Many moms who have spent the first six months or more of their child's life exclusively breastfeeding can report how exhausted they become, how when they're not feeling well, it actually makes them feel worse when their child drains their breasts--as if the life-force is literally being sucked out of them. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this is somewhat true, and because of it, moms may feel extra fatigued, lose the hair on the head, and even experience dramatically reduced body weight.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, hair is an extension of the supply of blood in the body (Pitchford 388). One of the extraordinary vessels identified in acupuncture theory is the Chong, or Penetrating Vessel. This is the vessel that holds the uterus and passes over the breasts. Its nickname is “the Sea of Blood” and its job is to store and regulate the blood of the whole body (Ni 116). It is obvious how important this vessel is during pregnancy as the mother rounds out and her blood volume increases to support a growing baby. The Sea of Blood is then drained as the mother loses a significant amount of blood during childbirth. After birth, her body also uses the Sea of Blood to produce an endless flow of breast milk to sustain the new life she has just birthed. Both activities lessen not just the amount of blood available postpartum, but also the mother's energy (or qi) which assists in creating the body's blood supply. Worry, stress and depression can also impair the mother's ability to generate healthy qi and nurture her blood (Dharmananda par. 3). During the postpartum period, when a mother is susceptible to depression and worry, has been expending her energy caring for a newborn, not getting the adequate sleep to replenish her own energy, and is endlessly supplying the gift of nourishment to another little being, she begins to feel tired, a little weaker, and her hair's luster dulls and large quantities fall out in the shower.
The TCM view is complementary to the Western medical understanding that due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, hair does not shed as frequently. Then, as the hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels after birth, the hair returns to its regular growth and shedding pattern (Pierard-Franchimont and Pierard par. 11). For some women, a reduction in the blood's iron stores (iron-deficiency anemia) can also complicate the postpartum period and add to the expected hormonal hair loss. Anytime a woman experiences blood loss, there is a slight risk that she can become deficient in iron, which can also lead to fatigue and loss of stamina with daily activities (Beers et al 1033).
Even though the body is making the very wise decision to redirect its stores of blood to the breast milk, rather than the hair, this can still be incredibly upsetting for some mothers. Chinese Medicine has several ways to remedy this situation outside of your doctor's suggestion of taking iron supplements.
- First and foremost, EAT MORE! You're feeding two people, and the newest one is growing SO rapidly that they need tons of nutrition. Your breast milk can provide this, but only if you're eating enough food. Don't worry about your “baby weight” for now. Nourish yourself and your child.
- Secondly, pay attention to WHAT you're eating. Many easy-to-prepare foods are incredibly nourishing to the blood. Eat dark colored and red fruits, beets, green vegetables, meats, and black-strap molasses. Eat warm foods--they are easier for your digestive system to transform into readily usable energy. Warm foods even feel more nourishing: broth soups, stews with root vegetables, roasted vegetables, oatmeal, eggs.
- Thirdly, if you just can't get back to feeling like yourself, go see an herbally trained acupuncturist. Acupuncture alone can help you feel more energetic, but Chinese herbal formulas can be created specifically for your constitution and will assist your body in boosting your qi and blood,bringing more luster to your skin and hair.
Beers, Mark H. et al. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2006. Print.
Dharmananda, Subhuti. “Treatment of Alopecia with Chinese Herbs” Institute for Traditional Medicine Online. N.p., June 1999. Web. 25 July 2012.
Ni, Yitian, O. M. D. Navigating the Channels of Traditional Chinese Medicine. San Diego, CA: Complementary Medicine Press, 1996. Print.
Pierard-Franchimont, Claudine; Pierard, Gerald. “Alterations in Hair Follicle Dynamics in Women.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002. Print.