Lockdown-Inspired Book for Breastfeeding Moms and Families

Lockdown-Inspired Book for Breastfeeding Moms and Families

In times of great uncertainty (as today, with lockdowns continuing to be enforced across the globe), knowing which specific herbs, weeds, flowers, trees, vegetables, and fruit support milk supply can build our confidence in our ability to nurture the next generation.

With this in mind, I wrote the book A Mother’s Garden of Galactagogues: a Guide to Growing and Using Milk-Boosting Herbs and Foods from around the world.

Lactation-boosting plants are the “living medicine” of women’s ancient heritage, stretching all the way back to the pre-history of humankind. Many families are starting to garden, indoors and outdoors, in large and small spaces, in containers, and on countertops. This is your opportunity to re-connect with women’s ancient knowledge.

Breastfeeding is natural, but in the West, we have taken the natural out of breastfeeding by asserting that a woman’s body should function like a machine, independent of what we eat, and in spite of thousands of years of lactation-diets used around the world.

Many mothers have experienced that after receiving the guidance of a lactation consultant, a lactogenic diet helps them reach their optimal supply. Many testimonies and stories are found in the reviews for Jacobson’s book Mother Food, on amazon.com

The fact is that women have been using lactogenic food and herbs since time immemorial. Our Paleolithic foremothers discerned which plants most potently supported their milk supply and they relied on this support through times of drought and food scarcity. Breastfeeding–but also the plants that support lactation–ensured the survival of our species.

We in the West once had this knowledge, too. Sadly, it was lost after the fall of Rome in the epoch known as the Dark Ages, when medical and herbal know-how came under the jurisdiction of the Church. Women’s herbs were generally considered to be evil and were associated with witchcraft and magic, including the herbs for lactation. They were made illegal, and an attempt was made to erase them from memory.

Later, as medical schools formed in Europe, the medical profession would be practiced by men who had no first-hand experience with lactation. They were puzzled by breastfeeding difficulties but did not study the use of herbs, which were still associated with witchcraft.

As we entered modern times, medicine remained a man’s profession and the use of lactogenic herbs and foods–though used to promote milk production in dairy cattle–was dismissed as being irrelevant for women.

My recently published book helps us remember what we once knew, for instance, that common weeds such as purslane and dandelions are used to boost milk supply, as are many other plants that grow in our gardens, yards, fields, meadows, and forests.

We learn as well about studies from China, India, Iraq, Iran, and Jordan, that show how these plants actually build the mammary tissue. 

In times of great uncertainty (as today, with lockdowns continuing to be enforced across the globe), knowing which specific herbs, weeds, flowers, trees, vegetables, and fruit support milk supply can build our confidence in our ability to nurture the next generation.

With this hope in mind, I wrote the book A Mother’s Garden of Galactagogues: a Guide to Growing and Using Milk-Boosting Herbs and Foods from around the world.

 

Vitamin D, Covid, Milk Supply, Immunity

Vitamin D, Covid, Milk Supply, Immunity

I periodically refine and refocus my articles, so check back here for updates or sign up for Hilary’s Newsletter to be notified.

Immune-Boosting Supplements for Covid – and also for Milk Production

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the doctors I follow[i] have recommended four basic supplements to advance the immune system’s first line of defense against Covid-19. These are:

Quercetin, Zinc, Vitamin D and Vitamin C.

I have been taking them and I hope you have been, too.

I find it interesting that Quercetin, Zinc, and Vitamin D all support pregnancy and good lactation. As a “side-effect,” they boost the immune system specifically against viruses.

(Vitamin C is of course also important and useful, but for mothers with IGT it may best be reduced during early lactation for reasons I explain in Mother Food.)

In this post, we’ll look at vitamin D. I will write about the other supplements in following posts. Sign up to my newsletter to be notified of new articles. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is called an “immunomodulator” because it enables the immune system to modulate, that is, to react quickly, flexibly and intelligently against pathogens.

At the beginning of an infection, a quick and adept response gives the immune system an edge over the disease.

People with good levels of vitamin D have fewer and less severe viral and upper respiratory diseases.

People with low blood levels of vitamin D are more prone to viral and respiratory diseases, but also to fatigue, chronic infectious and autoimmune diseases, gum disease, diabetes, brain-fog, depression and other mood disorders. In short, people with low vitamin D are immunocompromised.

Vitamin D is also involved in bone strength and in regulating insulin sensitivity–two important factors for women.

Who is at risk? 

Vitamin D is obtained from skin exposure to the sun and from specific dietary sources.

People who live in the northerly climates with cloudy skies and reduced sun exposure are at risk for low D.

People who live mostly indoors, or who wear sunscreen when in the sun, are at higher risk.

People with melanin-rich skin are at higher risk, as the melanin slows the absorption of sunrays and slows the production of D.

People whose diets exclude animal sources of Vitamin D, especially eggs, animal fat, dairy cream and fatty fish are at risk because these are our food sources of vitamin D.

As well, people with chronic health conditions or who are older can have a harder time absorbing Vitamin D from food, or converting sun exposure into vitamin D.

Supplementing Vitamin D

Even though Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and easily available, some people find it difficult to increase their blood levels of this vitamin. Here’s why:

  1. Overweight and obese persons require more time because vitamin D must first fill up the fat cells before it rises in the blood. It can take weeks, months and sometimes years of consistent supplementation.
  2. Doctors tend to under-dose vitamin D. Consistent high doses may be needed to move the dial and increase the levels.
  3. People respond differently to forms of Vitamin D3 supplementation. Combinations of different brands and types may be needed.
  4. Vitamin D should be taken with magnesium[ii] and vitamin K to prevent the displacement of calcium.

As you can see, recommending that people supplement with high doses of Vitamin D is not that simple, and considering that high dosage, multiple brands and also added magnesium and vitamin K are needed, it is not as easily affordable for low-income families.

The current definitions of levels of vitamin D are:

Deficient: Less than or equal to 10 ng/ml (25 nmol/L)

Insufficient: Between 10 ng/ml and 20 ng/ml (25 to 50 nmol/L)

Sufficient: More than 20 ng/ml (50 nmol/L)

Please consult with your doctor to learn your present level of vitamin D, and get started with your personal program. 

 

Vitamin D Supplementing Tips

In my case, several attempts to increase my vitamin D blood levels failed because the doctor’s recommended dosage was not high enough and I was not told to also supplement with Vitamin K and magnesium.

Through experience and in conversation with other patients, I found that the best way to take vitamin D is to alternate brands and types, and to take it in the morning together with a beverage or meal that includes some fat or cream, to ensure that this fat-soluble vitamin is properly digested.

I aim for about 10,000 iu a day, a dose that is considered safe for most people.[iii]

Over the last year, my vitamin D levels rose from 20 (deficient) to 60 nmol/L (sufficient).

I feel significantly safer now with higher levels of Vitamin D, especially as I also supplement with Vitamin K and magnesium.

While scientists race to produce new vaccines for new variants, we can be actively involved in keeping our immune system the most resilient that it can be.

Vitamin D and Covid

We know that persons with adequate blood levels of vitamin D rarely develop severe covid-19, and that persons with a blood level of above 40 have better outcomes.[iv]

One might ask why no public health measure has been enacted that would roll out high-dose vitamin D supplementation to those who need it most, together with vitamin K and magnesium.

The answer seems to be that our medical system is designed to respond to symptoms, to step in only after a disease is already in progress. It is not designed to be preventative, that is, to reduce susceptibility to disease by building up a person’s resiliency.

Vaccinations are supposed to act preventatively. But in fact, they only target a specific disease and do not increase the overall immune resiliency or health of a population.

Low Milk Supply Mothers

Mothers with true low milk supply are likely to have one or more of the following health issues: we are overweight or obese, have insulin resistance or diabetes, have some degree of PCOS,[v] and may have chronic health conditions.

I recall a mother in our online group MOBI who “tried everything” to build her supply without success, but finally had a significant boost when her doctor gave her a mega-boost of Vitamin D: 40,000 iu, all at once.

Her supply increase might relate to the role of vitamin D in lactation: it surely facilitates the action of calcium, an important mineral for milk production.

While do not have concrete research on the effect of vitamin D supplementation on milk production, many of us here in lactation-world believe the correspondence is significant.

Moreover, because vitamin D supplementation has shown benefit in stopping the progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes, its use in insulin resistance is indicated.[vi]

Low Milk Supply Mothers and COVID

Clearly, low milk supply is linked to many health conditions that are acknowledged risk factors for Covid, from insulin resistance and prediabetes to obesity, and autoimmune conditions. As these conditions are also linked to low Vitamin D, supplementation of vitamin D3 in combination with magnesium and Vitamin K may be useful in building a mother’s immune resiliency.

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[i] I will not name the doctors here, as professional medical persons may be deplatformed for suggesting that it is possible to increase immunity or build resistance to this disease, in spite of the exhaustive clinical practice showing otherwise.

[ii] Uwitonze, A.M.; Razzaque, M.S. Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. J. Am. Osteopath Assoc. 2018, 118, 181–189.

 

[iii] Krul-Poel YHM, Koenders PP, Steegers-Theunissen RP, ten Boekel E, Wee MMt, et al. (2018) Vitamin D and metabolic disturbances in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): A cross-sectional study. PLOS ONE 13(12): e0204748. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204748

 

[iv] Bleizgys, A. Vitamin D and COVID‐19: It is time to act. Int J Clin Pract. 2021; 75:e13748. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcp.13748

[v] Krul-Poel YHM, Koenders PP, Steegers-Theunissen RP, ten Boekel E, Wee MMt, et al. (2018) Vitamin D and metabolic disturbances in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): A cross-sectional study. PLOS ONE 13(12): e0204748. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204748

 

[vi] Mahtab Niroomand, Akbar Fotouhi, Navid Irannejad, Farhad Hosseinpanah, Does high-dose vitamin D supplementation impact insulin resistance and risk of development of diabetes in patients with pre-diabetes? A double-blind randomized clinical trial, Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, Volume 148, 2019, Pages 1-9, ISSN 0168-8227, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.diabres.2018.12.008.

Sow thistle – a multi-purpose “weed” that is a galactagogue

Sow thistle – a multi-purpose “weed” that is a galactagogue

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. 🙂

It’s exciting!

 

 

 

[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.

 

 

 

 

A Poem for Gardening Mothers

A Poem for Gardening Mothers

Blue Borage Time

Your furry leaves and blue starflowers

Summon bees at all the hours,

Throughout spring and throughout summer,

Summon all the honey mummers.

 

How their nimble legs alight

Upon your blossoms’ azure shade,

They stop and nip your sticky dew,

Then fly away. 

Those bumbles, yellows, tiny blues,

Drunk – imbibing your sweet nectar –

Take no note of this defector

Spellbound by the view.

 

All I long for, all day long

As here I sit and hear their song,

(the buzz and zip as they dash past,

performing their important task ) 

Is just to sit and sit just here

‘Til your blue starflower light appear.

Sweet borage light—so brief, and clear!

When furry leaves wilt and winter is near,

Restore my will to grow,

Renew my strength to grieve,

For all new life will pass,

All starflowers go to seed.

Hilary Jacobson, 2020

The Impact of Gluten-Sensitivity on the Lactogenic Diet

The Impact of Gluten-Sensitivity on the Lactogenic Diet

The Impact of Gluten-Sensitivity on the Lactogenic Diet

Wide-spread gluten sensitivity has developed due to 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 of having gluten sensitivity. 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.

Think of 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 these problems are growing exponentially year by year. These problems often do not become apparent until two years old. We have to act preventatively. We can protect our children by making breastmilk a safe food, free of inflammatory triggers such as gluten. This allows their digestive systems to heal, and they can ride the toxic roller-coaster of childhood with greater success and better outcomes.

The consequences for the lactogenic diet are very sad. Two important lactogenic grains, barley and oats, both contain gluten. These grains do not contain as much gluten as is in wheat, but once the body is sensitized to gluten, the source and the amount do not matter. Any little bit will cause a reaction.

It used to be that gluten sensitivity was diagnosed by detecting changes in the intestine. This condition is known as Celiac disease, and it was considered rare: the intestine became so inflamed and damaged that it could no longer digest well; weight loss and signs of malnutrition were obvious.

Today’s gluten sensitivity is different from Celiac disease. Gluten proteins pass through the damaged intestine (damaged by poor food choices, by substance abuse, antibiotics and birth control pills) with irritating effects on the entire body, even the brain.

No wonder people have seen improvements in a huge variety of health conditions, even mental health conditions, after removing gluten from their diet.

It is problematic though. Removing gluten without improving one’s diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies. This is why we think of global dietary changes in response to gluten sensitivity, and not just taking this or that out, and adding this or that in.

Gluten-free bread and pastry substitutes tend to contain other carbohydrates that are lower in nutrition. It becomes important to transition to a whole-foods diet, as none of the commercially available foods meet the standard needed by the new mom and baby.

I write this article with such a heavy heart. It has been a delight to me to discover traditional foods that support lactation. To have to say, not barley or oats, and no grains with gluten, feels like such a loss. But what is the point of breastfeeding and of a lactogenic diet, if not to give our babies their best start?

The following lactogenic foods contain gluten: barley water, beer, malt, oatmeal, lactation cookies, barley-based alternative coffees, anything containing wheat, barley, rye or oats.

 

In my new Mother Food book, I’ll describe alternatives to our traditional galactagogues.