Herbs to increase milk supply – or decrease it – sounds a bit risky, don’t you think? What goes into the milk, goes into the baby. There are definitely herbs that should be avoided while breastfeeding, but there are also herbs for breastfeeding that have documented effects on breast milk supply if used in the right amounts; both to increase and decrease milk supply.
Let’s have a look at which herbs that may increase or decrease milk supply, which herbs to avoid while breastfeeding and what myths there are on the topic.
Herbs For Breastfeeding – What You Need To Know
- Herbs to increase milk supply
- Herbs to decrease milk supply
- Herbs to avoid while breastfeeding
- Breastfeeding herbs; the myths
- Herbal intake common sense
Herbs to increase milk supply
Perhaps the most well known milk-increasing herbal remedy is fenugreek. Fenugreek is a plant grown primarily in the East, particularly China and India, but can also be found throughout some European countries. Many Moms are familiar with fenugreek as it’s a main component of store-bought curry powders.
Studies have found that consuming fenugreek tea daily not only increases maternal milk supply but also helps newborns put on weight. In one study, babies whose Mothers consumed fenugreek tea generally lost less weight immediately following the birth and also regained this weight quicker than others.
Similarly, fennel has is also a herb to increase milk supply. Fennel is known for its aniseed-like flavor and, like fenugreek, is often added to Indian curries for a bit of flavor and spice. It’s thought that fennel helps to increase the milk supply because it contains phytoestrogens which are chemicals found in plants that mimic the actions of female sex hormones, particularly estrogen.
Researchers suggest that phytoestrogens stimulate the milk glands, producing more milk.
To make fennel tea, crush 2 teaspoons of fennel seed and add 1 cup of boiling water.
A third helpful herb to increase your milk supply is blessed thistle. This one is less well known than the other herbs but comes from the same family as milk thistle which is a common remedy for liver problems.
Blessed thistle, along with fenugreek, is one of the few herbs actually medically recognized as an aid to breastfeeding. Blessed thistle is consistently shown to work so well that it’s the recommended herb for inducing lactation in non-biological Mothers (i.e. adoptive breastfeeding, which you can read more about here).
If you want to try some herbs to increase milk supply, you can either simply go get them at your local grocery. Another, and maybe simpler way is to try a herbal breastfeeding supplement. Strive to use organic herbs when possible. Here are a few herbal supplements to test: (Links go to Amazon)
- Lactation Supplement for Increased Breast Milk Supply with Fenugreek Extract, Blessed Thistle, Fennel Seed, and DHA
- Goat’s Rue Lactation Aid Support Supplement for Breastfeeding Mothers
- Pink Stork Liquid Gold: Organic Loose Leaf Tea in Biodegradable Sachets for Nursing, Lactation, Breastfeeding Support
Herbs to decrease milk supply
There are also herbal remedies that have been shown to actually decrease milk supply! Of course, Moms who are trying to establish a breastfeeding routine will find it best to avoid large quantities of these herbs, but Moms are who are struggling with producing more milk than their baby needs, or those who are beginning the process of weaning from the breast may find these herbs quite beneficial in managing supply.
“Warming” herbs such as oregano, sage, parsley, and thyme are thought to decrease milk supply, along with mint substances such as peppermint and spearmint. Interestingly, over the festive period which is traditionally a time of herby potatoes and minty candy canes, some breastfeeding Moms do notice their milk supply reduces!
It’s believed that all these products have slight diuretic effects. A diuretic is something that flushes fluid from the system or essentially dries fluid up. Alcohol is a diuretic, which explains why trips to the bathroom increase after a night on the beer. Large quantities of these herbs are thought to work in the same way.
Herbs to avoid while breastfeeding
While Moms wanting to increase supply should try to avoid large quantities of milk-decreasing herbs, and vice versa for Moms wanting to decrease supply, indulging in these herbs is very unlikely to be dangerous for Mom or Baby, it could just lead to more, or less, milk. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for all herbs, and some should be avoided completely while breastfeeding.
Ginseng, traditionally used for increased energy, has been shown to stimulate a baby’s sexual organs, in a way mimicking puberty. Rapid hair growth in the pubic region and swelling of the breasts in girls and testes in boys has presented with dangerously raised blood pressure.
Star anise, a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine, has been shown to cause seizures, even in the smallest of quantities and Kava-Kava, effective at treating stress and anxiety disorders, could cause liver damage in a baby as well as uterine damage in new Moms.
Avoid these herbs at all costs while breastfeeding!
Breastfeeding herbs; the myths
Many new Moms stay away from herbal remedies during breastfeeding for fear that the compounds will pass through the milk to Baby and cause health problems. While this is true for some herbs, like the ones discussed above, it’s not true for all and it’s really not necessary to avoid all herbs while breastfeeding. Most herbal teas are completely safe, but be sure to check with your doctor first.
Generally, ginger, citrus, rosehip, and raspberry teas can be enjoyed as usual without the risk of any adverse effects.
Herbal intake common sense
When it comes to herbs for breastfeeding, new Moms need to exercise some common sense. With the exception of the herbs that should be completely avoided, there is no reason to throw out unwanted herbs. Used sparingly in meals, the increasing/decreasing herbs are unlikely to have any significant effect on milk supply. It’s really only in larger quantities that Moms should avoid if they specifically want to increase or decrease their supply.
These herbs can turn up in very unexpected places, and some Moms find their high or low supply to be the result of a usual dietary component. One of the most common places to find these herbs is in herbal weight loss products, which are of course very popular with new Moms wanting to shed those pregnancy pounds. Always check the labels and ingredients first and be aware of what’s going into the body during breastfeeding.
That was all! If you have any questions or if you have tried affecting your breast milk supply with herbs, please share by leaving a comment below! :-)
- What You Can Eat and Not while Breastfeeding
- Baby Using Breast As Pacifier
- How To Stop Nursing Baby To Sleep
- Smoking While Breastfeeding: 7 Effects on Your Baby and Breastmilk
- The Effect of Galactagogue Herbal Tea on Breast Milk Production and Short-Term Catch-Up of Birth Weight in the First Week of Life (The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine)
- Complementary and Alternative Methods of Increasing Breast Milk Supply for Lactating Mothers of Infants in the NICU
- Nursing the Adopted Infant (Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine)
- Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? (An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology)
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing is based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians that you find here. They write or review all health-related articles.