Breastfeeding your baby may be one of the most satisfying and fulfilling things you’ll ever do in your life. But when you’re jiggling your crying baby and wondering if she’s still hungry even though she’s been nursing for seemingly hours on end, satisfaction and fulfillment may be replaced with frustration.
One of the biggest reasons many new mothers head for the formula? They’re worried that they don’t have enough milk to satisfy the bottomless pit that is baby’s stomach. The struggle is real.
Keeping in mind that most women do have a sufficient milk supply — and even make more than one-third more milk than their babies need — you still may have circumstances that prompt you to want to try and boost production. That’s where natural treatments like fenugreek might come in.
Fenugreek has been used for centuries by breastfeeding women looking to boost their supply. But does it work?
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an herb that grows to around 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 centimeters) tall. It has small, white flowers and each green leaf divides into three smaller leaves.
You may have come across fenugreek without knowing it: The herb has a maple-like taste that’s used to add flavor to artificial maple syrup, and the ground seeds are used in curries. These small golden seeds are what we’re interested in.
Voila! The mothers who took the super-mix had a 49 percent increase in milk volume at week 2 and a 103 percent increase at week 4. (But again, this study looked at an herbal mix rather than just fenugreek. The fenugreek is assumed to have contributed.)
Researchers aren’t quite sure why fenugreek works. It may have something to do with the phytoestrogens (plant chemicals similar to estrogen) that fenugreek contains.
If you’re looking for these benefits in your own life, you probably want to know about how much fenugreek will do the trick.
Herbal tea drinkers can simply steep 1 teaspoon of whole fenugreek seeds in a cup of boiling water for about 15 minutes and sip at leisure two or three times a day.
If you’re looking for a more concentrated form of fenugreek, you may want to try capsule supplements. A good dose is usually 2 to 3 capsules (580 to 610 milligrams per capsule) three or four times per day, but check package instructions.
Fenugreek capsules work fast, so lucky moms will probably see an increase in milk production in as little as 24 to 72 hours. Others may have to wait about 2 weeks — and sometimes fenugreek just isn’t the answer.
Before you start, remember that herbal supplements aren’t regulated in the same way that prescription drugs are. Check with your doctor or lactation consultant before taking any herbal remedy, and stick to trusted brands.
- urine that smells like maple syrup
Here’s also an important point to remember: If you’re pregnant, you’ll want to stay away from fenugreek — it can cause uterine contractions.
Fenugreek is also likely safe for your baby. A
Study participants kept detailed diaries. No one reported any adverse effects in their baby during the 30-day study or the first year of their babies’ lives.
There are no reported interactions with other drugs for those taking fenugreek to increase milk production. But there’s some evidence that fenugreek reduces blood glucose levels, so women who have diabetes may need to adjust their insulin dosage.
It may also interact with blood thinners like warfarin. Check with your doctor before taking fenugreek or other herbal supplements, especially if you take prescription drugs or have diabetes.
If you don’t like the idea of trying fenugreek to increase your milk supply, here are some supplements that you might prefer.
- In the
2018 review of studies, researchers found that palm dates and Coleus amboinicus Lour, a perennial plant that smells and tastes like oregano (pizza anyone?) increased milk production even better than fenugreek supplements.
- Fennel seeds make a great tea that seems to help increase milk production.
- Blessed thistle is another tea that you can brew from the dried herb.
Modifying the way you breastfeed can also help to increase your supply. Try to:
- breastfeed often
- pump between feedings
- feed from both sides each time you cuddle up with your baby
With these strategies, you’ll probably notice that your milk supply is increasing and that you’ve become a pro.
Breastfeeding is an art. (Do we have you thinking of those dreamy paintings of suckling infants?) But it’s not always easy. Fenugreek may help, especially if you have concerns about supply.
If you’re still finding that breastfeeding your little one is a challenge, check with your doctor or lactation consultant — herbal remedies won’t solve all milk supply problems.