Insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth

TCM Education Center > Symptoms list > Insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth

Insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth is often associated with breast distention, irritability and breast lumps in the pattern “Liver Qi Stagnation”. As you will see below, we have in record four patterns that can cause insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth we’ve identified four herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth.

The four "patterns of disharmony" that can cause insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth

In Chinese Medicine insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth is a symptom for 4 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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 color: Normal (light red)

When Liver Qi does not flow smoothly or regularly, it becomes Stagnant and in Excess. This leads to Heat accumulating in the Liver. The feeling of ‘Distension’ (zhang 胀) is the main symptom of Liver Qi Stagnation.

In addition to insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth, other symptoms associated with Liver Qi Stagnation include breast distention, irritability and breast lumps.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Liver Qi Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Mastitis or Breast Engorgement.

Liver Qi Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Liver Qi Stagnation here

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm

Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

The concept of Phlegm is much wider and important in Chinese Medicine than in the West. Broadly speaking, Phlegm is a substance produced when the body fails to handle Body Fluids properly.

In addition to insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth, other symptoms associated with Phlegm include watery milk, no feeling of distension of the breasts and fatigue.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Phlegm is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Late Menstruation or Scanty Menstruation.

Phlegm is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm here

Dong Quai (Dang Gui) is the king ingredient for Sheng Yu Tang, a formula used for Blood and Qi Deficiency

Blood and Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo), Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Partial absence of coating

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth, other symptoms associated with Blood and Qi Deficiency include watery milk, no feeling of distension of the breasts and fatigue.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood and Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Menstrual Cramps or Absence Of Menstruation.

Blood and Qi Deficiency is often treated with Sheng Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Dong Quai - Dang Gui - as a key herb). Sheng Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi and Blood".

Read more about Blood and Qi Deficiency here

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

Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

In addition to insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth, other symptoms associated with Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency include watery milk, no feeling of distension of the breasts and fatigue.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Spontaneous Flow Of Breast Milk.

Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency is often treated with Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Milkvetch Roots - Huang Qi - as a key herb). Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner)".

Read more about Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency here

Four herbal formulas that might help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth

Xia Ru Yong Quan San

Source date: 1840 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Blood. Increases breast milk supply.

Why might Xia Ru Yong Quan San help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Qi Stagnation' of which insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Liver Qi Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Low Breast Milk Supply.

Read more about Xia Ru Yong Quan San here

Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi and Blood. Nourishes the Heart. Calms the spirit.

Why might Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood and Qi Deficiency' of which insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Blood and Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Low Breast Milk Supply.

Read more about Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang here

Yue Ju Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Releases all types of Stagnation (Qi, Blood, Phlegm, Fire, Food and Dampness).

Why might Yue Ju Wan help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm' of which insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Phlegm can contribute to many health issues, including Low Breast Milk Supply.

Read more about Yue Ju Wan here

Ba Zhen Tang

Source date: 1326 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and augments Qi. Tonifies and augments Blood.

Why might Ba Zhen Tang help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency' of which insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Spleen and Stomach Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Spontaneous Flow Of Breast Milk.

Read more about Ba Zhen Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth as a symptom, like Xia Ru Yong Quan San or Xiao Yao San for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth as a symptom, like Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang or Si Wu Tang for instance.

White Peony Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sour. It targets the Spleen and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood and preserves the Yin. Nourishes the Liver and assists in the smooth flow of Qi. Regulates the meridians and eases the pain.

Read more about White Peony Roots here

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth as a symptom, like Yue Ju Wan or Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang for instance.

Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Read more about Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth as a symptom, like Yue Ju Wan or Xia Ru Yong Quan San for instance.

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here

Why might Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth?

Because Prepared Rehmannia is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth as a symptom, like Si Wu Tang or Ba Zhen Tang for instance.

Prepared Rehmannia is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Tonifies the Yin of the Kidneys.

Read more about Prepared Rehmannia here

Conditions associated with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth

Low breast milk supply Spontaneous flow of breast milk

Other symptoms often associated with insufficient or absent lactation after childbirth

Watery milk No feeling of distension of the breasts Fatigue Pale face Pale lips Poor appetite Breast distention Irritability Dry skin Hair loss