Breast engorgement according to Chinese Medicine

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Breast engorgement factsheet

Chinese name: 涨奶

Pinyin name: Zhǎng Nǎi

Possible causes and remedies:

When a nursing mother has breast engorgement her breasts are full, hard, hot, painful and her milk does not flow properly. Often there are also nodules or lumps. Most nursing mothers have some degrees of breast engorgement during their whole breastfeeding period. If not treated properly, about 10% of them develop mastitis (a condition called Breast Carbuncle - Ru Yong, 乳痈 - in Chinese Medicine) as the condition deteriorates. 

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, breast engorgement can be caused by a few different underlying patterns. One common cause is Liver Qi Stagnation which often originates in the nursing mother repressing her anger or postpartum depression. Another key cause can be Stomach Fire when the mum's diet is too rich and leads to excess Heat in her breasts.

Two other key causes for breast engorgement are 'Blow Breast' (Chui Ru, 吹乳) and 'Jealous Breast' (Du Ru, 妒乳). The former refers to the nursing baby blowing toxic Heat to the mother when breastfeeding. The latter means that milk does not flow due to the baby's inability to suck properly and/or regularly.

As you can see below we've detailed for you the four "patterns of disharmony" associated with breast engorgement. Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted. It is not equivalent to a Western condition, as a matter of fact here breast engorgement can be explained by four different patterns.

Each of those patterns can be treated with one or several herbal formulas. Drinking herbal infusions is the most common remedy in Chinese Medicine, together with acupuncture. It is the Chinese Medicine equivalent to drugs, apart that it's 100% natural!

In total we detail below three formulas that can help treat the various patterns that cause breast engorgement, depending on which pattern fits your profile.

The four "patterns of disharmony" associated with breast engorgement

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

Recommended herbal formulas: Unblock Nursing Tea, Gua Lou San

Symptoms: Depression Mood swings Breast pain Irritability Breast lumps Breast eczema Breast redness Breast nodules Breast hardness Breast distention Uneven milk supply

If a nursing mother's negative emotions (like anger, postpartum depression, etc.) are repressed, her Qi will rebel upwards and get stagnated in the Liver, which connects to the nipples through the Liver Channel (also called Terminal-Yin channels). In this case, the breast milk ducts or nipple orifices become clogged, milk cannot come out and thus forms big lumps or small nodules. The nursing mother feels swelling and hardness in her breasts and a strong sharp pain during breastfeeding.

If Liver Qi stagnates for a while and it is untreated, it accumulates toxic Heat and develops into Mastitis. It transforms into blisters, abscess and pus. Fever often comes along in this situation.  

The formula Unblock Nursing Tea is recommended because it contains herbs ideally suited to fight this pattern. The treatment principle is to invigorate Qi and Blood (Unblock Nursing Tea contains the herbs Dong Quai and Platycodon which are ideal for this), to expel Heat and toxins (DandelionsHoneysuckle flowers and Chrysanthemum flower), pacify the Liver (Goji berries) and clear pus (Angelica root).

Also, during breastfeeding, the nursing mother is recommended to massage the breast lumps or nodules to soften them. As home remedies, she can apply hot compresses right before the feeding to speed up the milk flow and apply cold compresses to ease pain when necessary. She is highly encouraged to breastfeed or pump more often so as to ease the engorgement and clogged milk ducts.

Read more about Liver Qi Stagnation here

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Stomach Fire or Stomach Heat

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

Recommended herbal formulas: Unblock Nursing Tea, Gua Lou San

Symptoms: Thirst Red eyes Dry mouth Breast pain Breast heat Malar flush Breast lumps Breast eczema Breast nodules Breast hardness Breast distention Uneven milk supply

If the nursing mother consumes excessive amount of Hot food (not the actual temperature but the Chinese Medicine nature of food) and greasy food after giving birth, the heavy-to-digest food brews in her Stomach and creates toxins and Heat.

The breast belongs to the Stomach Channel (also called Bright Yang channel), through which the Heat flows to the breasts. It clogs milk ducts and creates heaviness, hardness, boils, swellings, pain, redness and nodules or lumps in the breasts. When this situation is not treated properly, it can develop into Mastitis with symptoms like blisters, abscess and pus discharge as well as fever.

Unblock Nursing Tea is a suitable formula for this pattern because it contains herbs that expel toxins and Heat like DandelionsHoneysuckle flowers and Chrysanthemum flowers. Also, cold compresses are recommended to ease redness and pain. 

Read more about Stomach Fire or Stomach Heat here

Milkvetch Roots (Huang Qi) is the key herb for Tuo Li Xiao Du San, a formula used for Blow Breast (Chui Ru)

Blow Breast (Chui Ru)

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Pale

Recommended herbal formulas: Unblock Nursing Tea, Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Symptoms: Breast pain Breast lumps Breast nodules Breast redness Breast hardness Breast pus discharge

'Blow Breast' (Chui Ru, 吹乳) is when the feeding baby has Phlegm stagnating in the diaphragm, which makes his/her breath burning hot. This Heat is then transmitted to the mother when breastfeeding, which leads to the development of nodules (in Chinese Medicine hardnesses are often caused by Heat causing the coagulation of Body Fluids) that complicate the passage of milk flow.

Blow Breast needs to be dealt with fairly fast by drinking an appropriate herbal formula and massaging the nodules - however painful that is - to soften them.

Unblock Nursing Tea is a great formula for Blow Breast because it contains herbs that invigorate Qi and Blood (Dong Quai and Platycodon), expel Heat and Toxins (DandelionsHoneysuckle flowers and Chrysanthemum flowers) and soften the pus that accumulates in nodules (Angelica root).

Read more about Blow Breast (Chui Ru) here

Milkvetch Roots (Huang Qi) is the key herb for Tuo Li Xiao Du San, a formula used for Jealous Breast (Du Ru)

Jealous Breast (Du Ru)

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Pale

Recommended herbal formulas: Unblock Nursing Tea, Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Symptoms: Thirst Hot breast Breast pain Breast lumps Breast redness Breast hardness Breast distention Uneven milk supply

'Jealous Breast' (Du Ru, 妒乳) is due to the baby's inability to suck properly because of an incorrect feeding position or an inappropriate breastfeeding technique. As a result the milk doesn't flow out properly which leads to engorged, hot, painful and hard breasts.

In turn Qi and Blood, the main components needed for the production of milk, stagnate which is why the mum will also have Qi and Blood Stagnation symptoms like unusual thirst. 

This condition should be treated fairly fast via an appropriate herbal formula (like Unblock Nursing Tea) and by ensuring the baby sucks the breast properly. Breasts massages to disperse the accumulated overflow of milk is also very helpful. If left untreated the condition deteriorates into mastitis (Breast Carbuncle- Ru Yong, 乳痈 - in Chinese Medicine).

Read more about Jealous Breast (Du Ru) here

The three herbal formulas that might help with breast engorgement

Unblock Nursing Tea

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Alleviates milk blockages and uneven supply issues*

Rating: from 123 customer reviews

Why might Unblock Nursing Tea help with breast engorgement?

Designed by Me & Qi's expert practitioners, Unblock Nursing Tea gathers all the herbs necessary to tackle the four patterns behind breast engorgement. A 100% natural and vegan product, Unblock Nursing Tea is composed solely of the 12 herbs listed in its ingredients.

Read more about Unblock Nursing Tea here

Gua Lou San

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Remove breast carbuncle (mastitis) after birth giving.

Why might Gua Lou San help with breast engorgement?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Liver Qi Stagnation and Stomach Fire or Stomach Heat which are sometimes associated with breast engorgement. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Gua Lou San here

Tuo Li Xiao Du San

Source date: 1548 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Draws out toxicity. Expels pus from the interior. Tonifies Qi and Blood.

Why might Tuo Li Xiao Du San help with breast engorgement?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Blow Breast (Chui Ru) and Jealous Breast (Du Ru) which are sometimes associated with breast engorgement. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Tuo Li Xiao Du San here