Any mother who has struggled with breastfeeding will tell you that the whole experience can be incredibly stressful and demoralizing. You want nothing more than to be able to fed your baby, and if you aren’t able to make enough milk, you can feel like your body has failed you. The good news is that there are lots of ways to increase your milk supply, including fenugreek.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- What fenugreek is and how it increases milk supply
- Where to find it and how to consume it
- Plus, some other incredible benefits
What is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is a plant with many known medicinal benefits that many new mamas turn to for help with low milk supply.
Throughout the centuries this amazing plant has been use to:
- Stimulate appetite and ease nausea
- Treat skins conditions and other ailments. “Fenugreek facials” are said to remove blemishes, exfoliate, and leave skin glowing. Sounds divine!
- Flavor Indian and Chinese cooking (It’s a prime ingredient in Indian curry powder!)
- Naturally dye food
Fenugreek and Breastfeeding
If you suspect you have a milk supply issues, it’s important to address common milk supply causes before trying a supply booster. See a lactation consultant for help.
Besides ruling out any sucking issues in your baby (like tongue tie, lip tie, or low muscle tone) or medical issues in yourself that might hinder supply (like retained placenta or insufficient glandular tissue), the first order of business is to go back to the basics.
- You are breastfeeding on demand or pumping every 2-3 hours
- And baby has a deep latch on the breast
Can Fenugreek Increase Milk Supply?
If you’re still struggling, try a galactagogue—any drug, tea, herb, or other supplement that increases milk supply.
That’s where fenugreek comes in.
In a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Sciences, when compared to a control group, women who drank fenugreek tea saw an increase in supply in the early postpartum period. Another study found similar results, with infants reaching their birth weight faster when their mothers drank fenugreek tea.
Some researchers believe that the greatest effects are in the immediate postpartum period, or the first two weeks (see Lactmed entry on “fenugreek”), but many mothers will anecdotally tell you that the effects last longer.
Can Fenugreek Help With Mastitis?
This amazing herb can do more for breastfeeding mamas than increase milk supply—because it has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, it can provide relief for clogged ducts and mastitis, too. (source)
How? Create a “fenugreek seed poultice.” Here’s how:
- Grind up fenugreek seeds
- Add hot water to form a thick paste
- Wrap the paste in a soft cloth
- Drape the cloth around your breast as you nurse or pump
Can Fenugreek Decrease Milk Supply?
Some mothers find that fenugreek actually decreases milk supply, or simply has no effect.
Although there aren’t any studies pointing specifically to the possibility of a decrease in milk supply, there is some evidence that fenugreek seeds have estrogenic properties, or mimics the effects of estrogen, and we know that an increase in estrogen can have an effect on milk supply. For this reason, a decrease in milk supply may be an unwanted side effect for some mamas.
Take it slow and introduce the supplement gradually, noting its effects on milk supply.
Note: Women with a history of estrogen-receptive cancer should also avoid this supplement, as experts say it can increase the growth of cancerous cells.
Fenugreek Safety for Nursing Moms
Fenugreek is generally a safe option for breastfeeding moms.
It’s on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe) for nursing moms when used in moderation.
Note: The website Lactmed, a government sponsored database that compiles research on medications and herbal safety for breastfeeding mothers, warns that, because it’s not regulated by the FDA, the purity is not always consistent. Always check labels. (Find some good, safe options below!)
As with everything else, you should discuss any safety concerns with your healthcare provider and/or a board certified lactation consultant.
Possible Side Effects for Mama and Baby
One of the hallmark experiences of taking fenugreek for increasing milk supply is that you and your baby may start smelling like maple syrup. (Not a bad scent if you ask me!) Your sweat and urine may smell like maple syrup, as well. It’s nothing to be concerned about—in fact, it’s an indication that the herb is working!
There are also some less than desirable side-effects. Stop taking the supplement if you experience:
- Loose stools
And people who have the following conditions should not take fenugreek:
- An allergy to chickpeas and peanuts: The plant is in the same family as chickpeas and peanuts, and may cause an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive to these ingredients.
- Diabetes or asthma: Although it’s a treatment for diabetes and asthma, it can have adverse effects, Speak to your healthcare professional if you have one of these conditions.
- History of estrogen-receptive cancer: There is evidence that fenugreek acts as an estrogenic receptor modulator, and may increase the growth of breast cancer cells.
How to Take Fenugreek
The herb is so popular for breastfeeding moms, because it’s readily available in many forms. There are so many options out there!
Here are a few general guidelines from the book The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk, but check with your lactation consultant for dosages specific to your needs.
- Seeds and powder: Seeds or powders can be consumed in 1 to 3 teaspoon dosages steeped in 1 cup of water, 2 to 6 times per day.
- Tea: Follow the instructions on the tea box, but most recommend drinking 3 cups of fenugreek tea per day.
- Capsules: The recommended dosage for capsules is about 2 to 4 capsules, 3 times a day. Follow label instructions.
Many moms also bake the powder or seeds into cookies and other baked goods. Yum! (My lactation cookies don’t contain the herb, but have plenty of other galactagogues that may increase milk supply.)
There isn’t as much available data on fenugreek leaves, oil, or extract, but your lactation consultant or healthcare provider may be able to guide you in terms of dosages.
How Long Does It Take to Start Working?
Most mothers find that it takes 24 to 72 hours for fenugreek to take effect, though it can take up to two weeks.
If you aren’t seeing results, consider gradually increasing the dosage. You can usually tell you’ve reached your saturation point when you smell that sweet maple syrup scent!
Other Benefits of Fenugreek
There really are seemingly endless uses of fenugreek that go beyond increasing milk supply, including:
It’s also been shown to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial components, and has been used in skin-care products and soaps as a treatment for eczema. (source)
How About You?
Did you ever use fenugreek to increase milk supply? Did it work for you? Share your experience in the comments below.