One of the most common concerns with breastfeeding is "am I making enough milk?" and "how can I increase my milk supply?". Time and time again, women just casually recommend Fenugreek to anyone asking for help. Somehow, this became the most common supplement recommended to nursing mothers. I spoke with Carol Pokladek, RN and a lactation consultant (IBCLC) at St. John Hospital's Nurturing Nook the other day, She mentioned these 4 major things:
1) Do not take Fenugreek if you're pregnant.
According to kellymom.com, fenugreek is a uterine stimulant. Not in the "induce labor" kind of way, but it can cause the uterus to a) "have a weak constitution" and b) shed the uterine lining (which is dangerous during pregnancy, as that could affect the placenta's attachment to the uterus). Fenugreek can also cause congenital defects, according to this study (although, it was tested on rats, since testing on pregnant women is unethical). It also can have neurodevelopmental, neurobehavioral and neuropathological side effects on the baby according to this report.
2) Do not take Fenugreek if you have a peanut or garbanzo bean allergy.
Fenugreek comes from the same family as peanut and chick peas!
3) Do not take Fenugreek if you have asthma.
Fenugreek has been reported to irritate chronic asthma symptoms. Although some home remedy websites report fenugreek as a respiratory aid, it should not be taken if you have chronic asthma.
4) Do not take Fenugreek if you have blood sugar issues.
While Fenugreek is considered an antidiabetic, in women with uncontrolled or undiagnosed issues, especially in women with low blood sugar, it could be dangerous leading to nausea, fainting, sweating, anxiety, fatigue, and more!
According to LiveStrong, Fenugreek is also known to interact with thyroid medication since it alters thryoid functioning.
Also, according to this report, in males it can cause testicular toxicity, DNA damage (in sperm) and anti-fertility effects. In females, it is also an anti-fertility, antiimplantation and an abortifacient (hence why not to take it while pregnant).
Fenugreek can also cause baby to have gastrointestinal issues, such as excessive gas. So if your baby is already dealing with stomach issues such as gas, reflux, or there is a concern with their stool, Fenugreek would not be a good option.
*** Some women even report it lowering their milk supply! ***
So what recommendations can women give instead of Fenugreek?
Carol spoke of these options, that they also carry regularly, instead of fenugreek:
Shatavari - comes from the asparagus family. It has been used for milk supply for thousands of years. (Do not take if you're also taking lithium. Lithium is also contraindicated for breastfeeding.).
Malunggay - derived from the Miracle tree. It also is nutritionally dense!
Blessed Thistle - comes from the daisy family, which is rare to be allergic to. There are no obvious side effects, although it can decrease the gastrointestinal issues caused by fenugreek.
Steel Cut Oatmeal - it is a known galactagogue (milk supply increaser!)
So please!! Lets stop recommending Fenugreek as the first go-to remedy if you're not a lactation professional. Especially if you do not know the nursing mother's medical history. The first go-to should be to call a lactation consultant, latch baby or pump as often as possible, and then consider supplements. Your lactation consultant should be reviewing things like nipple shape, tongue/lip ties, latch, positioning, number of feedings, diaper output, baby behaviors, & more!
If you would like to speak to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) at St John Hospital (22101 Moross Rd, Grosse Pointe, MI 48236) you can stop into the Nurturing Nook for basic questions when purchasing supplements, or call (313)343-3146 to make an appointment for a full evaluation.
If you're looking for in depth support in your home, I recommend speaking to Kristi Miller, CLC. She is an experienced in-home lactation counselor in Metro Detroit, MI. To schedule an appointment with her you can email her at InHomeBF@gmail.com.