Fenugreek, Breastfeeding, and Increasing Breast Milk Supply

Fenugreek, Breastfeeding, And Increasing The Supply Of Breast Milk
Fenugreek Seeds. Lew Robertson/The Image Bank/Getty Images

What Is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant from India and the Mediterranean. The seeds from this plant have been used throughout history for cooking, flavoring, and healing. Fenugreek has a pleasant maple syrup smell and a bitter taste.

For centuries, fenugreek has been utilized to promote health and well-being. It has been given for digestive health, gynecological health, and as a galactagogue.

It has even been used by dairy farmers to help increase the milk supply of cows.

Fenugreek and Breastfeeding

Fenugreek has a long history of use in women's health. It has been given to induce labor and help with childbirth. It is a known treatment for gynecological issues, such as painful menstruation and uterine problems, and it is probably the most common and possibly the most effective herb used by breastfeeding women to make more breast milk. Many women say that they notice a greater breast milk supply after taking fenugreek. However, it does not appear to work for everyone.

Fenugreek does pass into the breast milk. It is believed to be safe for both mom and baby when used in moderation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rated it as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS).

Using fenugreek can cause your breast milk, urine, and sweat to smell like maple syrup. And since it passes to the baby, it can also cause the baby’s urine and sweat to smell like maple syrup.

The most common side effect is diarrhea. Diarrhea can affect both you and your baby if fenugreek is introduced into your diet too quickly. You can usually avoid stomach issues if you start this herb at a low dose and gradually increased it.

How to Use Fenugreek To Increase Your Supply Of Breast Milk

Capsules: (Compare Prices) Fenugreek is available as a capsule.

The capsules are available in different doses. Talk to your lactation consultant or an herbal specialist to determine the dose that is best for you. In general, you will begin by taking one capsule three times a day. You should slowly increase your dose until you smell of maple syrup, or you are taking three capsules three times a day.

Tea: (Compare Prices) To make fenugreek tea, place 1 to 3 teaspoons of fenugreek seeds in 8 ounces (1 cup) of boiling water. You can drink fenugreek tea up to three times a day.

Fenugreek is thought to work well in combination with other breastfeeding herbs, such as blessed thistle, alfalfa, and fennel. It is often one of the main ingredients found in commercially available nursing teas. When taken as directed, results can typically be seen within one week.

Health Benefits and Uses of Fenugreek:

  • It the most widely used herb to help breastfeeding mothers increase their supply of breast milk.
  • It is believed to promote a healthy liver.
  • It has been used to loosen chest congestion.
  • It is believed to be good for intestinal and digestive health.
  • It may lower cholesterol.
  • It is believed to be helpful in stimulating appetite.
  • It is used in skin ointments and skin creams to help reduce inflammation of the skin.

Warnings and Side Effects Of Fenugreek

  • Always consult a doctor, lactation consultant, or herbal specialist before taking any herbal treatments. Herbs are similar to medications. They can have side effects, and they can be dangerous for you and your baby.
     
  • Fenugreek should not be taken during pregnancy. This herb has been used to induce labor, and it can cause contractions, premature labor, and miscarriage.
     
  • Fenugreek can lower your blood sugar levels. Use caution and speak with your doctor if you are hypoglycemic or diabetic.
     
  • Fenugreek can thin your blood. Do not use it if you are taking anti-coagulant medication unless under the direct supervision of your doctor.
     
  • Allergic reactions are possible. If you have asthma, or you are allergic to soy or peanuts, you may also be allergic to fenugreek.
     
  • When started too quickly with a large dose, fenugreek may cause diarrhea. The herb does pass through to the breast milk, so your baby can also get diarrhea or display symptoms of colic. Always start with a small dose and gradually go up.
     
  • Your breast milk, urine, and sweat may smell like maple syrup.
     
  • Tell your baby’s doctor you are taking fenugreek. Fenugreek can make the baby smell like maple syrup. The smell of maple syrup caused by fenugreek is not dangerous, but there is a serious illness that is characterized by a maple syrup smell. It is very important that you tell your baby’s doctor that you are taking fenugreek so that the baby is not misdiagnosed as having maple syrup urine disease.

Fenugreek: The Conclusion

If you are concerned that you are not making enough milk, and you have tried to increase your supply of breast milk naturally without success, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant. She may recommend taking fenugreek to try to boost your supply. Remember to start with a small dose and slowly increase the amount you are taking to help prevent side effects. Always follow the advice and directions of your health care provider. If, at any time you believe your baby is not getting enough breast milk, contact your baby’s doctor.

Sources:

Bown, Deni. Herbal. Barnes & Noble Books. New York. 2001.

Humphrey, Sheila, BSC, RN, IBCLC. The Nursing Mother’s Herbal. Fairview Press. Minneapolis. 2003.

Jacobson, Hilary. Mother Food. Rosalind Press. 2004

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

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