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Breastfeeding

Questions About Fenugreek for Low Milk Supply?

You probably know fenugreek as the most popular herb to increase milk supply, but fenugreek sure is one multi-tasking herb.

It’s long been used as a cooking spice in East Indian and Asian cuisine and can be used externally to soothe wounds and sores. It can be gargled to relieve a sore throat and its seeds aid digestion.  It’s even approved as an appetite stimulant in Germany.

But it’s fenugreek’s status in the galactagogue world that puts it on center stage among breastfeeding herbs. (A galactogogue is a substance which increases milk supply.) Fenugreek is by far the most popular galactagogue, and can be taken as a liquid extract, dried powder capsule, or in tea form.

Note: Motherlove products all contain liquid extracts, or tinctures. Our vegetarian liquid capsules are popular with mothers who dislike the taste of the extract, but are the same liquid extract — just packaged differently for ease of use. Motherlove does not manufacture any dried herb capsules or teas.

Fenugreek’s smell and taste are so close to maple syrup that it’s used as flavoring in artificial maple syrup.  A few years ago, when New Yorkers reported periodic smells of maple syrup (they became known as “maple syrup events“) authorities identified the cause as a fenugreek processing plant!  Many mothers report that they smell like maple syrup when they use fenugreek to increase milk supply.

Fenugreek is an annual that grows 12-18″ high, and is a member of the legume family. It produces “pea pods” that contain yellow-brown seeds.

Fenugreek is an ingredient in a number of Motherlove products, including:  Fenugreek, More Milk Plus, More Milk Plus Alcohol Free, More Milk Plus Capsules, More Milk Special Blend, More Milk Special Blend Alcohol Free, More Milk Special Blend Capsules.  Please see each product page for suggested use.

Why Fenugreek:

Why is fenugreek such a popular galactagogue? Simply, because it’s safe and has such a long history of use without serious side effects. (See cautions and possible side effects below.) Its ability to increase milk supply is well established and it’s the number one recommended herb by lactation consultants. 

Before Using Fenugreek:

Consult a certified lactation consultant. There are many reasons why milk supply can suffer, and you may not have low supply at all. It’s common to worry about how much milk your baby is receiving and often everything is just fine. Also, low supply can be a complex issue and taking a supplement might mask the real problem, or not be effective without also altering your pumping schedule, correcting your baby’s latch or diagnosing another medical condition, such as PCOS. If you’re building a freezer stash so you can return to work, a lactation consultant can suggest the timing of introducing the bottle and getting a pumping routine established. We always recommend seeing a lactation consultant as the first step before taking any of our supplements.

Note: Always let your lactation consultant or healthcare professional know any medications that you may be taking, as any food has the potential to cause a reaction or interfere with medications.

Safety:

Fenugreek has been used for generations all over the world without any documented deaths. Fenugreek is widely used as an ingredient in spice blends and artificial maple syrup. It is a basic ingredient of curry powder and five spice mixtures and is also popular in salads. Fenugreek is on the FDA’s GRAS list (Generally Recognized as Safe).

Note: More Milk Plus is the number one recommended supplement to increase breast milk. More Milk Plus is carried in over 100 hospitals on the birthing floors where women get advice and support from lactation consultants on staff.

Possible Side Effects & Cautions:

Dosage:  Mothers who are fearful about producing enough milk have been known to take large quantities of fenugreek, which increases the risk of side effects. Dried herbal supplements can vary in their potency (which is normal — not all plants grown in the same garden are identical) and different brands recommend different dosages.

Note: Motherlove’s recommended dosage of our products is specific to breastfeeding. Fenugreek purchased as a general supplement may have other suggested dosages. Always follow the label’s dosage recommendations and talk to your lactation consultant about breastfeeding-specific dosages.

Contrary to much of what is recommended on the internet, taking enough fenugreek to smell like maple syrup is not always necessary. You might find an effective dose without the odor. Use caution and consult your healthcare professional before taking large doses of any herbs or supplements.

Also consider the dose that is effective for you. If you are taking a large dose and not seeing results in two to three days, ask your lactation consultant for advice. You might have low milk supply caused by a condition that does not respond to fenugreek. Common sense and professional advice can not only limit potential side effects but also save you valuable time and frustration, and get your breastfeeding relationship on track much quicker.

Note: Motherlove supplements are herbal extracts (not dried herbs) and are carefully blended for maximum effectiveness. It is possible to take a more moderate dose of these products because of their potency as compared to dried herbs and diluted dried herbs (teas). Always follow label instructions and do not take more than the recommended dose.

GI Upset:  Fenugreek is known to cause diarrhea and/or intestinal upset in a small number of people. The odds of this reaction can be minimized by taking the most moderate dose that works for you.  Dried herbs can also cause stomach upset because of the amount of fiber they are adding to your diet. If you are taking fenugreek along with other supplements, be aware of this potential side effect.

Dried fenugreek can inhibit the absorption of other medications because of the mucilage it produces. Fenugreek, when added to water, produces a thick-slimy substance that can coat the inside of your stomach and interfere with absorption. Liquid extract/tincture does not have this side effect, and it is absorbed much more quickly than powdered herbs.

It’s helpful to take a blend of herbs instead of fenugreek alone. A blended formula addresses several reasons milk supply may be low, and generally, it has less possibility for side effects than a single herb. Motherlove products are formulated with checks and balances — for example, fenugreek can cause diarrhea, but blessed thistle is anti-diarrheal.

Note: Motherlove has more formulas to increase breast milk than any other company. These include a fenugreek and alcohol-free galactagogue for use during pregnancy, More Milk Two, and fenugreek-free More Milk.

Allergies: Fenugreek is a legume as are beans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts and soy.  If you have a severe peanut allergy you should avoid fenugreek and other foods that contain it, such as those listed above. Studies have shown that people allergic to peanuts are not necessarily allergic to fenugreek, and there are people that have shown an allergy to fenugreek, but not peanuts.

Hypoglycemia: Clinical trials have shown that fenugreek lowers blood sugar, and it is used to control blood sugar by diabetics. If you are diabetic, talk to your healthcare professional before using fenugreek.

Pregnancy/Smooth Muscle Stimulation: One theory about why fenugreek works to stimulate breast milk production is its action on smooth muscles. (Breast tissue is a smooth muscle.) The uterus is also a smooth muscle making fenugreek unsafe during pregnancy. Do not take fenugreek while pregnant or while you can become pregnant.

Other Contraindications: Fenugreek contains coumarin, and animal studies have shown fenugreek to increase the effects of warfarin. Do not use fenugreek if you have been prescribed blood thinners. Fenugreek may lower the thyroid hormone T3 (also based on animal studies only), so fenugreek is not recommended for women with hypothyroid. Fenugreek has been said in some internet forums to have an effect on blood pressure/medications but we are unable to find any credible studies or links to fenugreek’s effect on either high or low blood pressure. However, as cautioned above, you should consult your lactation consultant and other healthcare professionals before taking any supplements or medications.

About Motherlove herbs:

Before being accepted for use in any Motherlove supplement, each ingredient undergoes quality testing. Then, the finished product is tested for bacteria, yeast, mold, E. coli, Staphylococcus, salmonella and heavy metals by a third-party lab.

Manufacturing and packaging of Motherlove supplements is done in a GMP certified and FDA registered facility, and all herbs used in the products are USDA certified organic.

Motherlove products do not contain dairy, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or gluten. Our capsules contain non-GMO soy lecithin.

References:
The German Commission E
The Botanical Safety Handbook
Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions
Medication & Mother’s Milk
The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety
The Nursing Mother’s Herbal
Herbal Medicines, A Guide for Health-Care Professionals
The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk
The Nursing Mother’s Companion
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

 

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