I have used fenugreek
and nettles to enrich my milk. These are two of the many herbs that have been used
for centuries by breastfeeding women.
Here is a literature
review on five herbs used in lactation. I hope that you will find it
helpful. This is part of Rachel Westfall's doctoral thesis.
This information and more can be found in a published article,
detailed below. If you wish to quote
or reprint this material, please
contact me for an
appropriate reference, or credit this webpage.
Westfall RE. Galactagogue herbs: a qualitative study
and review. Canadian Journal of Midwifery Research and Practice.
Medicinally, fennel is widely used as a
digestive aid and as a treatment for dyspepsia (Blumenthal et al., 2000). It has mild estrogenic properties (Bingel and
Farnsworth, 1991). Fennel is also used to
counteract infant colic, whether consumed by the mother or given directly to the infant
(Weed, 1986; Weizman et al., 1993). The effectiveness of an herbal colic remedy containing
fennel, chamomile, vervain, licorice, and lemon balm has been demonstrated in a clinical
trial (Weizman et al., 1993). However, this formula was given directly to the babies, so
it remains clinically unproven that the beneficial effects of the herbs would reach the
infant through the mothers milk.
The Wise Woman Herbal (Weed, 1986) suggests
that breastfeeding women use the seeds of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Miller [Apiaceae]) or
any of its close relatives (anise, cumin, caraway, coriander and dill) to improve their
milk supply. Although clinical evidence for
its efficacy is lacking, fennel seed has enjoyed centuries of use as a galactagogue. Its mechanism of action is unknown.
In Italy, a galactagogue tea is made from the
seeds of fennel and anise (Pimpinella anisum L. [Apiaceae]) (Rosti et al., 1994). Two case
reports from that country (Rosti et al., 1994) describe temporary central nervous system
depression in infants, 15 and 20 days old, whose mothers were consuming large quantities
of fennel and anise tea. All symptoms disappeared once the women stopped drinking the tea.
However, these appear to have been isolated cases, so it is possible that a particular
batch of the tea was adulterated with another, more toxic herb. In the absence of further
evidence, one can assume that this age-old remedy is safe.
There are no known contraindications for use
of fennel seed or fennel oil during lactation, but it is not recommended for use for more
than a few weeks at a time (Blumenthal, 2000).
Another favourite galactagogue seed was widely
used by the participants in this study: fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.
[Fabaceae]). As with fennel and its relatives, there is no clinical evidence to support
the use of fenugreek as a galactagogue. However, it has been used for centuries to
increase the flow of milk, (Riordan and Auerbach, 1998) and was used historically as such,
along with fennel, by wet nurses in the southern United States in days gone by (Duke,
1997). There are also reports of fenugreeks use as a galactagogue in Sudan, Egypt,
other parts of North Africa, Iraq, and Argentina (reviewed in Bingel and Farnsworth,
Fenugreek is an important medicine in
Indias Ayurvedic tradition, where it is used to treat a variety of digestive and
mucosal conditions (Passano, 1995; Escot, 1994/5). According to the Ayurvedic tradition,
fenugreek, or methi as it is known, is contraindicated in pregnancy as it is believed to
cause abortion (Escot, 1994/5; Brinker, 1998). However, this abortive effect was not
demonstrated in an experiment involving laboratory animals (Mital and Gopaldas, 1986). And
in India, once the child has been born, women are encouraged to eat a sweetened paste or
halva made from the seeds to increase the flow of breast milk (Passano, 1995).
Fenugreek is also contraindicated during
pregnancy in Western herbalism, as it is a uterine stimulant (Ody, 1999). This action may
be the result of a steroidal saponin called neotigogenin, which is contained in the seeds
(Escot, 1994/5). It may also make the seeds useful as a childbirth aid, which is one of
its traditional uses (Bingel and Farnsworth, 1991). Indeed, the effect of fenugreek upon
the uterus may be related to its stimulant effect upon the milk ducts in the breast, for
both are effected by the hormone oxytocin and its pharmacological relatives (Bingel and
"Alternatively, these plants may not
possess oxytocin-like activity, and their reputed galactogenic effect might instead merely
be coincidental to their being used in obstetrics" (Bingel and Farnsworth, 1991). Or
perhaps fenugreek supports the production of milk because it is a rich source of essential
fatty acids (Mowrey, 1986).
In North America, fenugreek seeds are commonly
brewed as a tea, and the broth and seeds are both consumed. Alternately, they can be
ground and taken in capsule form. According to popular lore, an adequate dose has been
consumed when ones body smells mapley. The German Commission E monograph recommends
a daily dose of 6 grams of the seeds (Blumenthal et al., 1998); doses of over 100 grams
can cause nausea and an upset stomach (HealthNotes, 2001).
Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus L. [Rosaceae]) is believed to
stimulate lactation and enrich breast milk by restoring the bodys vitamins and
minerals (Gladstar, 1993; Weed, 1986; Bartram, 1998; Ipp, 1999). Conversely, due to its astringent qualities, it
has the potential to shrink mammary glands and thereby reduce milk flow (Lieberman 1995a;
Edmunds, 1995; Weed, 1986).
Indeed, a search of the literature reveals
that there is no clinical evidence that raspberry leaf is a galactagogue. Although the
herb can be a good source of vitamins A, B
complex, C, and E, as well as calcium, iron, phosphorus, and potassium (Weed, 1986; Lipo, 1996), and its
effectiveness as a uterine tonic has been clinically demonstrated (Simpsons et al., 2001),
there is no proof that it increases the production of breast milk. Nonetheless, one should
not underestimate the value of the herb in providing essential nutrients and promoting a
sense of self efficacy and relaxation in the breastfeeding mother. There is a recognized
need among breastfeeding women for "support, nurturing and replenishment in return
for giving out" (Dykes and Williams, 1999). Raspberry leaf tea, along
with other popular herbal preparations, can give women this sense of being supported,
nurtured and replenished.
Stinging nettle leaf (Urtica dioica L. [Urticaceae]) was one of
the less-used galactagogue herbs among the participants in this study, though has a
long-standing reputation for enriching breast milk (Bartram, 1998; Bombardelli and
Marazzoni, 1997; Gladstar, 1993; Weed, 1986; Yarnell, 1998). The herb is believed to be
completely non-toxic (Yarnell, 1998). Nettle contains many nutrients, including iron,
calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K (Lieberman, 1995), as well as phosphorus, potassium,
sulphur, and vitamin D (Weed, 1986). They
also contain some B vitamins and appreciable amounts of magnesium (Duke, 1992). They contain up to 20% mineral salts, mainly
calcium, potassium, silicon, and nitrates (Blumenthal et al., 2000). Nettle extract has been found to contain all of
the essential amino acids (Bombardelli and Morazzoni, 1997).
Nettle is believed to support lactation
by providing essential nutrients (Weed, 1986). It
has no medicinal action, apart from being mildly diuretic and hemostatic (Bradley, 1992).
Dried nettles mixed into cattle fodder are known to boost milk production in cows (Grieve,
1971; Phillips and Foy, 1990). Nonetheless,
the herbs astringent qualities could theoretically reduce milk production (Edmunds,
There are no known contraindications to its use during pregnancy or
lactation (Blumenthal et al., 2000).
To support lactation,
nettle leaves are typically brewed as a tea, often in combination with raspberry
Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus L.
[Asteraceae]) is a Mediterranean weed; it is occasionally found in North America
(Hitchcock and Cronquist, 1987). The dried aerial parts are used as a galactagogue;
(Gladstar, 1993; Grieve, 1971; Weed, 1986) it is considered to be one of the best
galactagogue herbs. It is usually taken in capsules or as a tea. It is said to work by
stimulating the flow of blood to the mammary glands, and thereby enriching the milk flow
(Gladstar, 1993), but this theory has not been confirmed in a laboratory or clinical
setting. There have been no clinical trials
of blessed thistle as a galactagogue.
Blessed thistle was historically reputed to be
a heal-all, and was even said to heal the plague. (Grieve, 1971) It is recommended for birthing and nursing
mothers because of its hemostatic properties, which reduce the likelihood of postpartum
hemorrhage (Gladstar, 1993), and because of its antidepressant effects (Weed, 1986).
Famed for its ability to
increase milk supply, Cnicus benedictus is best used as a tincture; up to 20 drops, two to
four times daily is the usual dose. It is
said to remove suicidal feelings and lift depression as well. -Weed, 1986: 85
Blessed thistle is approved by the German
Commission E for loss of appetite and dyspepsia (Blumenthal et al., 2000). It is rich in a sesquiterpene lactone called
cnicin (Blumenthal et al., 2000), which stimulates digestive enzymes and bile secretions
(Blumenthal et al., 2000; Gladstar, 1993). The
Commission E does not recommended blessed thistle for use during pregnancy and lactation,
and its popularity as a galactagogue is not mentioned in their monograph (Blumenthal,
2000). The plant is strongly emetic in large
doses (Grieve, 1971), so it should not be overused. It
is reputedly an effective emmenagogue and thus should be avoided by pregnant women
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