Foods or medications that help increase milk supply are called galactagogues. Fenugreek is probably one of the best known herbal galactagogues used by breastfeeding moms. Drs. regularly recommend it to their patients. Moms recommend it to other moms. Doulas suggest it to their clients. It is easy to find, inexpensive and often helpful. It doesn’t require a prescription and there are usually no warnings on the bottle. Even so, I rarely recommend it in my practice. Uncomfortable side effects are common; and, for some mothers, fenugreek can be downright dangerous.
Fenugreek does often help increase milk production. It also seems to increase fluid production in the body in general. Because of this, mothers taking fenugreek may notice an increase in sweat production along with milk! Another common side effect is loose stools. Some postpartum moms would welcome this side effect, but not all. If you happen to have any digestive problems already, such as IBS, fenugreek could make you quite sick.
Your baby’s digestion could also be affected by fenugreek. I have seen many babies who were terribly uncomfortable with gas, green super-frequent stools and bright red bottoms who cleared up immediately after their moms stopped taking fenugreek.
And there’s more…
Do you have asthma? Fenugreek could make your symptoms worse.
Are you allergic to peanuts or garbanzo beans? Fenugreek is related to both. If you have any food allergies, it may be best to stay away from fenugreek. If you have a peanut or garbanzo bean allergy, definitely avoid this herb.
Do you have diabetes or hypoglycemia? Fenugreek can impact insulin and blood sugar. No fenugreek for you!
Are you hypo-or hyperthyroid? In rat studies, fenugreek has been shown to impact the thyroid so stay clear.
Are you pregnant? Fenugreek should not be used in pregnancy.
Can you see why fenugreek is not my favorite galactagogue?
If you have concerns about low milk supply, please do not immediately run to the drug store for a bottle of fenugreek. Instead, consult with a knowledgable lactation consultant about your breastfeeding challenges. She will help you determine the reason for the supply problem and develop a plan to increase milk production. The plan may include a galactagogue or a combination of galactagogues. An expert LC can help you decide which ones are appropriate for you and your baby.
Please note: Fenugreek is an ingredient in many lactation-support supplements that include a variety of herbs. It is also common in commercially made teas , cold drinks and cookies that are marketed to help with milk supply. Be sure to read the ingredient list carefully before taking any supplement for lactation!
See also, “Breastfeeding and Milk Supply“