Off the heels of Breastfeeding Awareness Week, the importance of breast feeding has not been lost on most new moms. From optimal nutrition to emotional connectivity, most new moms look forward to breastfeeding their newborns. What many new moms are not prepared for is how difficult breastfeeding can be -- I still cringe when I think of some of my breastfeeding battles. While breastfeeding may not be easy, here are a few herbs that may help your breastfeeding journey.
Building a milk supply can be one of the biggest challenges for moms, especially as they head back to work. Fenugreek is an herb that functions as a galactologue, increasing breast milk supply. The seed of the plant is the most effective, containing the compound diosgenin. Higher doses, approximately, 3 grams per day, are found to be most effective, Fenugreek can be taken as a tea or powder as well, but is known to lower blood sugar. Diabetic mothers should use with caution. (1, 2)
Known as wild asparagus, shatvari has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to increase milk supply in nursing mothers. Different from the common asparagus that we eat, shatvari contains the compounds saponin and flavonoids. The average dose is 1.5 grams two to three times per day. (3)
Alfalfa is an edible plant with a number of micronutrients including vitamin K, A and C. It has been used to increase breast milk supply, although limited research exists on its galactologue properties. Mothers with autoimmune disease should not consume alfalfa, and alfalfa should be eaten in moderation. It can be taken as food, tea or capsules and is best known in its sprout form, commonly added to salads. (4)
Boosting milk supply is not the only issues for breast feeding. Many moms also have trouble weaning their babies, once they are done breast feeding. Sage, a common herb, can be used as a tea through the day to stop the oversupply of milk. Sage contains a number of bioactive compounds, including phytoestrogens, that assist in weaning. Sage should not be taken with prescription drugs, since it does seem to affect the liver. (5)
Peppermint oil can reduce milk supply, with some moms noticing that eating altoids or peppermint candies resulted in a sudden drop in milk production! Add a few cups of peppermint tea daily as you wean to reduce your milk supply. Peppermint oil applied topically may also help engorgement or sore nipples. (6)
There are many other herbs that have been discussed with potential implication for breastfeeding; spearmint tea, chicory root, oregano and stinging nettle are just a few examples. Many of these herbs may be effective in helping milk supply or weaning, but more research is needed to safely recommend them. My only parting advice: Breastfeeding is difficult, but enjoy the journey and the rewards for you and your baby.
3. Joglekar GV, Ahuja RH, Balwani JH. Galactogogue effect of Asparagus racemosus. Preliminary communication. Indian Med J. 1967;61:165. PMID: 562430
5. Yarnell E . Botanical medicine in pregnancy and lactation. Altern Complement Ther. 1997;3 (April):93-1