Tips for Tits: Practical Advice for Nursing Moms to Increase Milk Supply

Tips for Tits: Practical Advice for Nursing Moms to Increase Milk Supply

Like many of you, I belong to a community “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook. The movement was started in 2013 in Washington with the basic idea that most of us have plenty to share. In the group, people give and receive clothing, yarn, household supplies, books, food, furniture and more. When my daughter lost everything in a fire last winter, we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the community who dropped of dozens of bags of clothes, shoes and toiletries. Enough to help her get started and more.

This past weekend, I got to be a breast milk broker. A patient, who is not on Facebook texted me that she was moving, and she had about 400 ounces of frozen breast milk. Could I post it in the buy nothing group for her? I posted “Urgent, amazing give!” and in less than 60 seconds, another patient posted that her milk supply was low, and the deal was done! Later in the evening, a different patient reached out. She’s just had a C-section. Her milk isn’t in yet and was there more milk available. I connected the women and there you have it! Well-fed babies in the community. The whole experience had me smiling all day!

Last year, when I was planning Six Fishes community workshop offerings, I thought it would be helpful to hold a “Tips for Tits” workshop to discuss solutions for common nursing challenges: Low milk supply and mastitis. I never did schedule it (please let me know if you’d be interested! We can partner with a lactation consultant), so instead, I’m sharing a lot of the information with you in a blog.

Low milk supply is one of the more stressful experiences a nursing mother can face. There’s numerous reasons this occurs. Some, such a tongue-tie are difficult to resolve without medical intervention. But often, milk production can be increased with a few simple changes in diet and life-style. If that’s not enough, then we have acupuncture and herbs to help along with this too.

Here’s my list- starting with the very basics:

  • Eat: Nursing is a huge calorie burner. It only takes about 200 extra calories daily to be pregnant. Yet nursing burns through about 500 calories daily! Adequate rest isn’t always possible with a new-born. So be sure to eat nourishing food to fuel the both of you.
  • Drink: Every. Time. You. Nurse. Water in- Milk out. Simple.
  • Rest: As much as possible. After giving birth, you only have one job and that is to care for your baby and yourself. Sadly, we don’t have the Chinese tradition of a Sitting Moon Month after birth. Traditional Chinese Medicine advises women to rest the month after childbirth to fully recover. Special foods are prepared for the mother to encourage full recovery. Other traditions call this lying-in. Of course, I’d love for all my patients to have this month, but let’s be real.This rarely happens in our culture.
  • Make choices about where your qi goes. Choose what to let go of: Let the house go to hell- it’ll get cleaned later. There’s only so many hours in the day. Are there simple strategies that you can implement for now? Can you get groceries delivered? Can you afford a housekeeper? If so, just spend the money. You’ll never regret it. Every hour spent not schlepping is an hour you can spend doing less and caring for yourself and your children more.
  • Use Nutritional Yeast: After I gave birth to my 10 lb., 2 oz son (at home!) I had to return to work in 4 weeks. We were broke and I was the primary earner in the family. I thought I might only see 3 patients daily, but within a week, it escalated to about 35. I brought him with me. I’d put needles in my patients and while they rested, I nursed my boy. I was totally exhausted, and it didn’t take long for that to impact my milk supply. A couple of heaping teaspoons of nutritional yeast in a glass of juice twice daily was part of my strategy and it worked. Similarly, there’s a tradition of drinking a glass of dark beer or stout. I can’t weigh in on that, but I know that the nutritional yeast packs far more nutritional punch and is energizing to boot. It’s filled with B-vitamins, protein and iron.
  • Drink Teas with Fenugreek: Many women feel that this traditional herb really helps to increase milk supply. There’s numerous iterations of “mothers milk” teas available. Drink them freely and often.
  • Nurse frequently and switch sides: Milk production is supply and demand. The more you nurse, the more milk you’ll make. If you empty your breasts, it signals your body to make more. You may need to focus on long nursing to increase milk to keep up with your baby’s growth. This is especially important during growth spurts. Make sure the baby had a good latch and that your nipple is really in their mouth. Try to tickle the roof of their mouth with your nipple- that’s a good place to aim. Switching sides helps insure that both breasts will increase milk production. There is some debate about foremilk and hindmilk.Foremilk is the milk that is first let down nad is higher in lactose while foremilk is higher in fats. Baby’s need both and breastmilk composition is, well, fluid: It’s responsive to a myriad body signals and changes in response to them. If your baby is not gaining enough weight, check they’re emptying your breast and getting more hind milk. And if your baby only wants to nurse on one side, or if you only have one breast, don’t worry! One boob can make plenty of milk to grow a baby!
  • Bake some cookies. Really, who doesn’t want a cookie? Especially one for the greater good!  I found lots of recipes for nutrient dense lactation cookies online. My favorite was shared with me by a patient who generously offers them to the community on our buy nothing group. Most contain nutritional yeast, flax seeds and oats. She’s shared her recipes with me and they’re at the end of this blog. I also created a Pinterest board with some nice recipes to help get you started.
  • Be patient- it takes a full week of nutritional, water and good nursing to increase in milk production.

What does Chinese Medicine have to say about nursing?

There’s two things on my mind when I’m evaluating a woman experiencing nursing challenges: deficiency and stagnation. Insufficient lactation might be caused by both.

In Chinese medicine, breast milk is considered a surplus of qi (energy) and blood. The great Qing dynasty gynecologist Fu Qingzhu writes; ‘It should be understood that without qi, milk has nothing to transform it, and without blood, milk has nothing from which to be produced.’

Difficult deliveries, poor nutrition, stress, depression, painful cracked nipples all can negatively impact nursing. Based on that, not every woman gets the same treatment.

Careful evaluation of a woman’s constitutions, appetite and bowel movements need to be considered. For instance, if a woman had a long exhausting labor or has bled heavily, then they’d receive a formula composed of tonic herbs. If a woman is constipated, then the stool needs to be freed. This is because the same channels (pathways of energy) that go to the large intestine, also connect with the breast. We wouldn’t use harsh laxatives. We use gentle moistening herbs and acupuncture.

A woman who is tense and anxious about nursing would receive a formula that is relaxing. Helping to harmonize the emotions is important:

‘Milk is not able to descend [i.e. there is no lactation]: reasons for this are crying, grief and anger that leads to qi stagnation, overflowing of qi, congealed qi and obstructed qi causing blockage in the breast channels’

Some women have Raynaud’s syndrome. We usually think of this as a cause of cold hands and feet, but it can also affect the nipples, resulting in painful and difficult nursing. In that case, I’d use a warming and opening formula.

Finally, if there’s mastitis, we’d clear heat and toxins. (I’ll write about this in a separate blog).

Here’s a nourishing and time tested formula you to restore your qi and blood that you can easily cook yourself. It’s safe for mom and baby both. We also carry it in a liquid concentrate, making it extra easy to administer. 

  • Shi Quan Da Bu Tang- Perfect Major Supplementation Decoction
Shu Di Huang Radix Rehmanniae glutinosae praeparata 12 g
Dang Gui Radix Angelicae sinensis 10 g
Bai Shao Radix Paeoniae albae 12 g
Chuan Xiong Radix Ligustici wallichii 8 g
Ren Shen Radix Ginseng 9 g
Bai Zhu Rhizoma Atractylodis macrocephalae 6 g
Fu Ling Sclerotium Poriae cocos 6 g
Zhi Gan Cao Radix Glycyrrhizae uralensis praeparata 3 g
Huang Qi Radix Astragali membranacei 8 g
Rou Gui Cortex Cinnamomi cassiae 4 g


This time tested formula nourishes the qi and blood and can be used by all. In my practice, I’d modify the formula with Tong Cao, Medulla Tetrapanacis which helps unblock the vessels in the breast. You can even cook the herbs with chicken soup to make it more nourishing.

If you’re having problems with your breast milk production, please reach out to Six Fishes. We’d love to help.

Chocolate-Coconut Boobie Bars

2 3/4 cups oats

3 1/2 cups cereal *

4 T brewer’s yeast

1/4 c flax seeds

1/4 c flax seed meal

1 c almonds

1/2 cup coconut

2/3 cup chocolate chips

2 c almond butter

1 1/4 c honey

* any cereal will work. I usually use Nature’s Path Flax Plus

Melt the honey and almond butter together in small saucepan.

Grind up the cereal and almonds in food processor and mix in dry ingredients. Add to the honey mixture and combine in bowl. Press into rimmed cookie sheet using spatula and cool in fridge and cut to desired size.

Store in fridge or freezer.

Peanut Butter Boobie Bars

3.5 cups cereal

2 3/4 cups oats

1/2 cup oat bran

1/4 cup flax seeds

1/4 cup flax meal

1 cup of almonds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

3 T sesame seeds.

2 cups peanut butter

1 1/4 cup honey

1 t vanilla

Same as other batch- melt, mix, press into pan, cool and cut. And enjoy! 

    About Cara Frank, L.OM.

    Cara Frank, L.OM. was raised in a health food store in Brooklyn NY. When she was 8 she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For over 35 years she has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17 she had her first acupuncturetreatment. At 20 she enrolled in acupuncture school. In 1998 she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with Chinese herbs. Since then, she has devoted her life to studying and teaching the topic.

    Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts and Six Fishes Neighborhood Acupuncture, both in Philadelphia where she maintains a busy acupuncture practice and acts as the head fish of two warm and lively offices. She is also the president of China Herb Company. You can read her full bio or schedule an appointment.

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Amazingly attentive health care practitioner – Having been a patient of Cara Frank’s for many years now, I cannot express what a caring and kind practitioner she is.I have many health challenges and Cara was the first to make me feel that these were in fact challenges that she and I would address together as a team. She is meticulous, extemely thorough, and a wonderfully attentive listener. I have recommended Cara and Six Fishes to many of my friends and associates and will continue to do so.

Melissa W.