Blessed Thistle and Breastfeeding

Is it a safe and effective herb for increasing 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 to 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 it's used along 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

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. Here are some common ways that breastfeeding mothers use blessed thistle to improve the production of 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: Blessed thistle is available in capsule form. A typical dose of blessed thistle capsules is up to 3 capsules three times a day.

Health Benefits and Uses of Blessed Thistle

  • It has been used to treat diseases of the liver, gallbladder, stomach, and intestines.​
  • It may decrease gas and help with indigestion.​
  • It's used to improve appetite.​
  • It may help with depression by elevating mood.

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're 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.

A Note of Caution Before Using Blessed Thistle 

Herbs are not always harmless plants. For centuries, herbs have been used as medications, and they can have side effects or interfere with other medications 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.

Can You Use Blessed Thistle If You're Pregnant?

Even though blessed thistle is considered safe to use while you're breastfeeding, it should not be used during pregnancy. If you become pregnant again while you're still breastfeeding, you may notice a decrease in your breast milk supply. It may be tempting to try to increase your milk production by using herbs such as blessed thistle. However, blessed thistle is a uterine stimulant, so using this herb during pregnancy could potentially cause a miscarriage or preterm labor.

Conclusion: Using Blessed Thistle When You're Breastfeeding 

Blessed thistle is an herb used by nursing mothers who wish 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. It should not be used by pregnant women, but it's generally considered safe for breastfeeding women when it's used in moderation. Overall, though, there are not enough reliable studies available to determine the actual effectiveness or safety of blessed thistle.

Sources:

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. Updated March 15, 2016. Accessed June 9, 2016.

Newman, Jack. Herbs for Increasing Milk Supply. Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation. http://canadianbreastfeedingfoundation.org/induced/herbs.shtml. 2009. Accessed June 9, 2016.

University of Michigan Health. Blessed Thistle. http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2046001. Updated June 8, 2015. Accessed June 9, 2016.

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