Despite how universal breastfeeding support is, many nursing moms face significant challenges while feeding their babies. One study from the Journal of Nursing Scholarship even found that around 35 percent of moms weaned their babies early because of perceptions of insufficient milk supply.
Fortunately, there are many ways to help moms with low production make more milk for their babies. Supplementing with Fenugreek (or Trigonella foenum-graceum L.) is one way moms can try to boost output. With that being said, there’s a lot to learn about the supplement first.
From its origins to the potential benefits and side effects, here’s what moms need to know about taking Fenugreek while breastfeeding.
What Is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is just one item on a larger list of supplements which may help nursing moms make more milk. But what exactly is fenugreek? This plant grows a few feet high and has green leaves, small flowers, and pods with seeds.
Extracts from the plant contain high amounts of nutrients like fiber, protein, iron, manganese, and magnesium. It’s unlikely you’d consume much fenugreek as an additive, but supplements deliver concentrated amounts.
Historically, Chinese medicine utilized the plant to treat skin conditions and other diseases. Indian and Asian cultures often use the seeds and powder in recipes, so it may smell familiar!
Currently, studies exploring fenugreek as a treatment for high blood sugar, testosterone problems, and other health conditions prove promising.
Fenugreek as a Galactagogue
According to scientists, milk-supporting supplements (also known as galactagogues) may boost milk production by affecting hormones which control lactation.
Theories exist which explore supplements’ power over milk-secreting cells and their production.
Other theories point to “triggers” which stimulate mom’s glands and milk ejection reflexes.
However, no galactagogue guarantees results, especially in moms with unexplained low production. But in many breastfeeding moms, fenugreek is a simple solution to milk supply problems.
What Else is Fenugreek Used For?
Although moms rely on it to make breast milk, studies also explore fenugreek for lowering blood sugar, relieving low testosterone symptoms, and even curing skin conditions.
Plus, it’s still used as an additive in many foods for flavoring and texture.
What Forms Does Fenugreek Come In?
The most commonly available fenugreek varieties are in pill form.
However, if the thought of taking pills is daunting, there are alternatives. Fenugreek also comes in powder, tea, and liquid forms.
Manufacturers often combine fenugreek with other ingredients in lactation teas or lactation supplements. You can find these online and in most natural health food stores.
Who Should Consider Taking Fenugreek While Breastfeeding?
Unfortunately, concerns about babies getting enough breastmilk are very common nowadays.
Moms who consider taking fenugreek likely have multiple reasons for turning to supplements. Below are common challenges that nursing moms face.
Confirmed Low Supply
Often, moms worry about babies getting enough milk regardless of how well they’re gaining weight.
But if your lactation consultant or other healthcare professional confirms you have a low milk supply, fenugreek may help.
Before turning to the pharmacy, many moms want to try more natural means of making milk first.
Although many babies nurse well into toddlerhood with no problems, others will go on nursing strikes. While many factors can cause a baby to refuse to nurse, some examples include:
- Illness like a stuffy nose or cold
- Stress or separation from mom
- Unusual smells or tastes, whether in mom or the milk
- Low supply
Moms usually need to work with their babies (and lactation support) to re-establish the nursing relationship, but fenugreek may help boost supply so the milk is ready when the baby is.
Exclusively pumping is different from breastfeeding a baby directly – but of course, it requires just as much commitment and work! It’s just that the process works differently because nursing babies have a direct connection to mom’s hormones.
Unlike a baby, a breast pump doesn’t secrete saliva that affects milk production and composition. Plus, as advanced as today’s breast pumps are, they still aren’t as effective as a suckling baby in removing milk from the breast.
For moms who directly breastfeed while they’re at home with their babies, supply may drop when they begin pumping even part-time. In those cases, taking fenugreek might help fill the gaps pumping creates.
Moms of Multiples
The more babies a mom must feed, the more encouragement her body needs to keep up with the demand.
Whether you’re pumping or nursing directly, mothering multiples might require a boost in milk production. Fenugreek may be the answer!
Potential Benefits for Taking Fenugreek During Breastfeeding
Like most breastfeeding moms, you may want more information about fenugreek because you’ve heard it can increase your milk supply.
Making more milk is the primary benefit of consuming fenugreek in any of its forms. Here’s more about the benefits of consuming fenugreek while nursing.
Studies on Using Fenugreek During Breastfeeding
While experts note the evidence is inconclusive, many studies have explored the connection between fenugreek and increased milk supply.
For example, many breastfeeding studies show a relationship between fenugreek use and moms’ milk supply. Here are a few of the highlights.
An analysis of a collection of studies confirmed fenugreek has a “mild galactagogue effect.”
Many of the studies used multi-ingredient products, however. Longer ingredient lists influence how we can interpret the results.
Multi-Ingredient Supplement Study
A supplement study tracked how much milk moms made before and after using capsules containing fenugreek and other herbs.
By the fourth day of moms’ consumption of the supplements, none of the 40 babies required supplemental feedings.
Interestingly, the study only involved moms nursing babies six to eight times per day, rather than on demand. Most experts, including La Leche League International, recommend feeding infants on demand, which for a newborn or for a mom with low milk supply may be 8-12 times or more per day.
Therefore, moms who do so might see even better results with fenugreek supplementation.
Preterm Infant Studies
One study on ten postpartum moms of preterm babies reported that moms who supplemented with fenugreek doubled their milk output volume.
No studies showed adverse effects on preterm babies whose moms used the supplement.
Herbal Tea Study
Researchers used an herbal galactagogue tea containing fenugreek to measure how effective the ingredient was at helping moms increase milk supply.
Moms in three groups consumed either herbal tea, placebo tea, or no additional beverages or supplements.
Those who received galactagogue tea with fenugreek produced more milk than the other two groups.
Fenugreek Study Review
Three researchers analyzed five studies on moms using fenugreek to boost milk production. Each study used fenugreek, placebos, control groups, and other references.
The results showed fenugreek was effective as a galactagogue.
Combined Supplements for Better Milk Supply
Some studies focused solely on moms who took fenugreek to boost milk production. Other studies included moms who consumed multiple supplements to help make milk. Common herbal galactagogues which moms use alongside fenugreek include:
- Goat’s rue
- Blessed thistle
- Red raspberry leaf
- Torbangun leaves
- Blessed thistle
Some foods also have galactagogue properties. These include barley, oatmeal, brewer’s yeast, garlic, sesame seeds, and nuts.
Is Fenugreek Safe to Take While Breastfeeding?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirms fenugreek is “generally recognized as safe.” The statement reflects the food industry’s use of the herb as an additive.
However, to date, the FDA hasn’t endorsed fenugreek for medicinal use. Here’s what to consider when it comes to fenugreek safety.
Side Effects of Taking Fenugreek while Breastfeeding
Fenugreek can cause you to smell like maple syrup, which is the most benign of the side effects. It can also cause stomach upset and diarrhea.
Ultimately, though, tolerance levels vary, so some moms may not notice any symptoms at all.
Babies may also have upset tummies if moms consume high doses of fenugreek. Still, most studies suggest babies experience no negative side effects from their moms taking it.
Again, if your baby is very sensitive, you might notice more tummy troubles than other moms do in their infants.
How Much Fenugreek Is Safe to Take When Breastfeeding?
Like vitamin C has both positive and negative effects, so does fenugreek.
A low dose may not cause upset stomach, but you may need a higher dose to see an increase in milk supply. Therefore, finding a balance between how much you need and how much you can stomach is the key.
The type of supplement you take can also affect overall safety. Pills come in more concentrated doses than teas, for example, so pay attention to the dosage on the packaging.
Minimizing Your Risks While Taking Fenugreek
Although the risks to most nursing moms are low, it’s a good idea to pay attention to any symptoms which come up in you or your baby.
You should also make sure to eat enough and drink adequate amounts of water.
Important Safety Note: Also, if you have existing allergies to peanuts or chickpeas, do not take fenugreek, as it may cause similar reactions.
Who Should Not Take Fenugreek While Nursing?
If fenugreek causes you severe stomach trouble, you will notice quickly. Similarly, you’ll also notice if your baby becomes gassier or has other digestive trouble.
But apart from mom and baby duos with sensitive tummies, there are a few other groups who should not use fenugreek.
Fenugreek May Be Unsafe for Some Nursing Moms
It’s true fenugreek is both a condiment and a flavoring for artificial maple syrup, but large amounts may prove dangerous to moms with preexisting conditions.
And according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, fenugreek may be unsafe for some groups of women.
The NCCIH admits we need more research to decide on the ultimate safety of fenugreek. Still, early studies suggest these groups of moms should avoid the supplement.
If you fall into one of the below categories, you may be at risk for negative side effects.
- Pregnant women: fenugreek may cause or affect contractions
- Moms with asthma: fenugreek can worsen asthma symptoms
- Diabetic moms: fenugreek can lower or otherwise change blood sugar
- Women with hormone-sensitive cancers: the supplement can act like estrogen in a woman’s system, potentially worsening cancerous conditions
Drug Interactions with Fenugreek
Other potential risks include drug interactions with fenugreek supplements.
If you are taking any medication, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before adding fenugreek or any other supplement to your routine.
However, these are the most common medications which may have a moderate interaction with fenugreek:
- Diabetes medications such as glimepiride, insulin, and others
- Anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, heparin, and others
Dosing for Fenugreek While Breastfeeding
Each product will suggest its own dosing guidelines. Therefore, there is no single recommendation for fenugreek dosing.
For reference, some sources suggest consuming anywhere between 500 and 1000mg of fenugreek.
Other sources note a usage between 1,000 and 2,000mg per day in studies, depending on the purpose of each.
Studies on fenugreek’s impact on blood sugar in people with diabetes, for example, use between two and five grams of fenugreek seeds daily.
According to Kelly Mom, dosages below 3,500mg per day sometimes show no effects on mom’s milk supply.
A standard method for determining the right dosage is to increase the dose you consume slowly. Once your sweat and urine start to smell like maple syrup, you’ve found the right concentration.
Of course, it’s always best to discuss this with your doctor and a lactation consultant first and leave it up to them to determine the ideal dosage of fenugreek for you while breastfeeding.
Suggested Dosing Based on Supplement Form
When taking capsules, recommendations vary between taking 9 to 12 tablets of 500 to 600mg fenugreek pills per day. Optimally, you should dose every few hours, spreading the pills out two or four at a time.
For powder or seeds, dosing ranges between a ½ teaspoon to one teaspoon three times per day. With powder and seeds, you can also choose to mix it with water or juice for easier swallowing.
With tea, aim to drink two to three cups each day. Concentrated oils or other liquids often suggest one to two mL three times per day.
Again, these are just general figures and ranges – it’s always best to discuss things with your doctor first to determine what’s best for YOU. Don’t settle for a one size fits all answer.
How Long Does It Take For Fenugreek To Increase Milk Supply?
Individual results will vary, as with any supplement or medication. Many moms report seeing results in around five days, while some studies followed a fourteen-day timeline.
However, moms generally notice an increase in milk supply within 24 to 72 hours after starting fenugreek dosing.
Note from Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC: “Fenugreek is unlikely to increase your supply unless you’re feeding more frequently. Also, milk supply is based on milk removal, and this does not change just because you’re taking a galactagogue.”
Wrapping It Up
For nursing moms considering fenugreek during breastfeeding, there’s a lot to know about the promising supplement.
Because there are many benefits to breastfeeding, it’s worth the effort to maintain a steady supply. Fortunately, supplementing with fenugreek may be one of the easiest ways to do so.
As a first step toward remedying low milk supply, fenugreek is an accessible and potentially effective option. It has fewer side effects and potential risks than pharmaceutical drugs, is easy to find, and can work quickly.
Admittedly, there are potential drawbacks to using fenugreek, and it may not be a cure-all for breastfeeding moms.
Still, it is often worth the effort when it comes to boosting your milk production. Especially when the alternative is prescription medication or infant formula, fenugreek may prove the more desirable choice.