Is fenugreek a safe and effective way to increase your milk supply? We share everything nursing moms need to know about fenugreek.
If you’re nursing, you think your milk supply is low, and you’re worried that your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, you may have heard of fenugreek as a possible way to increase your milk supply. But is fenugreek a safe and effective way to increase your milk supply? Today, we’ll share everything nursing moms need to know about fenugreek.
What is fenugreek?
Fenugreek is a herb that is native to the Mediterranean. The seeds of the fenugreek plant smell and taste like maple syrup. These seeds are ground up and used for garam masala, an Indian spice blend.
Fenugreek seeds, leaves, and oil are also used in supplements, including lactation supplements that claim to help with low milk supply. These lactation supplements come in the form of powders, capsules, chewables and teas (such as Mother’s Milk Tea).
Fenugreek is sometimes included in lactation supplement bars and cookies. Alternatively, some mothers eat fenugreek seeds on their own (outside of a supplement) to aid lactation.
Does fenugreek really increase milk supply?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there isn’t enough scientific evidence available to show that fenugreek really helps increase milk supply.
Researchers think maybe there’s a psychological effect involved --- when people hear that fenugreek could possibly help milk supply, they think it’s helpful, even though it might not be doing anything in the body.
Studies on fenugreek and breastfeeding
Some studies of fenugreek seemed to show positive lactation effects, but many of these studies were either too small, or were not conducted with the highest research standards (they lacked randomization, blinding, and/or placebo control). So, these studies can’t prove that fenugreek increases milk supply.
For example, one study conducted in India claimed to show that fenugreek supplements increased milk supply in mothers who had difficulty producing enough milk. But this study wasn’t randomized, placebo controlled, or double-blinded. Also, the mothers involved didn’t breastfeed enough times per day to maximize milk supply, and didn’t receive any breastfeeding support. So, the study didn’t eliminate bias, and wasn't up to standard.
Other times, studies involving lactation supplements with fenugreek had strong research standards, but the supplements contained other ingredients that could potentially boost milk supply. Thus, it was impossible to tell whether the fenugreek, other ingredients or both were behind milk supply increases.
For instance, one randomized, blinded and placebo-controlled study examined whether a tea with fenugreek increased milk supply in mothers of newborns. Mothers drinking the tea with fenugreek produced more milk than mothers who drank a placebo tea or no tea.
The babies of mothers in the fenugreek tea group also regained their birth weights quicker, and didn’t lose as much weight. The study’s authors thought the fenugreek might have helped with lactation. But the tea contained multiple ingredients that could have helped increase mothers’ milk supply, not just fenugreek.
Still other studies didn’t show any differences in milk supply between mothers who did and didn’t take fenugreek.
To sum things up, the vast majority of fenugreek studies on lactation either:
- Showed no difference between mothers who took fenugreek and mothers in the control group
- Lacked either randomization, blindness, or placebo control
- Didn’t have enough mothers follow protocol for adequate results
- Were too small for results to be significant, and/or
- Involved supplements that included other ingredients that could possibly help lactation
So, the existing studies on fenugreek don’t definitively show whether it boosts milk production. We still need higher-quality studies to clear up this confusion.
Possible benefits of fenugreek supplements
Even though we don’t know for sure if fenugreek can help increase milk supply, you still may consider trying a fenugreek lactation supplement and seeing if it works for you. There are some possible benefits that have been identified:
Fenugreek may be particularly helpful for breastfeeding in the first few days of baby’s life.
As the NIH reports, “some evidence indicates that fenugreek might be more effective in the first few days postpartum than after 2 weeks postpartum.” This is largely based on a 2018 study conducted in Egypt. In this study, fenugreek appeared to increase breastmilk supply during day 3 of breastfeeding, but didn’t affect breastmilk supply at days 8 and 15 of breastfeeding. And fenugreek tea may help with hydration.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the fenugreek helps increase milk supply. Still, if a fenugreek tea designated as a breastfeeding tea motivates you to keep up with hydration, it’s still beneficial. This is because maintaining adequate hydration helps you produce milk most effectively.
Is fenugreek safe to consume while breastfeeding?
Like with all supplements, you should talk to your doctor before you start taking any form of fenugreek --- even if your lactation consultant recommends it.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified fenugreek “generally recognized as safe,” But it doesn’t monitor fenugreek supplements for safety and effectiveness. It also doesn’t recognize or approve any fenugreek supplements as ways to increase milk supply.
Still, fenugreek is generally a safe option to take, as long as you’ve talked to your doctor first.
Most moms are able to tolerate fenugreek without side effects, and without causing side effects in their babies when the fenugreek passes through their breastmilk. Of course, like with all supplements, there are still some risks.
Nurse Dani from Intermountain Healthcare shares possible risks of taking fenugreek:
What are possible side effects and risks of taking fenugreek?
- Fenugreek sometimes causes GI symptoms in mothers, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increased flatulence, and other GI tract issues.
- It may also cause sweat, urine, or even breastmilk to smell like maple syrup.
- Very rarely, fenugreek may cause liver toxicity.
- If you have asthma, fenugreek could possibly cause asthma to worsen.
- If you are pregnant, you shouldn’t take fenugreek, because it could cause contractions (it has actually been used for generations as a way to induce labor).
- Also, if you have a history of hormone sensitive cancers, don’t start a fenugreek supplement. This is because fenugreek could act like estrogen.
- And if you take the blood thinner warfarin for any reason, you might not want to take fenugreek. Fenugreek could negatively interact with the warfarin and cause internal bleeding.
If you experience serious side effects from taking a fenugreek supplement, be sure to call your doctor.
(Fenugreek hasn’t yet been shown to cause any harmful side effects in infants when it passes through their mother’s breastmilk. Some moms do notice that, when they consume fenugreek, this causes a bit more flatulence in their babies).
What else to know before you start fenugreek
Remember to talk to your doctor before starting to take fenugreek or any supplements that contain it (as you should with any supplement when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding).
Make sure to let your doctor know if you take other supplements or medicines, in case mixing medicines could cause a negative interaction.
Often, low milk supply results when baby struggles to latch onto your breast, or when baby struggles to remove enough milk from your breasts for another reason.
And remember: the more milk that’s removed from your breasts, the more milk you’ll produce in the long run. Maintaining a frequent pumping routine is a crucial step to keeping your supply up, especially if you work outside the home.
Don’t miss this article with more tips on how to increase your milk supply!
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