Fenugreek has been used for centuries to increase milk supply in lactating mothers. As more and more mothers are taking fenutreek to help with milk supply, there are of course more and more opinions being spread stating that fenugreek is either amazing, or detrimental to milk supply. Because there are more anecdotal experiences being proclaimed, many mamas are left unsure of whether fenugreek can be helpful or harmful for milk supply.
We are going to dive into the science and studies behind fenugreek for breastfeeding mamas.
We hope this will help you make a decision on whether it will be beneficial for you to increase milk supply. The key is to know the research out there, know your body, and know your baby. Research is limited to specific individuals, so applying the research to your body can me different results. That is a fact of being human, but overall, research and education is the foundation of making an informed decision for both you and baby.
What is the truth on Fenugreek for milk supply?
Research on Fenugreek and other galactagogue herbs like Milk Thistle, Brewer's Yeast and Fennel is limited. As time goes on, more studies will be published to help us understand how these galactagogues work, and why they've been used for so many years to help with lactation. Research shows us that fenugreek, and other galactagogues can help some women increase lactation.
What is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is a plant with white flowers containing seeds, which are the seeds we use in teas, powders and other herbal remedies. Fenugreek has been used for thousands of years by the Chinese to treat various ailments. Fenugreek is often used as a spice or thickening agent in dishes and recipes. It has a warm, nutty flavor that is often in Indian dishes. The fenugreek seeds themselves have fiber, protein, iron, magnesium and maganese, which are all great for breastfeeding mothers.
Fenugreek can increase milk supply in certain individuals:
A recent publication, updated just a few months ago in January of 2019, looked at various studies done to attempt to conclude whether fenugreek increases milk supply. According to this publication, many of the mothers who took ONLY Fenugreek, did not see quantifiable increases in milk volume, though these studies have many issues that make them non-conclusive. What is interesting though, in one study where moms were given a unique tea called Still-Tea, experienced a quantifiable increase in milk supply compared to mothers taking an apple tea. Here is what the study stated,
Sixty-six postpartum mothers (22 in each of 3 groups) with no concurrent illnesses were randomly assigned to receive an herbal tea, placebo, or nothing after delivering healthy, fullterm infants. Mothers in the herbal tea group received at least 3 cups daily of 200 mL of Still Tea (Humana-Istanbul, Turkey; containing hibiscus 2.6 grams, fennel extract 200 mg, fennel oil 20 mg, rooibos 200 mg, verbena [vervain] 200 mg, raspberry leaves 200 mg, fenugreek 100 mg, goat's rue 100 mg, and, vitamin C 500 mg per 100 grams, per manufacturer's web site November 2011). A similar-looking apple tea was used as the placebo. All women were followed by the same nurse and pediatrician who were blinded to what treatment the mothers received. Mothers who received the Still Tea produced more breastmilk with an electric breast pump on the third day postpartum than mothers in the other groups. The infants in the Still Tea group had a lower maximum weight loss, and they regained their birth weights sooner than those in the placebo or no treatment arms. No long-term outcome data were collected.
These findings tell us that Fenugreek, in combination with other galactagogues like Fennel, Raspberry Leaf and Goat's Rue can work really well. What we've concluded with our reviews of research is that small amounts of Fenugreek, combined with other galactagogues is the best way to go because it eliminates the likelihood of side effects from Fenugreek, but also utilizes its strengths.
Still, another finding in this publication talks about women who only took Fenugreek, and experienced higher milk volume. These women were from Thailand.
Fifty women in Thailand who were 1 month postpartum and exclusively breastfeeding were randomized to receive either a placebo or capsules containing fenugreek seed 200 mg, turmeric 100 mg and ginger 120 mg (Fenucaps; Herbal Acharn's Home Co. Ltd., Thailand) 3 times daily for 4 weeks. Participants pumped milk on 2 days at 0, 2 and 4 weeks of the study. The average milk volumes increased by 49% at 2 weeks and 103% at 4 weeks among participants receiving the active product. The macronutrient composition of the milk did not change in either group over the 4-week period. Growth of infants was not reported.
Fenugreek itself can help with milk supply depending on your specific metabolism and genetic make up. Even UT Southwester Medical Center suggests supplements with fenugreek to help you increase your milk supply once it drops. Here's what Healthline states as the bottom line in reviewing various studies:
BOTTOM LINE:The available studies support using fenugreek to increase breast milk production and the rate of weight gain in newborn babies.
Some women in studies report significant changes in milk supply, while others seem to notice more side effects. This is just like any other herb, supplement or drug. There are always side effects and the option your body may not respond the same as someone else's.
What is interesting about these studies, is none of them reported side effects for baby.
Some mother's report that they are gassy, or baby seems more gassy after Fenugreek, but none of the studies in this peer reviewed publication have any findings to prove this to be true.
A study in mothers of preterm infants less than 31 weeks gestation compared the use of fenugreek (product and dosage not stated) 3 capsules 3 times daily for 21 days to placebo. No adverse effects were noted in the infants given the breastmilk.
This should give mothers peace of mind in trying fenugreek as a solution to increase milk supply. In general, no side effects have been found in babies from mother's taking fenugreek. Of course there can be special cases as with any dietary supplement.
Side effects of fenugreek in nursing mothers:
Various side effects have been reported in nursing mothers while taking fenugreek, but they are all anecdotal. These side effects include:
- Maple syrup smell
- Gassiness/stomach upset
These reported side effects have not been studied and reported as scientifically proven. We don't know what else was going on in diets, lifestyle and hormonal changes that could have also contributed to these experiences. Because fenugreek is a seed, those who have sensitivities to any type of nut or legumes may be more prone to side effects from fenugreek.
Can fenugreek harm your milk supply?
This is a more difficult question to answer because there isn't much to go off of. There are more studies and peer-reviewed, professional publications on how milk supply either wasn't affected, or increased. Many mothers report their milk supply increases, but they experience side effects, or their baby's seem fussy and gassy, so they stop. If a mother takes a supplement with fenugreek, and still experiences a low milk supply, or a drop in supply, it likely isn't the fenugreek, but a slow dip in supply for other reasons.
Why we included fenugreek in Milk Dust:
Most of the research for lactation-boosting herbs includes fenugreek blended with other herbs. Because we rely on doctors and scientists to tell us what works, this is part of our decision to have a small amount of fenugreek in our formula.
Most of the side effects experienced with fenugreek are due to high doses of pure fenugreek. By blending smaller amounts of various galactagogue herbs, we can reduce the probability of side effects, yet still benefit for the amazing properties in these herbs. Fenugreek has many other benefits besides increasing milk supply.
- Balance cholesterol
- Assist in heartburn
- Reduce appetite
- Reduce inflammation
Because of these other benefits, and the continued use and recommendation of fenugreek for milk supply, we believe it is an important part of our lactation-herb blend to help new mothers maintain a healthy milk supply, while also safely losing weight with natural herbs, minerals and nourishment.