrowth, and we can have a mild case and be unaware of the infection, or it can break out and be symptomatic, for instance as vaginal, nipple, or oral thrush.
Fungus has an affinity for moist tissue. You might have experienced vaginal thrush and used an insertable cream to beat back the infection. “Beat back” is key. We do not want to completely eradicate the fungus. It is just one member of a community of bacteria that make up the body’s microbiome. The variety and balance of these members-the bacteria, viruses and parasites in this microbiome-has a profound effect on our health. We want to reduce the fungus and then to keep those numbers low over a period of time, so that the microbiome can establish a better balance and the immune system recover. Otherwise, we might have repeat infections.
Many breastfeeding mothers are familiar with a painful fungal infection of the nipple called thrush. Again: it occurs when the microbiome is out of balance, and unable to prevent fungal overgrowth.
When I lived in Switzerland, I learned that nipple thrush is practically unknown in that country. Why? For starters, Swiss doctors do not over-prescribe antibiotics, many of which degrade the microbiome. The Swiss also typically eat a whole-foods diet including fresh fruit and vegetables. The Swiss are also very cleanly, regularly changing sheets, vacuuming and wiping down surfaces, cleaning the fridge, etc. Importantly, the weather in Switzerland is rarely humid, and humidity increases the growth of fungus. Those of us who live in high humid parts of the world need to take extra care to maintain the balance of the microbiome and to keep the home clean.
Candidiasis (and similar fungi) is a major contributing cause to a condition called leaky gut or permeable intestine. Here, the cells of the intestinal lining are not tightly bound together, opening spaces between them or “holes” through which tiny food molecules and toxins can pass through into the bloodstream. See my article on priming the baby during pregnancy for colic and food allergies.
Candidiasis is opportunistic: it overgrows and invades the body if the immune system is unable to fight it off. People with a compromised immune system, such as those with chronic fatigue, chronic inflammatory conditions, or constant brain fog, often also have a systemic candidiasis infection. (Systemic means that it is found in multiple parts, or systems, of the body.)
Resolving fungal infection can be tricky – but absolutely worth the trouble as it is an essential step toward re-balancing and strengthening the immune system.
The short-term use of an anti-fungal medication called Nystatin is considered generally safe for a breastfeeding mother. If you develop thrush, talk to your lactation expert to learn what you can do to resolve the infection and prevent its return.
Re-balance the microbiome and strengthen the immune system against candidiasis
A successful, long-term approach has three parts:
1) eliminate mold from the home (also eliminate irritating and toxic chemicals);
2) eat a whole-foods diet including gut-healing vegetables and broths; remove all foods made with refined sugar (but some fruit and berries is okay);
3) rotate herbal supplements that have strong anti-fungal properties. We alternate these supplements to prevent the fungus from developing resistance to any one of them. In order to overwhelm the defenses of the fungal infection, hitting it from many sides repeatedly and frequently with different kinds of anti-fungal herbal supplements is what works.
This long-term approach does not quickly eradicate the fungus, but it does slowly reduce the fungus while allowing your immune system to become stronger and more effective against the fungus, while allowing your intestine and organs to heal.
Scroll down to the end of this article to read about “Die Off,” and learn about the ups and downs of an intense healing protocol.
Why a rotation schedule? And why use several products?
Fungal infections can develop resistance to any one product, even if it consists of several ingredients. To overwhelm the defenses of the fungal infection, hitting it from many sides repeatedly and frequently is needed. See the suggested products, listed below.
Do not use oregano oil
Not all antifungal supplements are suitable for breastfeeding mothers. Oregano oil is a case in point. Although oregano oilis one of our strongest anti-fungals, oregano oil sometimes reduces milk supply. Keep oregano oil in mind for later, when you have weaned. I like this particular NOW brand because it also contains oils of fennel and ginger, and both are good for intestinal healing.
Grapefruit Seed Extract is a strong antifungal that has a long history of use by breastfeeding mothers. With a liquid product such as this one by NutriBiotic, you can modulate your dosage from just 1 – 2 drops in a cup of water to 5 – 10 drops, taken 3 – 5 times a day.
The ability to experiment and find your best dosage gives you control. This may feel new and uncomfortable for many, as we are used to following dosage recommendations. In the case of clearing infection, and using natural products, it is useful to start with. alow dosage and build up, watching your body’s reaction. You can scale back if you notice increased fatigue or any unwellness, and then gradually increase your dosage again at a later time.
If the acidity of Grapefruit Seed extract irritates your digestive system, combine the GSE with a half-teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water. This will neutralize the acidity.
Cautions: do not combine grapefruit seed extract with domperidone or fluconazole.
Caprylic Acid is the part of coconut oil that is most strongly antifungal, and it is experienced as being particularly potent and often causing “die-off.” Start slowly, just one capsule a day. If you do not experience a “die-off” (see below), continue increasing the dosage to tolerance.
Acacia Fiber (also called “gum arabic”). Take up to one tablespoon daily in yogurt, juice, or water, or blended into juices and smoothies. Acacia fiber has many benefits. It is antimicrobial both against bacteria and fungus. It “smooths” and “coats” the contents of the bowels, relieving constipation. In a study1 from 2012, a daily snack of acacia fiber in yogurt with Bifidus lactobacilli improved both constipation and diarrhea in persons with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
Olive leaf extract is a home-remedy must-have, and Herbpharm is one of my favorite brands. Although olive leaf has not been safety-tested for breastfeeding, it is widely used as an herbal antibiotic by breastfeeding mothers. It is also a powerful antifungal. I would use it at a low dosage along with the other antifungal products, several times a day.
Turmeric: To fully eradicate a fungal infection, we have to dissolve the biofilms where they hide throughout the body. Some enzymes achieve this, and another way is to use turmeric. It is antifungal, antibacterial, a biofilm-buster, plus it supports lactation.
Turmeric relieves muscle aches and joint pain by acting as an anti-inflammatory. It is protective against brain damage and memory loss. Overall, it is worthwhile to learn how to “stomach” a simple dose of turmeric every day, or as needed.
I personally make for myself the simple, fast, and inexpensive version: a half-teaspoon of turmericpowder, stirred into a cup of water and quickly swallowed down. If you don’t mind the taste, a very small shake of black pepper into the turmeric is believed by many to improves its bioavailability, though I find it highly medicinal without the pepper.
About Fungal “Die-Off”
Some people go through a phase of feeling tired, foggy-brained and toxic when using antifungal supplements. This can be due to a large and sudden die-off of the fungi.
“Die-Off” is a period of time in which your body is dealing with a flood of dead cells from the fungi. They are now in your blood and as they pass through your body and organs, you may notice sudden fatigue, brain-fog, or even a flare-up of a rash or arthritic pain.
This is a sign that the supplements are working, but that your detox organs need time to catch up with the extra detox work. Eventually, your liver will neutralize the toxins. Depending on the degree of the infection, and the pace of your liver, the symptoms of Die-Off might last 1 – 3 hours or 1- 3 days.
If this happens to you, back off the supplements, drink a lot of water, and rest. Trust that you will soon feel better.
While “die-off” sounds like bad news, it is actually very good to know about the possibility and to be mentally prepared for it. As you go forward with the treatment, the periods of Die-Off should become less strong and less frequent.
If you have access to a healthcare practitioner or MD with a foundation in “functional medicine,” they are your best bet for clarity and continuity of treatment. Functional MDs are trained to connect the dots and get a handle on these somewhat mysterious health conditions and opportunistic organisms.
Min YW, Park SU, Jang YS, et al. Effect of composite yogurt enriched with acacia fiber and Bifidobacterium lactis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(33):4563-4569. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4563
In my attic office, next to a south-facing window, I’m setting up sweet potato slips.
Instead of growing them, I could just buy sweet potato slips in the garden center in the second week of May. But because it’s doable and fun, I’m growing them myself.
One method is to fill a plastic container half-way with potting soil or coconut coir or a mixture of both.
Keep the soil moist but not sopping. Keep it in a set-up that holds humidity. Give it sunlight, too, and open the container every day to let out some of the extra moisture to prevent mold. Add water as needed.
In a month or so, several “slips” (leaf shoots ) will be a few inches long. They can then be removed and put in a glass of water, to develop a set of roots.
It is now March 7. In mid-May, the slips will be planted. Beneath the soil, lots of tubers will grow, so in autumn we’ll have a small harvest. At the same time, long vines bearing edible leaves grow in abundance.
Sweet potato leaves are considered an important potential food source, both because they are nutritious and because the sweet potato will grow in near-drought conditions.
The leaves have been studied for their medicinal properties. They are rich in antioxidants and are strongly anti-diabetic. As a vegetable, the leaves are eaten raw or cooked like spinach.
Sweet potato leaves are listed as a galactagogue and used to support milk production in parts of Africa and Asia.
Would you believe that this ugly weed that overruns gardens and fields is used by nursing mothers to support their milk supply?
Sow Thistle – Super Food for Moms
Recently, while writing on A Mother’s Garden of Galactagogues, I learned that the Sow Thistle is highly nutritious and that it has been studied for its medicinal effects, especially for its ability to relieve anxiousness. [i]
Because Sow Thistles can be grown on any type of land, in a residential garden, in containers, or a rooftop garden, the Sow Thistle is viewed as a potential commercial crop. [ii]
The leaves are high in protein and fiber, potassium, copper, calcium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorus. They are extremely high in vitamin C. They are a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, so essential to a well-functioning immune system.
Medicinally, sow thistle is liver protective, anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. They are thought to help prevent kidney and heart disease.
Main use for milk supply: leaves and stems, prepared as a concentrated broth, or as food.
Harvest: Varieties of sow thistle have differently shaped leaves. They may be soft with rounded edges (see the photos above), or tough and spiky-rimmed. The spiky leaves are tender when the plant is young, as in this photo, but as they age you’ll need to cut away the rim with scissors and soften the leaf with a rolling pin.
Food: Sow thistle leaves are delicious in early spring. They taste like sweet chard. They can be eaten in salad, boiled like spinach or sautéed in olive oil.
The unopened buds are also edible; they taste like hazelnuts.
Forgotten Galactagogue – Simmer that Thistle
Lactogenic diet: The ancient Greek doctor Dioscorides, (2000 years ago), lists sow thistle as a galactagogue.
The British herbalist Nicolas Culpeper described its use in 1653: The decoction of the leaves and stalks causes an abundance of milk in nurses.
Today, the use of sow thistle as a galactagogue is still remembered by the older generation in Italy.[iii]
Recipe: To make a “decoction” (a strong broth), simmer the leaves and stalks in water in a half-covered pot for 20 minutes. Sip a few teaspoons of the bitter liquid. Don’t overdo it.
Repeat the dose some hours later. If you tolerate it well, try repeating the dose every few hours for a few days. If after four days you notice no change, this plant is not going to have the desired effect.
Does this information intrigue you? If yes, you will enjoy my book A Mother’s Garden of Galactagogues, available now on amazon. It is full of planting info plus information for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
Also – good news – I am working on a book that covers the biggest and most important secrets of using lactogenic herbs and foods effectively, with information seen nowhere else before—using lots of the plants that are listed in my gardening book. 🙂
[i] Xiu-Mei Li & Pei-Long Yang (2018) Research progress of Sonchus species, International Journal of Food Properties, 21:1, 147-157, DOI: 10.1080/10942912.2017.1415931
[ii] Xiu-Mei Li & Pei-Long Yang (2018) Research progress of Sonchus species, International Journal of Food Properties, 21:1, 147-157, DOI: 10.1080/10942912.2017.1415931
[iii] Geraci, Anna & Polizzano, Vincenza & Schicchi, Rosario. (2018). Ethnobotanical uses of wild taxa as galactagogues in Sicily (Italy). Acta Societatis Botanicorum Poloniae. 87. 10.5586/asbp.3580.
Apricots — one of our strongest lactogenic fruit, and especially rich in calcium.
Calcium and magnesium work together to maintain healthy nerves, strong muscles, and a rhythmic heartbeat. In the brain, they promote neural activity and act as a natural antidepressant. A lack of calcium and magnesium can lead to insomnia, irritability, exhaustion, mental confusion, heart rhythm problems, and depression, among other difficulties, in adults. In children, a lack of these minerals has been implicated in allergic and behavioral disorders.
Calcium and magnesium may also be crucial to maintaining a good supply of milk. It is recommended that we supplement these minerals together, in a ratio of two or three times as much calcium as magnesium, or 2-3:1. Some experts, however, suggest we supplement on a ratio of 1:1, as many people are sorely deficient in magnesium.
1000 mg of calcium is the daily requirement—1200 mg for breastfeeding women—in the US. Many adult women are deficient in calcium in spite of a diet rich in calcium-fortified foods. What is wrong with this picture? Traditional peoples around the world get far less calcium than we do: 400 – 600 mg of calcium per day is the norm. Even so, there are seldom signs of calcium deficiency in cultures that have maintained their whole-foods diet.
Check out Weston A. Price’s book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration for photographic documentation of the teeth of indigenous peoples, before and after they began eating a diet of refined foods. In the before pictures, we see wide jaws and beautiful strong teeth, free of cavities. The after pictures feature the narrow jaws and crooked teeth so common to industrialized societies.
The reason Americans lack calcium is not that we eat too little calcium-rich foods, but because our diet causes calcium to be leeched from our bones and teeth. We can make better use of our calcium intake by improving our dietary habits.
Foods that Deplete Calcium:
Fibrous bulkis sometimes taken to reduce appetite and to promote regular bowel movements. Minerals bind to this fiber in the intestine, so that they pass through the intestine rather than into the bloodstream.
Protein. We often eat meals that are too heavy on protein (meat, eggs, milk). Excess protein is acid-forming. In order to protect tissues in the body from acidity, the body uses calcium to neutralize the acid. This is another reason that a high-protein diet can lead to a depletion of calcium.
Diuretics. Foods and medication that stimulate the kidney will cause minerals, including calcium, to be excreted into the urine. Herbal diuretics, such as nettle and dandelion, restore the minerals that they cause to be lost. Excessiveproteinwill also cause the kidneys to go into overdrive and will lead to a loss of calcium.
Caffeinecauses calcium to be excreted with urine. Caffeine is found incoffee, tea, chocolate,and mostcarbonated beverages.
Excessivesaltalso causes calcium to be excreted with urine.
Phosphorushas to be inthe right balancefor calcium metabolism to work.Too littlephosphorus prevents the body from using calcium.Too muchand the excess phosphorus binds to calcium, pulling it right out of the bones.
Foods that are high in phosphorus are:dairy,meat, white flour, and carbonatedsoft drinks. These foods cause calcium to be pulled out of the bones—which is why people who eat meat regularly need to supplement with higher dosages of calcium.
Sugardecreases phosphorus in the blood. After eatingsugar, phosphorus is so low that the body is unable to utilize calcium.
Keep Calcium in Your Bones
Reduce caffeine, white sugar, and table salt. Most people overdose on the sugar and salt found in processed foods, snacks, candy, and junk foods. Eat a whole-foods diet, and chose natural sugar sources that are rich in minerals—blackstrap molasses, malt syrup, maple syrup or honey. Use a quality, contaminant-free ancient sea salt, such as the affordable and easily available product RealSalt, derived from the ancient sea beds of Utah.
Limit animal protein—roughly three small to moderate servings a day, balanced with vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruit.
Sunlight. At least twenty minutes of sunlight each and every day on exposed skin, such as bare arms and legs, will provide the vitamin D necessary to utilize calcium, if you are a young, healthy person. (Sun through a window is not adequate.)
For most of us, sufficient daily exposure to sunlight is not possible and it is necessary to supplement with vitamin D.
Building sufficient amounts of vitamin D is essential to having a fully functioning, robust immune system.
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At about 3 – 4 months postpartum, some mothers get their first period. The taste of their milk changes temporarily and their supply can take a dip.
Afterward, her periods might recur in their monthly rhythm, or they may remain several months apart and only slowly become monthly.
To prevent the dip in milk supply, mothers take calcium and magnesium at a ration of 2:1 when they begin feeling hormonal or at ovulation (two weeks before the next expected period.)
Mothers whose diets are calcium-depleting (drinking caffeine, soft drinks, consuming a lot of sugar and refined carbs, or meat) should take 1000 mg of calcium a day, together with 500 mg of magnesium.
Larger body sizes may need more, and mothers on very healthy diets may need only half this amount.
You can use supplements that you may already have–or try the one linked just below. It uses four capsules for a full dose, making it easy to spread the dose throughout the day with one capsule taken before meals.
The way the dose is divided into small portions, you can increase or decrease the dose according to your individual needs :
By the way–if you tend toward menstrual cramps, the delicate herbal tea,Vervain officinalis,is milk-boosting and especially cramp-soothing. 2 – 3 cups a day. (You want Vervain officinalis, or Verbena Officinalis, not Blue Vervain or other variety.)
It’s the end of May, and I’m letting weeds grow out so I can identify what grows here and learn how to use them: wild mustard, wild lettuce, horsetail, sow’s thistle and more. I put together this little film as a first try – if the summer fires allow, I’ll spend time showing how to harvest and use these common medicinals for breastfeeding moms and our babies.
The Impact of Gluten-Sensitivity on the Lactogenic Diet
Widespread gluten sensitivity has developed because of changes in commercial wheat. While not actually genetically modified, wheat has been bred to contain increased levels of gluten, which is the “gluey” protein in wheat. The result is a chewier, gluier, and more delicious dough, which may be handy for the bread industry but has wreaked havoc on the sensitive tissues of the intestine.
Mothers might not be aware if they suffer from gluten sensitivity as the symptoms can be mild.However, we can pass a sensitivity on to our children in a more acute form than we ourselves have it.
Consider this: many children with ADHD or autism improve when they are put on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. The numbers of children with such neurological conditions are growing year by year, especially but not only in boys.
ADHD and autism are often only recognized after a child is two years old. But we can be proactive, and protect our children by making breastmilk a safe food, free of inflammatory triggers such as gluten. This allows the baby’s digestive systems to heal, so they can have better outcomes.
The consequences, however, for the lactogenic diet, are discouraging. Two highly lactogenic grains, barley and oats, both contain gluten. Although they do not contain as much gluten as wheat, once the body has become sensitized to gluten, the source of the gluten and the amount of the gluten do not matter. Even a tiny amount will cause an inflammatory reaction.
It used to be that gluten sensitivity was not recognized as a health problem. Only if the intestine was inflamed and damaged, and signs of malnutrition were obvious, would a doctor test for gluten allergy, a condition that is known as Celiac disease.
Today’s widespread gluten sensitivity differs from Celiac disease. With “sensitivity,” the gluten proteins pass through the damaged intestine and into the lymph and bloodstream, causing inflammation in many systems of the body including the nerves, organs, muscles, joints, and even the brain.
No wonder so many people see improvements in an enormous variety of health conditions, even mental health conditions, after several weeks of being gluten-free.
What is the best herb to support milk supply after childbirth?
While looking at records of herbalism around the world, I kept bumping into this information: Stinging Nettle tea after birth.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) contains iron to help a mother build new red blood cells, reducing the risk of anemia, helping a mother avoid fatigue and depression.
Nettle contains vitamin K to help reduce bleeding.
It supports a mother’s kidneys and reduces the swelling of edema, so important for many mothers.
Nettle is known in herbalism as a blood-cleanser: its soluble fibers enter the bloodstream and attach to toxins, catching and binding them so they can be led out of the body through urine and stool.
Nettle does not lead to over-supply or create problems with engorgement. Its support of the kidneys can reduce edema and reduce the hardness of the breasts that comes with initial engorgement, especially in first-time moms.
The other “must have” is green cabbage. The leaves, pressed onto the breasts and left for a half-hour, also pull out extra fluids.
I’ve seen mothers with swollen breasts, ankles, calves, hands and arms, whose milk simply would not flow, pee off the edema and begin to have easy milk flow and a contentedly feeding baby within hours of drinking nettle tea.