By Nita Sharma Das, PhD, Doctor of Naturopathy
Moringa for Nursing MothersIn the Philippines, the benefit of Moringa leaves to help nursing mothers was first noted in 1978. A later study, conducted in 1996 with Filipino women, demonstrated increased levels of prolactin (essential for the production of breast milk) and significant levels of weight gain among their babies when they took moringa leaves immediately after giving birth (9). Other studies show increased levels of milk production after taking moringa.
In this article, we discuss the benefits of breast milk over infant formula, and look at the evidence supporting the use of moringa to enhance lactation.
Moringa oleifera is a tree native to Northern India, all parts of which can be eaten, and which has been nicknamed a ‘miracle tree’ for its high concentration of nutrients. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers that moringa can be one of the most economical ways to combat malnutrition in those those areas where starvation epidemics occur (12). Several prominent universities, credible scientific institutions and governmental bodies all over the world have closely examined Moringa and found it has many benefits for human health (11). An article in The Agriculture Business Week states that the WHO has promoted moringa leaves as an inexpensive health booster, which may be widely used for poor countries (1).
Its combination of multi vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids has led to moringa being termed a a ‘super food’. In addition to its uses for nutritional benefit, it’s also used for promoting the secretion of breast milk. In Asia and Africa, Moringa leaves are added in the preparation of super food recipes. Such recipes are provided to lactating women during postpartum care, because moringa leaf is used as “galactogogue”, a substance than increases breast milk production (1).
Benefits of Breast Feeding
Breast milk offers unique protection against a whole host of diseases for both mother and infant. It not only provides the ultimate solution to an infant’s nutritional needs but also possesses unparalleled immunological and anti-inflammatory properties. Breast feeding can lower the risk of ear infection and eczema; reduce incidence of respiratory tract infections, childhood obesity, gastrointestinal infections, childhood Type 2 diabetes mellitus, acute lymphocytic leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). There is also significant scientific evidences suggesting that breast feeding also protects mothers from breast cancer and ovarian cancer (3).
All of a baby’s required vitamins and nutrients are supplied through breastmilk. Breast feeding exclusively during the first six months of a baby’s life is essential for protecting an infant from various illness, as breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances.
The primary component of breast milk offering immune protection from disease is secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA guards against invading germs by forming a protective layer on the mucous membranes of a baby’s intestines, nose, and throat. This is one reason why breast milk is preferable to infant milk formula. Moreover, a mother’s milk is specifically tailored for her own babies, since the mother’s body responds to viruses and bacteria, and makes secretory IgA specific to those particular pathogens, creating protection for her child. When babies are fed formula rather than breast milk, they miss out on this layer of protection, and become more vulnerable to inflammation, allergies, and other health issues later in life (4).
One of the most important factors influencing the decision to breastfeed, and for how long, is the adequacy of breast milk production in the mother’s mammary glands. Some 38% of mothers stop breastfeeding their infants purely as a result of insufficient breast milk production (5).
Macro and Micronutrient Requirement During Pregnancy and Lactation
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of most micronutrients is much higher for pregnant and lactating mothers than for non-pregnant or non-lactating women (10). Energy expenditure reaches its maximum during breast feeding, with this excess energy requirement fulfilled by the increased supply of both macro and micronutrients.
For example, for sufficient breast milk production, the protein requirement in pregnancy rises to 1.1g/kg/day (assuming a body weight of 71g), almost 50% more than the normal requirement (6).
The source of protein is equally important as the quantity. Some evidence suggests that protein requirements can be more safely met by vegetable than by animal protein. Meat is a major source of saturated fat and cholesterol; it is also a common source of ingestible pathogens and a rich source of arachidonic acid, a precursor of the immunosuppressive eicosanoid PGE2 (6).
The presence of water-soluble vitamins, including all the types of vitamin B and vitamin C in breast milk is totally dependent upon the mother’s dietary intake or supplementation of these vitamins (7).
The recommended dietary allowances for selected nutrients for non-pregnant, pregnant, and lactating women are shown in the table below:
*A supplement containing 30–60 mg elemental iron is recommended for all pregnant women and for the first 2–3 months of lactation. (9)
Galactogogue Action of Moringa
Plants and other foods increase breast milk production and secretion as a result of their ‘galactogogue’ property. Moringa acts as a galactogogue and thus increases the flow or production of breast milk. The high calcium and potassium content of moringa leaf mean the leaves have become key ingredients in the preparation of superfood recipes for pregnant or lactating mothers.
Southeast Asia and African native midwives recommend that nursing mothers take moringa leaf tea in order to increase production of breast milk. The high content of vitamins A and C, with the addition of iron help to improve the quality of breast milk and protect infants from a variety of fatal diseases like lower respiratory track infections and The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes moringa leaf for its high vitamin A, C, iron, and HDL cholesterol levels (12).
Studies on Moringa and Lactation
A number of animal and human studies confirm the efficacy of moringa for improvement of breast milk production.
One study was conducted on female rats fed with Moringa noodles, which were prepared by using Moringa leaf flour in a recipe for noodles for one meal (85g). The result shows the rate of increase in weight of the rats’ offspring was higher in those rats treated with noodles fortified with the Moringa oleifera meal. (5)
This research result also shows that the female rats fed with the Moringa noodles could increase their breast milk production. A further indication of the positive contribution of moringa to breast milk production was the increase in number and the increased size of mammary gland alveoli (which make up the milk-producing lobules) in female rats. The effect is enhanced if the intake of moringa leaf is continued for the entire first trimester, as was evidenced by this animal study. During pregnancy, after taking moringa, a significant improvement in the production of the mother’s breast milk is observed in the mammary glands, which are influenced by progesterone.
Progesterone is responsible for the growth and development of mammary gland alveoli. At the end of the rat’s period of pregnancy, progesterone levels remain high, specifically to avoid breast milk secretion being increased by prolactin. Then, following parturition, progesterone levels gradually decrease resulting in a rise in levels of prolactin. The alveoli will return to normal with the process of involution within about 3 weeks.
The animal study also showed that, of the various methods of preparation of the noodles, those sautéed with vegetable oils, specifically palm oil, provided the best result.
Table 2. The result of Measurement of the total number of alveoli
Effects on Milk Volume, Prolactin, and Infant Weight
Results of another study were published in The Philippine Journal of Pediatrics in 2013 (Jacelie S. King.,Peter Francis N., Raguindin, Leonila F. Dans), providing a systematic review and meta analysis based on randomized clinical trials conducted to evaluate the Galactogogue effect of moringa leaf.
The efficacy of moringa as a Galactogogue was measured using three variables: milk volume, maternal serum prolactin level, and the weight of the infants of breast-feeding mothers. The review showed that after starting on moringa therapy to increase breast milk production, a positive effect was observed after 4 to 7 days. This review also explained the mechanism of action of moringa. The review provided evidence that after the mothers took moringa, they observed increases in the mothers’ serum prolactin levels and breast milk production, and weight increases in the infant. (8)
Moringa and Breast Milk Following Pre-Term Births
A further two clinical trials also indicate the Galactogogue effect of moringa leaf. One study was conducted on 31 females, and another with 40 females, who’d delivered pre-term babies (at less than 37 weeks gestation). Compared with a placebo, those females treated with moringa leaves produced more breast milk. The test results were obtained by measuring the milk volume through use of a breast pump and the rate of milk production improved over time. The maximum effect was reached within 5 to 14 days (2).
Other Benefits of Moringa for Pregnant and Lactating Mothers
Today’s women are more conscious about their health during gestation. If prone to cravings, morning sickness, and lack of energy, their nutritional intake will be reduced, and they’ll be less likely to prepare the best types of foods. So there’s a higher need for extra nutrition, which can be met with natural supplements. Having a well balanced diet during pregnancy is extremely important, as the diet is going to be directly related to the health of the fetus. Moringa products have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Moringa is a natural, whole-food source for vitamins, minerals, protein, antioxidants, and other important compounds and thus can be used both before and after pregnancy.
Moringa is even high in iron and calcium which helps the mothers maintain energy, bone strength and general well-being.
- Modified from Food and Nutrition Board: Dietary Reference Intakes: Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes. Institute of Medicine.
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