Herbs have been used throughout time as food and medicine. It is important to remember that although herbs are natural, they can be quite powerful, and each has risks and benefits. Some herbs, including Fenugreek, have been used traditionally to support milk supply, known as galactagogues. While beneficial for some, it can cause considerable health issues and unpleasant side effects for others. Understanding how an herb affects the body can help you choose which ones may be a good match for you to support or increase your milk supply.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an herb from the legume family. The flowers on the clover-like leaves are white, yellow, or purple and look similar to regular garden pea plant flowers. (1) It is native to India and Northern Africa. The seeds and leaves have been used in cuisine for hundreds of years. The seeds are in many spice blends and recipes like curries, chutneys, and rice dishes. The leaves and fenugreek sprouts are added fresh to salads and to cooked dishes.
In traditional Chinese medicine, fenugreek has been used to warm the body. Someone who is cold a lot of the time is said to have Yin excess or Yang deficiency. The bitterness of fenugreek seeds is used to cleanse the body, drying dampness, warming the body, and promoting elimination, increasing urine and bowel movements. (2) Many cultures believe in keeping the new mother warm in the early postpartum period, with plenty of rest and foods prepared with herbs that help replenish the body as she recovers from delivering her baby and support lactation.
Safety for use with breastfeeding
Fenugreek has been one of the most widely used herbs for new mothers to increase their milk supply. Results for increasing milk supply vary significantly among women who have used fenugreek. Some have seen an increase in their supply as soon as 24-72 hours after beginning to supplement with fenugreek. Other people do not experience an increase up to 2 weeks later, and some people find no benefit at all from using fenugreek. (3) It is considered generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (4) Fenugreek is listed as an L3 for lactation risk, which is considered probably compatible and can be used if the benefits outweigh the risks. (5)
Each person's sensitivity to fenugreek is different, largely because we each have our own unique body chemistry and health histories. Some may notice side effects from eating food cooked or seasoned with fenugreek, while others are only affected when taking supplements with higher herb dosages. In one survey of 85 women who used fenugreek to boost their milk production, 45% reported undesirable side effects for themselves or their babies. (6)
The thyroid produces hormones that play a role in all metabolic functions in the body, including metabolism, fertility, and milk production. The hypothalamus communicates with the pituitary gland to produce TSH in the brain, which in turn stimulates the thyroid gland to produce T4 and T3. Low thyroid hormones affect mammary gland growth during pregnancy. It may reduce the amount of prolactin, a key hormone for making milk, as well as oxytocin, which is the hormone that triggers the flow of milk and the milk ejection reflex.
Fenugreek should not be taken if you have thyroid dysfunction. Fenugreek has been shown to disrupt the balance of thyroid hormones. In a study with mice and rats, the use of fenugreek was found to lower T3, which is a problem for people experiencing hypothyroidism. (9) People with hypothyroidism are likelier to experience low milk supply and postpartum depression.
Legendairy Milk is Fenugreek-free. Many women seek out herbal lactation supplements due to low milk supply. 1 in 20 women is affected by postpartum thyroiditis, which can happen even if you did not have a thyroid imbalance before getting pregnant. (10) Many other herbs can help increase milk production and flow that does not cause the imbalance of thyroid hormones like fenugreek does. Legendairy Milk lactation supplements contain herbs or combinations of herbs with you in mind.
Nettle - found in Cash Cow and Milkapalooza
- Nursing or pumping at least 8-12 times daily, including the middle of the night, is necessary for sufficient milk supply.
- If you pump, ensure you use the correct size flanges for the best milk output.
- Ensure your baby has a deep latch for effective and efficient milk removal.
- If you are still experiencing difficulties with milk production or flow, consider working with an IBCLC to dig deeper, uncover the root cause, and help create a care plan that supports your overall health and milk supply.
Although Fenugreek is a popular herb breastfeeding mothers use to increase milk supply, it may not be the best choice for many. It can cause unpleasant side effects for some women and babies and more serious health effects for others. It is recommended to discuss herbal lactation supplements with your healthcare provider, as they are aware of your complete health history. Legendairy Milk offers many high-quality lactation supplements, providing options for fenugreek-free herbal alternatives to boost your milk supply and milk flow, supporting you in continuing to provide the best for your baby.