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If you are getting ready to be a new mother, or maybe you just had a baby, trouble with milk supply is not something we think about or plan. It can be very discouraging and some may even give up trying to nurse. The good news is that there are herbs for lactation and increasing milk supply.
Benefits of Nursing
Before I even gave birth, I knew I wanted to be a breastfeeding mom. It was a no brainer: the cost savings, the health benefits, and the emotional benefits of snuggling my daughter close while I nourished her. Even the TRADITION of it. This was how moms were MEANT to feed their infants (yes, I was also completely romanticizing it)
Ultimately, I wound up nursing her exclusively for nearly a year. (She simply had zero interest in solids till after her first birthday.) She continued nursing until she was about two and a half years old. A mom-friend once watched me nurse with tears in her eyes and commented that I made it look so beautiful and natural that she was envious of me. I couldn’t help but laugh, “Oh, if only you knew what it took to get to this point”
Trouble Producing Milk
My breastfeeding journey was not beautiful or fun or pretty. I was not one of those women who’s milk comes flooding in and my baby nursed effortlessly. My daughter had a hideous latch, it took several visits with a certified lactation consultant and playing around with positions to get it right. Then my milk didn’t amount to much more than a trickle for days.
For a newborn, this is ok, but after a week, this isn’t nearly enough. Desperate to avoid switching to formula, I scoured the internet for help to increase my supply. I guzzled water, ate oatmeal, listened to relaxing music, tried to sleep as much as possible (har har har). I even bought a breast pump to try to encourage more milk to come in. Nothing worked.
Finding Something That Works
I called my OBGYN and they wrote me a prescription, which did increase my milk supply. However, the medicine left me feeling so sleepy, dizzy and too nauseated to care for my baby. I called my lactation consultant again in tears and told her that I HAD to find something that worked or I was going to switch to formula.
She asked if I’d tried herbs. Herbs? “Yeah, fenugreek and blessed thistle”, she said. “A lot of moms can’t stand the way they make you smell, but if you want to try them, I’d recommend solaray or nature way brands. Two or three pills, three times a day”
I immediately packed the baby into the car and drove to town and bought a jar of each. I took them as I’d been instructed before going to bed. By the middle of the next day, I noticed a change. My daughter was also content and sleepy after nursing, instead of frustrated and still hungry like before.
By the end of the week, I could tell she was getting much more to eat. I, of course, was still paranoid and took her to the hospital to weigh her every day but she quickly began packing on the pounds ( literally, pounds!). Eventually, I no longer needed them and was able to keep up with her on my own. My daughter is now an enormous 6 years old and I’ve been singing the praises of herbs for lactation ever since.
Fenugreek is a spice widely used in Indian food and has a long history as a galactagogue (a lactation promoting substance).
It can cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to peanuts as well as drops in drops in blood sugar levels so mothers with diabetes should not take it.
Most moms notice a difference in their milk supply within 24 hours though I’ve heard of it taking a day or two to kick in. Like all things, just use common sense.
If you or your baby experience any adverse reactions (ie headaches, gassiness, fussiness) simply stop taking it.
A number of studies published in scientific journals have testified to the efficacy of fenugreek (see footnotes) and the long history of use as a culinary herb testify to its safety. It’s also the one I used the most during my low milk days and I feel the most comfortable recommending it to other breastfeeding mothers.
Of note: Your urine will smell like maple syrup while you’re taking it. It’s weird, but it’s ok.
Blessed Thistle is another herb that is commonly recommended for low milk supply. Some people say that it’s most effective when used in conjunction with fenugreek but personally, I’ve not found that to be so. It’s just as good, but not better than fenugreek.
The recommendation is the same: 2 or 3 pills, three times per day. Blessed thistle also should be taken with more caution than fenugreek because it causes GI upset in some women.
Fennel, garlic, goat’s rue, and brewers yeast
Fennel, garlic, goat’s rue, and brewers yeast are also supplements commonly recommended for increasing milk supply. Aside from anecdotal evidence and random mommy bloggers, I’ve yet to come across compelling evidence for their usage. If anyone wants to try them, they’re generally recognized as safe for breastfeeding moms and it won’t hurt to try. I’ve also had several moms ask me about herbal teas that are commonly available in health food stores that claim to increase milk supply and the truth is, they don’t really work. The problem is that even though they contain the ingredients that can increase milk, they don’t contain them in high enough dosages to be effective.
Words of Wisdom
Like in all things, just use common sense: If you feel like your milk still isn’t increasing, or you or your baby are having bad reactions tot he herbal medicine, stop taking them. In addition, you’ll need to contact your primary care physician for any allergic reactions immediately. The bottom line is to feed your baby. Speaking from my own experience, sometimes we get so fixated on exclusively breastfeeding that we miss the forest for the trees. Any amount of breast milk is better than none at all.
Do you love the idea of using herbal remedies or alternative natural solutions to your everyday ailments? We have more amazing herbal articles here.
In addition to making your own herbal remedies, you can grow your own medicine right in your yard. You will love our list of herbal plants you can grow.
The effect of galactagogue on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life.
Turkyılmaz C1, Onal E, Hirfanoglu IM, Turan O, Koç E, Ergenekon E, Atalay Y. Department of Neonatology, Gazi University, Faculty of Medicine, Ankara, Turkey. 2011 Feb;17(2):139-42. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0090. Epub 2011 Jan 24.
Effectiveness of fenugreek as a galactagogue: A network meta-analysis.
Khan TM1, Wu DB1, Dolzhenko AV1, School of Pharmacy, Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, Perth, Western Australia, 6845, Australia.
About the Author
This is a guest post by Adelle.
Adelle is a metallurgist, mommy, seamstress and small-scale homesteader in northern Indiana. She is an accomplished seamstress and makes 1800’s & early 1900’s period clothes.