Herbs have long been used in many cultures in an effort to boost breastmilk production. Fenugreek seed is one of the most popular of several herbs known as galactogogues. There are countless testimonials from mothers who believe Fenugreek is effective at increasing milk production. However, there are few scientific studies available. This doesn’t mean Fenugreek doesn’t work, it just means we don’t have the proof.
Whether Fenugreek or any other galactogogue will increase your milk supply may depend on the reason your supply is low to begin with, as well as your body’s individual response to the herb.
It’s important to understand a galactogogue will not increase milk production if you are not removing milk frequently enough. I often receive calls from mothers who want to know if a galactogogue will help increase their milk supply. Some are alternating breast and bottle feedings or are back to work and unable to pump as often as they would like. In cases like these, unfortunately the answer is no.
The first course of action when milk supply is low is frequent and effective milk removal. A breastfeeding baby is always more effective than a breast pump at building a robust milk supply. If your baby is nursing well and often, it’s still worth trying some extra pumping after breastfeeding. Pump for about 15-20 minutes within the hour following a breastfeeding several times a day, even if no milk is seen. This may provide enough stimulation to boost your production.
If your milk supply has not increased after several days of frequent breastfeeding and pumping, and you decide to try Fenugreek, be sure to let your doctor and your baby’s doctor know. Many mothers assume herbs are safer than medicines, but herbs can have potential side effects too. Always read the label for side-effects and precautions.
Fenugreek has the potential to lower blood sugar, can have a blood-thinning effect similar to aspirin, and is not recommended in mothers who have asthma. It is also not safe to take Fenugreek while pregnant because it can cause uterine contractions. In large doses Fenugreek can cause intestinal discomfort. Fenugreek imparts a maple fragrance to sweat and urine. It also stimulates sweat glands, and since the breast has similar structures, this may account for its potential to increase milk production.
Fenugreek teas and cookies are available, but it is difficult to know just how much you are getting when you consume Fenugreek in those forms. The maximum dose for Fenugreek, when used as a galactogogue, is 6 grams in 24 hours divided into three doses and taken with meals. Capsules are often 500 milligrams but not always, so be sure to check. Some mothers report an increase in milk production within 72 hours, some within a week, and some report no increase at all.
Causes for low milk supply can be a simple or complex. A Lactation Consultant can help you to determine the cause and develop a plan to increase your milk supply.
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