Are Fenugreek and teas safe for increasing breast milk supply?

Are you a breastfeeding mom looking to increase your milk production? Interested in adding increased amounts of vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, D, calcium and/or iron to your breast milk? Some studies have shown that Fenugreek can help and that lactation teas - including the ingredient Fenugreek - can help boost your milk production. Here's what you need to know. 

First off, what is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek is a medicinal plant/herb that is believed to aid with lowering blood sugar and increasing breast milk production. It is used commonly to add flavor to artificial maple syrup and a spice in curries. Fenugreek extracts may also be found in cosmetic products and soaps.

Is Fenugreek safe to consume?

Fenugreek is healthy when consumed in smaller portions found in common foods, but may be dangerous when taken in larger amounts. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) lists some negative effects from large doses of Fenugreek; including nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, and headaches. It has been scientifically proven by the NCCIH that Fenugreek is NOT safe to consume while pregnant and causes an increased risk in birth defects among newborn babies. It is important to consume Fenugreek in appropriate portions to maintain good health and avoid the nasty side effects. 

Beth Brewer, RN, BSN, IBCLC-RLC of Indy Lactation Care, tells us that in the United States, it is considered safe for nursing moms when used in moderation and is on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list. Even though it is considered safe, there are still few studies that have been done to prove its effectiveness and it is not regulated by the FDA. The studies that have been done found Fenugreek to significantly increase milk supply in nursing mothers, but these studies were small and in some, Fenugreek was being used alongside other supplements. The most beneficial effect of Fenugreek is the added vitamins to breast milk; including vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, D, calcium, and iron! 

The various safety concerns to be considered involve taking Fenugreek with other medications or while pregnant. Fenugreek can cause uterine contractions and should not be taken during pregnancy. It can also decrease blood glucose levels, so a mom with diabetes may need to adjust her insulin levels. Fenugreek can interact with blood thinners such as Warfarin. It also should be taken with caution if one is taking other medications that interact with serotonin levels, such as antidepressants. Fenugreek can increase serotonin levels, therefore putting one at risk for serotonin toxicity, also known as Serotonin Syndrome. Although rare, this can be life-threatening. Another study showed that Fenugreek influences thyroid levels and potentially lowering one’s thyroid hormones. A mom with hypothyroidism will want to take this into consideration before taking Fenugreek.

Are there other options for increasing milk production?

Several alternative herbs to Fenugreek include Milk Thistle, Blessed Thistle, Stinging Nettle, and Moringa. These herbs may commonly be found in lactation teas to increase breast milk production. Lactation teas are commonly steeped, similarly to regular teas, but preparation may vary depending on the brand or type of tea. 

In conclusion, Fenugreek can aid in increasing milk supply, but should only be used in safe circumstances. It should also be taken in moderation within recommended doses: one teaspoon of whole Fenugreek seeds steeped in one cup of boiling water 2-3 times per day or 2-3 capsules (580-610 mg caps) 3-4 times daily. Some women will find it to significantly increase their supply and others will experience little to no improvement. Fenugreek should always be used while mom is making other non-pharmaceutical adjustments in the way she is breastfeeding. Breastfeeding often, pumping after feeds to empty breasts completely, and always feeding from both breasts should be strategies considered as well when trying to increase one’s supply. Breastfeeding should be thought of as a time for simplicity. If milk supply issues are a concern, always focus on eating a balanced, nutritious diet and staying well hydrated. While Fenugreek is a natural substance, it should be taken with caution and with consideration of other medications and health conditions.