Taking prescription drugs or herbs while breastfeeding can be risky unless moms have good information about how it may affect her breastmilk and her baby.
Fortunately, books like Thomas Hale's Medications and Mothers Milk (2004 edition now available), and The Nursing Mother's Herbal by Sheila Humphrey can help nursing moms navigate pharmaceutical and natural remedies while breastfeeding. Moms who don't know anything about herbs as well as moms who have used them to treat common ailments will find The Nursing Mother's Herbal helpful.
Unlike the technical Hale book, which deals with prescription drugs (most La Leche League chapters own and can offer information from this book to share with your health care provider), The Nursing Mother's Herbal is an easy-to-read book about breastfeeding, herbs and dietary supplements.
The book's conversational style is backed up by serious, solid research. Humphrey, an IBCLC-certified lactation consultant, has studied botany at the college level. She is also an ob-gyn nurse and La Leche League leader. Her information sources for the book include her husband, a PhD botanist specializing in the study of medicinal plant pharmacology and ethnobotany; a long list of herb experts, including Andrew Weil; and breastfeeding experts, including Dr. Jack Newman and members of La Leche League.
For new moms, The Nursing Mother's Herbal devotes the first three chapters entirely to breastfeeding. It is an excellent explanation of all the factors that play into a positive nursing experience for moms and babies. Humphrey explains why breastmilk is the superior infant food, then she explores where to find breastfeeding information and support. Finally, she offers a peek into the amazing nursing mother-baby dyad.
For moms new to herbs, the following chapter is dedicated to explaining herbs and herbal medicines: What's a tincture? What is the difference between a decoction and a liquid extract? How do I know I am getting a quality herbal product?
Humphrey inserts many warnings throughout the initial chapter on herbs, including why it's important to make sure you have the right plant if gathering herbs from a garden or from the wild (some toxic plants look very similar to herbs), so this chapter is a critical read before moving onto the rest of the book. Many herbs interact with prescription drugs, so it is important to tell your health care provider about any herbs or nutritional supplements you take. Humphrey offers extra safety measures to apply when using herbs while breastfeeding, including: "When breastfeeding, it may be best to avoid those herbs that can cause side effects even in small doses; instead find herbs with a wider margin of safety."
Even so, she writes: "Despite all the concerns I've brought up here, please do not get the impression that herbs are dangerous. As a group, herbs are probably safer than most types of other medications."
The following chapters offer specific herbal remedies to various ailments or situations breastfeeding mothers may encounter, such as herbs related to weaning. Information-packed appendices at the end of the book provide further resources to explore as well as plant safety charts.
As with any book related to health, it is not a substitute for professional medical advice. However, The Nursing Mother's Herbal is a wonderful resource for moms to inform themselves about natural remedies and to gather information to share with their physicians about alternative treatments to common health problems. --Dana Anderson-Villamagna