Blessed Thistle and Breastfeeding

Is it safe and effective herb to increase the supply of breast milk?

Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus)
Is blessed thistle a safe and effective herb to use to increase your breast milk supply?. Envision / Getty Images

What Is Blessed Thistle?

Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is a plant that has been a part of herbal medicine since the Middle Ages. It's been used as a diuretic, a treatment for loss of appetite and indigestion, and a stimulant to increase the production of breast milk for breastfeeding mothers. Originally from the Mediterranean, this prickly plant now grows in many places throughout the world.

Can Blessed Thistle Help You Make More Breast Milk? 

Blessed thistle is believed to be a galactagogue, which is something that you take to help you make more breast milk.

It seems to work best when combined with fenugreek, but you can also use it with fennel, alfalfa, stinging nettle, and goat's rue. Some commercially prepared nursing teas and other milk-boosting breastfeeding products such as Traditional Medicinal's Mother's Milk Tea or Motherlove's More Milk and More Milk Plus contain blessed thistle and other herbs that promote milk production.

How to Use Blessed Thistle When You're Breastfeeding

The most common ways to take blessed thistle is in tea or capsule form. However, it's always best to talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant for more information and instructions before taking any herbal supplements including blessed thistle. These professionals can give you the best advice about how to take herbs and how much to take based on your unique situation. 

How Much Blessed Thistle Should You Take to Make More Breast Milk?

Blessed Thistle Tea: Place 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried blessed thistle in one cup (8 oz) of boiling water.

Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes and then drink it. You can drink up to 3 cups of blessed thistle tea per day. But, be aware that blessed thistle tea is bitter, so you may want to mix it with other dry herbs to obtain a more pleasant taste.

Blessed Thistle Capsules: A typical dose of blessed thistle capsules is up to 3 capsules three times a day.

How Long Does it Take to See an Increase in Milk Production with Blessed Thistle?

Like all herbs, blessed thistle doesn't work for everyone. However, some breastfeeding mothers do report an increase in breast milk after using blessed thistle for only a few days. When fenugreek is also taken, blessed thistle appears to work even better. 

For the best results, breastfeed more often or pump after or between feedings while you're taking this herb. Blessed thistle, or any herb, is more likely to work when there's an increase in breast stimulation. 

Health Benefits and Uses of Blessed Thistle

  • Blessed thistle is believed to help increase a low breast milk supply.
  • It has been used to treat diseases of the liver, gallbladder, stomach, and intestines.
  • It may ease digestive problems such as gas, indigestion, and diarrhea.
  • It's used to improve appetite.
  • It may help with depression by elevating mood.
  • It can be taken for a cough and congestion.

Is Blessed Thistle the Same as Milk Thistle?

Although the common names sound alike, blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is not the same as milk thistle (Silybum marianum ).

They are both prickly with spines, and they're both members of the Asteraceae family, but they are different plants.

Even though they aren't the same herb, breastfeeding women do use both blessed thistle and milk thistle to try to increase the supply of breast milk. For more information about milk thistle, check out this Verywell article: Milk Thistle and Increasing Breast Milk Supply.

Is it Safe to Take Blessed Thistle If You're Breastfeeding?

Herbs are not always harmless plants. For centuries, herbs have been used as medications, and they can have side effects or interfere with other prescription drugs that you may be taking. So, before you start taking any new herbs, talk to your doctor to be sure that they are safe. It's also important to let your baby's doctor know if you begin taking any medications, herbs, or supplements. 

The Side Effects of Blessed Thistle

  • If you take blessed thistle in large amounts, it can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach upset.
  • You should avoid using blessed thistle if you have an ulcer or other gastric issues. This herb increases the production of stomach acid, bile, and saliva.
  • Since blessed thistle can increase stomach acid, it could interfere with antacids and any medications you may use to treat or reduce heartburn.
  • Blessed thistle is part of the Asteraceae family of plants which also includes ragweed, daisies, and sunflowers. If you're allergic to any of these plants, you should not use blessed thistle.

When Not to Take Blessed Thistle?

Even though it is considered safe to use while you're breastfeeding, blessed thistle should not be taken during pregnancy. If you become pregnant again while you're still breastfeeding, you may notice a decrease in your breast milk supply. It can be tempting to try to increase your milk production by using herbs such as blessed thistle. However, this isn't a good idea. Since blessed thistle is a uterine stimulant that can cause contractions, using this herb during pregnancy could potentially lead to a pregnancy loss or premature labor.

Conclusion: Using Blessed Thistle When You're Breastfeeding 

Blessed thistle is an herb breastfeeding mothers use to increase their supply of breast milk. It's most often taken in combination with fenugreek, but it's also a common ingredient found in commercially prepared supplements designed specifically for supporting milk production in breastfeeding women. You should not use it if you're pregnant, but if you're breastfeeding, it's considered to be safe as long as you use it in moderation. Overall, though, there aren't enough reliable studies to prove or disprove the effectiveness or safety of blessed thistle. More research is needed. 

 

Sources:

Hale, Thomas W., and Rowe, Hilary E. Medications and Mothers' Milk: A Manual of Lactational Pharmacology Sixteenth Edition. Hale Publishing. 2014.

Humphrey, Sheila. The Nursing Mother's Herbal. Fairview Press. Minneapolis. 2003.

MedlinePlus. Blessed Thistle. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Medicines Comprehensive Database. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/94.html. Reviewed November 10, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Newman, Jack. Herbs for Increasing Milk Supply. Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation. http://canadianbreastfeedingfoundation.org/induced/herbs.shtml. 2009. Accessed March 10, 2017.

The University of Michigan Health. Blessed Thistle. http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2046001. Updated June 8, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2017.

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