Alfalfa, Breastfeeding, and Increasing Breast Milk Supply

Benefits, Tips, and Side Effects

Alfalfa sprouts in woman's hands (close-up)
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Breastfeeding women use many methods to increase a low breast milk supply. One of the ways is the use of breastfeeding herbs. An herb that some women have success with is alfalfa. How should you take it, and is it safe? Here's what you need to know about alfalfa and breastfeeding.

What Is Alfalfa?

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a common plant from the pea family, and it's one of the oldest and most cultivated crops in history.

References to alfalfa date back to early Roman, Greek, and Chinese cultures. It is believed to have played an important role in these and other early civilizations.

Alfalfa has been used as food and medicine for centuries. It's medical uses include the treatment digestive disorders, arthritis, and kidney problems. It is one of the main sources of food for livestock including horses, goats, and dairy cows. Alfalfa is also considered a galactagogue, helping to increase the breast milk supply for nursing mothers.

Alfalfa and Breastfeeding

Alfalfa has a long history in women's health. Breastfeeding mothers have been using alfalfa to support lactation for ages. It contains phytoestrogens or plant-estrogens, which can increase breast tissue and milk supply.

Alfalfa does enter the breast milk. If you take it in moderation, it is considered safe and nutritious. But, if you use too much, it can cause you or your baby to develop diarrhea.

How to Take Alfalfa

Alfalfa is available as food, a tea, and in tablet or capsule form. Talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant about adding alfalfa to your diet.

As Food: The best way to benefit from alfalfa is by adding it to your diet naturally. Alfalfa sprouts and seeds taste similar to peas, and you can add them to salads, soups, and other foods.

As a Tea: Unlike the sprouts, the alfalfa leaf is bitter, so it is usually dried and prepared as a tea. To make alfalfa tea, use one or two teaspoons of dried alfalfa leaves per cup (8 oz) of boiling water. You can safely drink up to three 8 ounce cups of alfalfa tea each day. 

Tablets or Capsules: You can typically start with one tablet or capsule four times a day, then gradually increase the amount up to eight per day. Your doctor or lactation consultant will instruct you on the dose that is best for you.

Some women use alfalfa along with other galactagogues such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, nettles, fennel, or goat's rue to help further increase the supply of breast milk.

Other Health Benefits and Uses 

  • Alfalfa is highly nutritious. It contains many vitamins and minerals, and it's rich in antioxidants. It is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and a good source of protein and fiber.
  • It is a primary source of food for dairy animals, so it is an important part of the production of milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products.
  • It has been used to stimulate digestion.
  • It is believed to decrease inflammation in the body.
  • It has been used to treat high blood pressure.
  • It is thought to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • It may lower cholesterol.
  • It has been used as a diuretic.
  • Chlorophyll found in alfalfa is believed to clean, heal, and detoxify the blood.

Warnings and Side Effects

Alfalfa is generally safe when it's taken in moderation. However, it is an herb that has been used as a medicine for many years. Medications and herbs can have side effects and potentially dangerous drug interactions. Therefore, you should always discuss the use of herbal supplements with your doctor and your baby's doctor.

  • The side effects of alfalfa tend to be mild. It could cause diarrhea in you or your child if you begin taking a high dose of alfalfa too quickly. To prevent stomach problems, start with a small amount and slowly work your way up to the higher dose. If you or child develop diarrhea, cut back on the alfalfa until you're feeling better, then gradually increase it. 
  • If you tend to have an overabundant breast milk supply, alfalfa could further increase your supply leading to painful breast issues such as breast engorgement and mastitis
  • Alfalfa, like other green leafy vegetables, contains vitamin K which can interfere with anticoagulant medication. Talk to your doctor if you're taking a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin). 
  • Alfalfa can trigger auto-immune disorders or make them worse. Do not use this herb if you suffer from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or other auto-immune conditions without discussing it with your doctor.
  • Supplement forms of herbs such as capsules and tablets are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, the quality of the product and it's other additives may not be known. It's important to purchase herbal supplements from a reputable source and get dosing advice from a doctor, lactation consultant, nutritionist, or other healthcare professional. 

A Word From Verywell

Alfalfa is a nutritious herb that is believed to be safe for breastfeeding women as long as it used in moderation. Packed with vitamins and minerals, it's a healthy addition to your diet. So, if you're looking for a natural way to increase your breast milk supply, adding alfalfa sprouts and other nutritious milk-boosting foods to your everyday diet is worth a try. While there isn't enough evidence to say for sure that alfalfa will help you to increase your milk supply, natural foods and herbs seem to work very well for some women. Of course, everyone is different so it may or may not work for you.  

Sources:

Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM clinical protocol# 9: use of galactogogues in initiating or augmenting the rate of maternal milk secretion (First revision January 2011). Breastfeeding Medicine. 2011 Feb 1;6(1):41-9.

Hong YH, Wang SC, Hsu C, Lin BF, Kuo YH, Huang CJ. Phytoestrogenic compounds in alfalfa sprout (Medicago sativa) beyond coumestrol. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2010 Dec 15;59(1):131-7.

MedlinePlus. Alfalfa. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Medicines Comprehensive Database. 2012.

Mills E, Dugoua JJ, Perri D, Koren G. Herbal medicines in pregnancy and lactation: an evidence-based approach. CRC Press. 2013.

Putnam, D.H., Summers, C.G., Orloff S.B. Alfalfa Production Systems in California. IN (C.G. Summers and D.H. Putnam, eds.), Irrigated alfalfa management for Mediterranean and Desert Zones. Chapter 1. Oakland: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 8287. 2007.

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