For some women, breastfeeding is a breeze, but for many others, breastfeeding is hard (like, really hard). I know that it was for me, especially because I had an incredibly low milk supply, and couldn’t fully nourish twin babies with breast milk alone. I had to supplement with formula, but I wanted to make sure they were still getting as much of my healthy milk as I could provide. At the time, I remember drinking a lot of Mother’s Milk Tea, which contains fenugreek, an herb that is believed to boost milk production. It’s hard to say whether it helped, but I do know that in those weeks that I was taking it, yes, my supply did go up a little bit. Is it right for everyone though? I did some digging…
How does fenugreek work?
“Fenugreek contains hormones (phytoestrogens) that lead to a boost of prolactin, which is the hormone that triggers milk production,” says Mairi Breen Rothman, CNM, MSN a certified midwife in Takoma Park, MD. “Also, the breast is thought to be a modified sweat gland, and one of the effects of fenugreek is that it increases sweat production, which may be how it stimulates lactation as well.” While it can stimulate breast milk production in women looking to boost their supply, it’s very mild and won’t really help if you have a true breast milk supply issue.
How should you take fenugreek?
Rothman most often recommends it in the form of Mother’s Milk Tea, or any tea that combines fenugreek with other lactation stimulators, such as blessed thistle and alfalfa. “The teas are gentle and the herbs balance each other well,” she says. “Many women find drinking two to three cups a day of the nursing teas is enough fenugreek to get the boost they need.” It’s also available in capsule form and approved by the FDA to be taken in doses of about six grams a day.
How long does it take for fenugreek to work?
You may notice an increase in your breast milk supply in as little as three days, but it can take up to two weeks to work, says Rothman. To know if your baby is getting enough to eat, she suggests that you count the wet diapers. If your baby has 6 to 8 wet diapers a day, is content after feeding, and has period of time where she is awake and alert, without being fussy, then she is likely well-nourished. On the flip side, a baby who is not getting enough to eat will be crying constantly, even at the breast, will only sleep short periods of time, and won’t be very alert or responsive.
What are the side effects of fenugreek?
Any supplement or herb can cause adverse reactions, despite the all-natural label. Side effects from taking fenugreek include:
- Stomach upset, diarrhea, bloating and gas
- Rash or hives
- Facial swelling
- A “maple syrup” odor in both mom and baby, which can be misdiagnosed as a dangerous metabolic disease
Is fenugreek right for you?
Before taking any herbal supplement to aid in breastfeeding, experts recommend talking to a lactation consultant who can rule out any other underlying causes for a low breast milk supply, like an improper latch or a change in feeding habits (like your baby taking more bottles because you’re returned to work). “Many women believe they aren’t producing enough milk when that’s not really the issue,” says Northern New Jersey-based lactation consultant Diana West of La Leche League International. If your supply just needs a little boost though, these teas often can help.
Who should avoid it?
Fenugreek is not recommended for women who have certain medical conditions, such as:
- Blood-clotting disorder
- Thyroid disorder
Additionally, if a lactation consultant determines there are other reasons behind your low breast milk supply, fenugreek will not help. “In fact, taking a lactation stimulant may actually create a bigger problem because if you’re boosting your supply, but the baby isn’t removing all of that extra milk properly, you can get an infection,” warns West.