Fenugreek and Increasing Your Milk Supply

Visit any breastfeeding thread or group and you will find many mothers providing loving support to a mother in need of it. When a mother mentions what seems to be a drop in supply, many women will rally around her with countless well meaning remedies.

It is important to be sure that when giving and receiving advice it is.

1. Evidence based

2. Universally safe, especially if a mothers medical history is unknown.

We are talking babies and postpartum moms in these scenarios. So advice should be given with the utmost care. Most mean well, but we have to be careful.

A common remedy that women will swear by and recommend without hesitation is Fenugreek.

What is Fenugreek?

▪ Fenugreek is in the spice blend garam masala. It’s used to flavor imitation maple syrup and as a condiment. Its extracts are also in soaps and cosmetics.

▪ Historically, fenugreek was used for a variety of health conditions, including digestive problems and to induce childbirth.

According to the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, there is little evidence that supports the health benefits of Fenugreek. Furthermore it is an herb and it’s not a good idea to recommend herbs that worked for you to another person unless you are ready to take blame when the mother or infant have a negative reaction to the herb.

Many rarely consider the reasons why a woman should avoid Fenugreek.

▪ Fenugreek may act like estrogen in the body and be unsafe for women with hormone-sensitive cancers.

▪ Side effects of fenugreek may include diarrhea; a maple-like smell to urine, breast milk, and perspiration; and a worsening of asthma.

▪ There’s little information on the risks of taking fenugreek while breastfeeding.

▪ Fenugreek should not be used in place of conventional medical care or to delay seeking care if you have health problems. This is particularly true if you have diabetes.

Recommending Fenugreek to a mother who is Diabetic could have negative results on her health.

Fenugreek does not in actuality work for all women and proper dosage should be considered when attempting to use Fenugreek for milk production.

Kellymom.com lists possible side effects and people who should avoid Fenugreek 

• Sweat and urine smells like maple syrup; milk and/or breastfed baby may smell like maple syrup.

• Occasionally causes loose stools, which go away when fenugreek is discontinued.

• Use of more than 100 grams of fenugreek seeds daily can cause intestinal distress and nausea (recommended dose is less than 8 grams per day).

• Repeated external applications can result in undesirable skin reactions [Wichtl 1994].

• Ingestion of fenugreek seeds or tea in infants or late-term pregnant women can lead to false diagnosis of maple syrup urine disease in the infant due to presence of sotolone in the urine. See [Korman 2001] and other studies on fenugreek and maple syrup urine smell.

Avoid this herb if you have:

Peanut or chickpea allergy: Fenugreek is in the same family with peanuts and chickpeas, and may cause an allergic reaction in moms who are allergic to these things. Two cases of fenugreek allergy have been reported in the literature. [Patil 1997Ohnuma 1998Lawrence 1999]

Avoid this herb if you have :

Diabetes or hypoglycemia: Fenugreek reduces blood glucose levels, and in the few studies using it as a hypoglycemic, also reduces blood cholesterol. Dosages higher than the recommended one (given above) may result in hypoglycemia in some mothers [Heller]. If you’re diabetic (IDDM), use fenugreek only if you have good control of your blood glucose levels. While taking this, closely monitor your fasting levels and post-prandial (after meals) levels. Mothers with hypoglycemia should also use fenugreek with caution. For more on fenugreek and glucose levels, see the references below.

Avoid this herb if you have:

Asthma: Fenugreek is often cited as a natural remedy for asthma. However, inhalation of the powder can cause asthma and allergic symptoms. Some mothers have reported that it worsened their asthma symptoms. [Dugue 1993HugginsLawrence 1999].

Keep in mind that Fenugreek presents itself in many forms:

Pills, powder, tea and and drink mixes. Many Lactation cookies contain the herb as well. It’s important that we do our research before making herbal suggestions to others

Is Your Milk Supply Truly Low?

My first question to a mom when I hear this is,

What is making you feel your supply is low? 

What aren’t indicators of a low supply are:

Breasts feel empty and not as large or full.

The baby acts upset after nursing.

You no longer feel a strong letdown surge

The amount of Milk you are able to pump in a session.

If the baby has good consistent weight gain.

6 or more Wet diapers, and about 3-4 poops a day, then baby is getting enough milk.

A baby nursing frequently is not an indication of low supply. Breastmilk digests quickly and the baby has a small stomach.

Babies need to suck naturally there are two types of suckling, nutritive (feeding) and non nutritive (simply sucking to satisfy the need)

Expect a lot of baby to breast time. Which is good and healthy emotionally and physically for baby.

A sudden increase in feedings could be a growth spurt. These happen the first few days at home and around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months and 9 months. Lasting a few days. This varies but it’s a pretty good guide.

If you are pumping and your baby sucks a bottle down in minutes. It’s almost shocking how quickly the bottle is done, please remember a bottle is much easier to suck, it’s less work and.. babies like to suck. A baby May take a bottle after a successful breastfeeding session because it wants to suck.

Find an Ibclc or CLC or peer counselor in your area to voice your concerns and get the evidence based support you need.