Proceed with Caution: Fenugreek and Breastfeeding

fenugreek and breastfeeding, nursing and fenugreek, side effects of fenugreek, is it safe to use fenugreek and nursingWhat is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an herbal supplement that is claimed to be useful for a broad range of various conditions, without any substantial scientific evidence, from baldness, constipation, and heartburn to diabetes, cholesterol and erectile dysfunction.  The focus here, is the widely held belief among lactation advisors, nursing mothers and other birth professionals that fenugreek helps to stimulate milk production and supply.

The fact is, there is not enough evidence to suggest that fenugreek is effective for any use. Of the few studies that have been done, they have been small and inconclusive.  So, does the fact that there is no data or research mean that fenugreek has no benefit?  No, not inherently.  Similarly, just because it is an herb and “natural”does not mean that it is safe.

Milk Supply and Galactagogues

First, let’s explore the idea of increasing milk supply.  breastfeeding support, guidance with breastfeeding, breastfeeding help, learning to breastfeed, lactation, feeding new babyInitially establishing supply is a specific and balanced dance of hormones and receptors that begins the moment the placenta is delivered.  Milk supply is determined by the removal of milk from the breasts and the interplay of prolactin (which produces the milk) and oxytocin (which releases the milk).  Frequent nursing is directly associated with greater infant weight gain. (DeCarvalho)1

As Americans, we often look to something outside of us to find a solution, often that’s in the form of a pill, whether prescribed or purchased at a health food store.  Often, the answers lie within us or in behaviors such is the case with breastfeeding. It is far more effective for a mother struggling with supply to work with a lactation professional and look at all aspects of her nursing relationship.  For example: How often is the baby being fed?  Is the mother expressing her milk and how?  How much milk is being removed from her breast at each feeding (determined by weighing baby before and after a feed)?   Most important is a mother’s confidence.  With desire, confidence and early breastfeeding support, a healthy, rewarding nursing relationship with a sufficiently plentiful supply is more likely.

breastfeeding baby, benefits of breastfeeding, children asking about breastfeeding, siblings breastfeeding, cute baby face, baby hand on faceMillions of women across nations and generations, living under impoverished conditions, famine, holocaust and natural disasters, are able to produce and supply their infants with their own human milk regardless of the mother’s nutritional status.  Advice that guides nursing mothers to drink more to be able to produce more milk is erroneous: “Encouraging women to drink excessively has no effect upon lactation, either in terms of yield or composition of milk.” (Dearlove)2  Healthy eating and balanced nutrition are good advice throughout the life cycle, however, this directive during lactation benefits the mother and her long term health but does not impact milk supply.

Is there really such a thing, then, as a galactagogue, an external substance believed to increase milk supply?  The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines galactagogue as “an agent that promotes the secretion and flow of milk.”  Many elements that are believed to help milk supply are based in cultural lore and not supported through research.  In a literature review of galactagogues, Anderson and Valdes3 concluded that

“If mothers are provided education and practice techniques that support lactation physiology, galactagogues appear to have little or no added benefit.”  It has long been purported that fenugreek is a galactagogue, but it has never been proven to help milk supply and may have worrisome side effects.”

Side Effects

Some reported side effects of fenugreek include diarrhea, gas, indigestion, heartburn and unusual smelling skin and urine (like maple syrup).  More serious, but more rare, side effects can indicate internal bleeding such as black, tarry or bright red stools, or vomiting blood or can indicate a bleed in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke) such as vision or speech changes, severe headache or weakness or numbness in the arms or legs.  As with any herbs, always be aware of allergic reactions.

It’s important to note that fenugreek is a legume and those who have peanut allergies may experience a cross-reaction.  Dr. Frederick Leickly, an allergist, writes in his blog about a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) which concluded that a sensitization to fenugreek was believed to have been caused by a peanut allergy in patients.  He also noted in his practice a reverse effect, “that the fenugreek may have worked in the opposite direction – fenugreek exposure causing sensitization to the other legumes,” meaning it is possible that the use of fenugreek may create an allergy to peanuts or other legumes.

In Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs and Natural Supplements, by Linda Skidmore-Roth, it states that Fenugreek “may cause reduced absorption of all medications used concurrently.”  This could cause harm in a mother taking medication for thyroid function, blood pressure or birth control pills.

Traditionally, fenugreek has been used to stimulate labor, so it could potentially cause preterm labor or miscarriage if taken during pregnancy.  Fenugreek is classified as category 4 for pregnancy which is defined as “no increase in frequency of malformation or other harmful effects on the fetus from limited use in women.  Evidence of increased fetal damage in animal studies exists, although the relevance to humans in unknown.”  It is classified as a category 2A for breastfeeding which is defined as “compatible with breastfeeding.”

As with all herbs, fenugreek has not been tested or verified by the FDA for safety, effectiveness or purity; there have been cases when herbal supplements have been contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs.  There is no official standard or oversight of manufacturing.

Conclusion

It is not fully known whether fenugreek can harm a nursing infant and it is not proven to have any positive effect on milk supply or nursing.  Focusing on breastfeeding support and education as well as working with nursing moms to empower them and build confidence are effective ways to help a mother establish and maintain a nursing relationship.

© Copyright 2011 Leah DeCesare

References:

1. De Carvalho, M et al: Effect of frequent breastfeeding on early milk production and infant weight gain.  Ped 72(3) Sep 1983.

2. Dearlove, J C & Dearlove, B M: Prolactin fluid balance and lactation.  Br J Obstet Gyn 88:652-54, 1981.

3. Anderson and Valdes, 2007, A Critical review of Pharmaceutical Galactagogues.  Breastfeeding Medicine, 2(4), 229-242.

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62 Responses to Proceed with Caution: Fenugreek and Breastfeeding

  1. I’m all for “natural” remedies but when something “cures” a half dozen vastly different problems then I get a little suspicious of it. Reminds me of the Snake Oil sellers in the 1800s. :)

    • Leah DeCesare says:

      Me, too. I use supplements and foods for health, but herbs are used as medications and need to be weighed like a medication – potential risk vs. hoped for benefit, side effects, etc. I try to be balanced in how I view things and do some digging before popping a pill – “natural” or “pharmaceutical.”

  2. Shaina says:

    I used this stuff called Boob Food by Elk Haven Herbals. It has Fenugreek and another ingredient they use in the Philippines that has been shown to be more effective. I definitely could tell a difference between my milk before and after using it. All of the studies are cited on the website for this product and it has more than 3 peer reviewed studies-which is all that is included in this article.

    • Leah DeCesare says:

      Shaina, I’m happy you found a product you like and from which you received a benefit.

      As with any herbs or medications, it’s important to be aware of any possible adverse reactions. Anyone who reads Mother’s Circle know that I’m all about seeking out the knowledge to be able to make truly informed decisions. One must be able to have information from various angles to do that.

      Fenugreek is used generously by many lactating women, professionals included, without the knowledge or awareness of it’s potential side effects. My goal here is to draw attention to the not-talked-about aspects of using fenugreek for nursing.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Jay says:

    Wow, I am thinking t hat Shaina works for Elkhaven. Because I am looking for reviews for the Boob Food from Elk Haven, and I noticed that this post sounded familiar. The same exact post, word for word is also on Baby center. Who copies and pastes posts unless you actually work for the company. Not cool especially for BF moms like me that have definitely tried EVERYTHING. My baby is latching good, i’m pumpling like crazy, i’m keeping her on the breast, i mean everything and I still only seem to produce approx 10oz a day. …..sigh

    • Leah DeCesare says:

      Jay – This post is 100% mine. I wrote it in 2010. Can you please let me know where else you saw it – because you’re right – it’s not cool for someone to steal someone else’s content. Thanks for pointing it out to me! (Or are you simply talking about the Boob Food comment – because yes, I’ve seen her comment verbatim elsewhere.)
      Sorry you’re struggling with supply – have you seen a lactation consultant? There are too many unknowns for me to provide you any specific guidance.

      • Jay says:

        Hi Leah. I was talking about shania’s post. She typed the the exact same thing on your blog as she did on mothers circle or baby center. So that makes me think she was only promoting the product that she was talking about because she works there.

        • Leah DeCesare says:

          Thanks for clarifying. You’re probably right …

          • Kim says:

            Or perhaps she’s promoting a product she’s found that works. You’re fastidious about using products and herbs with lots of evidence to support them, and then manage to make a comment like “she probably works for the company she’s promoting”?? Seems odd you wouldn’t give her the benefit of the doubt with only a single copied comment to back up the assumption. Do you automatically assume this about everyone who disagrees with you, or only those who might happen to give a specific product name? Did you even find the occurrence on the other site before accepting this one claim as probable? The commenter who named the product made a statement at the end of of her comment that seems specific to this article, offering specific references to research. I myself have had luck with organic fenugreek, although I won’t name any specific brands. I assure you, I do not work for anyone, much less a company that sells the product, so while my experience may be anecdotal, my testimony is not tainted by a desire to market a product. This article was slightly disappointing. I followed the advice to the letter in terms of establishing good habits and a strong nursing relationship with my son, and I’m still experiencing a decrease in supply. I am working with an LC, to no avail at great expense. I was hoping to find information about how to reestablish a healthy supply without resorting to trusting a supplement. You offered no such advice for those of us who have already been nursing for a while, only an insistence that a healthy supply should have been established at the outset. It’s almost as if the article is saying “oh well, too late now.” Thanks…??

          • ldecesare says:

            Kim, I appreciate your comments, though I’m not fully certain I’m following you at the outset as I never spoke of any product name. It certainly sounds like you’re taking good steps in working with a lactation consultant, and if you’ve found fenugreek to be helpful, that’s terrific. I never have, and never would say, “Oh well, too late,” to any mother.

            My goal in this article was to share evidence and information that is not widely shared among nursing professionals or mothers. I wanted to provide some of the research that does not align with the blanket recommendations we often give to moms who struggle with supply. It’s important to hear information that may diverge from what moms have received as the risks are rarely mentioned when someone suggests taking fenugreek, and for some moms, these adverse reactions and contraindications could be extremely relevant and critical.

            I sense your frustrations and have supported many many mothers who have difficulties with nursing, it’s not an easy path when you’re struggling, and it can be exhausting, trying, disappointing, and maddening, especially when coupled with insufficient sleep. Every mother and baby are different, so many times I find a mom who struggled with earlier babies goes on to easily produce milk and have a rewarding nursing experience with subsequent babies. I wish you all the best as you work to find the best support and information for you and your baby.

          • Kim says:

            One more thought: the FDA, and other “official” governing bodies are not held responsible by anyone for approving dangerous medications and they do so regularly. To declare this as potentially unsafe simply because it lacks this stamp of approval is no more responsible than declaring that crossing he road is inherently more dangerous without a crossing guard. Hundreds of thousands of people die regularly from taking medication approved as safe by the FDA. To have faith in this agency simply because it is an agency of the government is arbitrary at best. Likewise to declare anything unapproved by them as potentially or inherently more dangerous is arbitrary as well. This is not a responsible dissemination of information. While your goal may have been to allow women to make more informed decisions, a vague emotion statement of purpose, it misses the mark by citing outdated information and inciting fear in the use of a relatively harmless product, without offering viable alternatives for anyone who is already nursing a little one.

          • ldecesare says:

            I’m smiling as I read this one because if you knew me, I am the last one to have faith in anything “simply because it’s an agency of the government.” However, the FDA is what we have as a oversight body to help protect us. My point is that since the FDA isn’t looking at vitamins or herbs, this is an unregulated arena. The fact that they’re not approved by the FDA is not what makes them inherently dangerous but the fact is, they’re not monitored or reviewed in any formalized way. Take with that what you will.

            Personally, I read and learn on my own and choose to take various supplements, but I do like to know what potential interactions or harms they may have. And whether the studies are older or not does not discount their conclusions. Thanks, again, for sharing your feelings.

  4. Bob says:

    Two sources from the 1980s? Not very compelling.

    “Millions of women across nations and generations, living under impoverished conditions, famine, holocaust and natural disasters, are able to produce and supply their infants with their own human milk regardless of the mother’s nutritional status.”

    This is a shockingly stupid statement.

    • ldecesare says:

      Bob, I’ve approved your comment despite the tone as I welcome opposing views. I would be interested to hear a productive comment supporting your beliefs. Breastmilk supply in significantly malnourished mothers does certainly additionally stress her body and nutritional resources, however, the statement you criticize is still factual.

      From WHO – the World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/multimedia/podcasts/2009/breastfeeding_20090804/en/
      “Dr Constanza Vallenas De Villar: We know that mothers who are under stress have stopped ejecting milk for perhaps a day or so, but this can be overcome with good support. In fact it is a myth to think that because they are under stressful situations, they won’t be able to breastfeed. The thing is to know they need the support. The other myth that is quite common is that people think that because mothers are undernourished, they can not breastfeed or the milk is of very poor quality and that is not true. Even very malnourished mothers can produce good milk, it is in lower quantities it’s true, but obviously we don’t want to just ensure the baby is in good condition also we want to make sure the mother, if she is malnourished that she receives the nutritional support that she needs.”

      From The Breastfeeding Project: “Now when we get into moms that are severely malnourished, often in cases of starvation and famine, amazingly some nutrients remain constant while levels of other nutrients do decrease. Lactose, the most abundant nutrient in human milk, remains constant regardless of maternal nutrition, and protein also remains constant.” http://www.breastfeedingproject.org/breastfeeding-information/guest-columns/nutrition-and-breast-milk

      Other resources:
      http://rehydrate.org/breastfeed/faq-maternal-nutrition.htm
      http://www.unicef.org/programme/breastfeeding/related.htm

  5. I was under sever stress while nursing my first daughter from 2004-2006. I maybe ate a few bagels a day and drank milk and water. My baby Gained weight just fine and was completely healthy. I on the other hand, lost a ton of weight and looked sick. But I can personally attest to the fact that mom can still make good milk for baby under harsh circumstances.

  6. Marie Breshears says:

    Sadly, though you seem to care about nursing mothers and babies, your post may do great harm. I am rather frustrated and disappointed by the number of “lactation professionals” and those who speak/write from a position of authority on all things baby who so flippantly ignore the need of moms who aren’t making enough milk, and truly don’t want to have to supplement or quit nursing altogether. Most sources have a canned response that, “Everyone can make plenty of milk for their baby.” Or perhaps the worse response, “You are probably entirely unfounded in your concerns that you aren’t producing enough milk.”
    There IS such thing as “insufficient” glandular tissue. There is a real issue with undersupply. I have a number of friends who have dealt with it in some way or another. Fenugreek, along with other herbal supplements, are REAL solutions for moms who don’t want to supplement or quit nursing.
    The Boob Food from Elk Haven is real too, and it works! My son had a very sensitive stomach which forced me to find something other than fenugreek. The other herb in the Boob Food saved my nursing ability/relationship with my son. The wonderful people at Boob Food will send a fenugreek free version if you call and request it. How can I speak so clearly about this? I have four children myself, and could only nurse the first three for a few months, against my own desires. My body just quit producing. I tried even harder to find a solution with the third, to no avail. I was able to nurse her longer, but she was smaller, grew slower and ate less. Of course the medical and lactation support communities were NO help. My own stubborn persistence is the only thing (and the grace of God) that led me to discover the amazing world of solutions in herbs. Because of my son’s sensitive digestive system, I was unable to feed him any solids until he was eight months old. Herbs, including fenugreek and the Boob Food took me from only being able to provide him a couple ounces in a feeding when he was two months old (and his losing weight/not growing enough) to exclusively breastfeeding him until eight months, with no forced end in sight. For the first time in four kids, I am having to deal with the predicament of how and when to wean, and this ONLY because of these herbal solutions you feel the need to steer women away from.
    Perhaps you would prefer women go to the doctor and use a prescription drug that causes all sorts of mental/emotional side effects? You say that, “Millions of women across nations and generations, living under impoverished conditions, famine, holocaust and natural disasters, are able to produce and supply their infants with their own human milk regardless of the mother’s nutritional status.”
    Do you know for a fact the statistics of infant survival in all these generations? What about the fact that most if not all cultures had natural “tricks” for undersupply issues? Most cultures had/have certain foods and herbs that women would eat when pregnant or after delivery. In some cultures it is customary for the woman’s mother (or another female) to induce lactation to be prepared for if the mother to has issues with supply or dies during the birth. Finally, do you know the statistics of mothers that have exclusively breastfed their babies in comparison to those who were forced to supplement with animal milk or some other cultural food?
    The lactation community needs to quit lying to women for fear of losing footing in the “breastfeeding awareness movement” and start actually helping the many women who are searching for answers to legitimate supply issues. They are so concerned that they will lose popularity and women won’t breastfeed if they are honest about the potential issues, including the fact that some women, for various reasons, WILL have issues producing enough milk, and a greater awareness of herbal support in those situations can reduce or eliminate the need for supplementation. At the least it can help a woman move from supplementing back to exclusively breastfeeding (instead of supplementation being a slippery slope to weaning), still saving the breastfeeding relationship.

    • ldecesare says:

      Thank you for your comments, however, I do not “flippantly ignore the need of moms who aren’t making enough milk,” on the contrary, this piece serves to encourage moms to be educated and make decisions based in knowledge.

      Too many moms are counseled to simply take fenugreek without any caution as to interactions with other medications, allergies, or possible negative effects. Additionally, too often moms are advised to take an herbal supplement in lieu of getting solid breastfeeding support to increase confidence, latch and understanding of milk supply (I’ve written a post on understanding milk supply, again, to help moms be best informed. With understanding they can make better decisions for their families).

      My intent in this piece, based in the studies, is to make moms aware of other aspects of using fenugreek that are not widely discussed or communicated.

      Thank you for taking the time to express your opinions.

  7. Marie Breshears says:

    I want to add, for those who may be dealing with this issue, that there are also herbal solutions available during pregnancy to help increase your glandular tissue. Don’t give up, mamas! There are solutions, they are just much harder to find.

  8. Marie Breshears says:

    I do believe you have a disconnect between what nursing moms really need and what you feel they need. Your article is written in a biased manner. If you are so concerned about mothers making knowledge based decisions, why do you leave so much out in this article? An inexperienced mom reading this article is not being given all the information necessary to make a knowledge based decision on herbal supplementation for milk supply nor fenugreek in particular. Every source I have found on fenugreek and other herbal sources are much more complete regarding drug interactions, allergies, side effects, etc. In this article you seem to be stressing that a woman shouldn’t need supplementation, at the same time suggestin fenugreek in particular probably doesn’t even work. Both of these are inaccuracies, which takes the article even farther from accomplishing what you say the intent of the article is.
    Forgive me if I am inaccurately lumping you in with a majority of the professionals in your field, but I have essentially heard the same story so many times that I have no reason not to, based on your article. The number of women that I know who have been failed by these same professionals is far too high for me to be blowing things out of proportion. I would counter that in fact too many moms are counseled to just nurse their babies more and not worry as their concerns are probably unfounded, rather than being given a solution that works when nothing else does.
    What about these studies, which seem to disagree with your conclusions?
    1. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee (2011). “Use of galactogogues in initiating or augmenting the rate of maternal milk secretion”. Breastfeeding Medicine. Vol. 6, Number 1.
    2. K. Srinivasan (2006). “Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum): A review of health beneficial physiological effects.” Food Reviews International, Vol. 22:203–224.
    3. Rizal Damanik, Mark L Wahlqvist, and N. Wattanapenpaiboon (2006). “Lactagogue effects of Torbangun, a Bataknese traditional cuisine”. Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 15 (2):267-274.
    I also find it ironic that you have chosen not to respond to any of my questions about the practices and statistics of these generations and cultures you are so certain have not needed herbal supplementation to have a successful breastfeeding period/relationship. I look forward to your response.

    • ldecesare says:

      Marie – I will let your comment stand on its own as another viewpoint. I stand behind my article and the fact that too many women are NOT given this information as a counter point to the widespread, nearly universal advice to nursing moms about using fenugreek.
      Every mom deserves and needs caring support, education, and guidance. As professionals in lactation, we are both working toward the same end of supporting new mothers, meeting them where they need us and providing them with resources and choices so that she can best decide what is best for her and her family.

  9. […] Sources: www.kellymom.com, www.motherscircle.net, www.webmd.com […]

  10. Fenugreek Supporter says:

    I have no idea if there is any research proving that Fenugreek increases milk production in women. I can only draw from my own experience. I was very committed to nursing my first child. On day three, at his pediatrician visit, it was noted that he had lost more than the recommended amount of birth weight. I was advised to supplement with a bottle. I was greatly against that but as I had previously attempted to pump breastmilk with a pump and nothing was coming out, my husband was panicking and wanted me to supplement as well. The pediatrician asked if my “milk had come in yet” and I said “I think so.” Right then and there he should have known it hadn’t. Because when it did come in, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately that was on day five, when I had been supplementing for 2 days already. My son didn’t nurse well that first day and that just set the production very low in general and began my nightmare of nursing, waiting, pumping with a medela pump, washing bottles, tubes and other apparatus, and repeating the exhausting procedure all over again. Around month 3, I learned about fenugreek. I began to take it. Shortly there after, (maybe a day or two, I don’t recall as this was 13 years ago), IT LITERALLY FELT LIKE MY MILK HAD “COME IN” AGAIN. I cannot stress how shocked I was. I did a lot more nursing from then on, experienced better milk production, and shortly thereafter stopped pumping. I still supplemented, but not as much as before.

    With my next child, I was determined not to offer any bottles, went solely on nursing, used Fenugreek starting after delivery, and had a very successful nursing experience with my daughter until she was 18 months old. I never had a problem with her. I am not saying that is solely due to the fenugreek, however if I had a baby tomorrow, I would ABSOLUTELY take the funugreek supplements!!!

    • ldecesare says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience and I’m happy that you’ve had rewarding and successful nursing relationships! (I have a 13 year old son, too!)

  11. amillz says:

    Hello. I never comment on sites, but feel I must. I took fenugreek four years ago to help milk production for my daughter. I was amazed how well it worked. This past month I started an herbal supplement for low libido. Reading the ingredients I came across fenugreek, thought that was odd, but I was desperate for help. After a few days I did feel my desire to increase, was totally excited. Then I noticed my breast starting to look plumper and less saggy. I have often seen ads for firming breast and would never believe them. I am here to testify that fenugreek helped my baby four years ago and is helping me feel sexy again. Btw, I stumbled on this forum gogoogling if fenugreek was the reason my breast had more sensation and a firmer feeling. Definitely worth a try.

    • ldecesare says:

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. It’s always good to hear people’s personal stories and glad you’ve seen results you’ve wanted – Have Fun! 😉

  12. Molly Hale says:

    I think there is a placebo effect to taking fenugreek and other supplements. If confidence is a key ingredient to breast feeding success, feeling like you are proactively doing something to increase supply can be all the boost a new mom needs. I suspect this is a reason why many LCs recommend it.

    • ldecesare says:

      I agree, Molly, that it can have that effect. Confidence is key in breastfeeding success and if it helps a mom in that way, it could be good (though too often moms are not aware of possible OTHER impacts it can have on her medications etc.), but I worry that instead her confidence can be undermined. If a mom feels the need to look outside herself for her to be able to breastfeed successfully, perhaps we’re missing something in supporting that mom. I wrote the follow up article on Understanding Milk Supply to help mom’s understand the mechanisms of supply. I know many women struggle with nursing but I truly believe with good, early and nurturing support, moms can affect their supply without needing supplements. Thanks for commenting, Molly!

  13. Rajjae says:

    I used fenugreek and it did make my urine and sweat smell like maple syrup, it also increased my breast milk supply. My baby though got reflux and constipation which may or may not be associated with the fenugreek. I stopped taking it but he hasn’t improved yet.

    • ldecesare says:

      Thanks for your comment and sharing your experience with fenugreek. Getting local support through IBCLC (lactation consultants), LLL (La Leche League) or through hospital or community new moms groups will be beneficial for you. I think having people who you can ask questions of as you’re going is so valuable. Happy Nursing!

  14. Erin says:

    Hi, I just wanted to share my experience with breastfeeding andthe fenugreek supplement. My daughter is almost 4 months old now, and I have been having issues with my supply for the past 2 months. My body seems to have gotten out of whack when I started menstrating again. I first started using the pill form of fenugreek, which did seem to help ,but not without an upset stomach and a little headache. I do use the mothers milk tea which also has fenugreek as an ingredient, but does not seem to have as much affect, good or bad. I notice I must drink a lot of the tea to have even a small affect. So I recently had a friend recommend Motherlove more milk plus. I was very excited to try, and didnt worry about taking it because the other things I had tried also had fenugreek in them. But I will tell you…proceed with caution. After only 2 doses of this very potent serum, I quickly learned I was having an allergic reaction to it. The slight stomach upset and headache turned into full blown misery.Severe headache, feeling of swelling in head and neck, aching, and very upset stomach. I looked up allergic reactions and fenugreek, and found that on a few web pages it was listed to NOT take this supplement if you had allergies to plants.I am allergic to grasses, mold, mildew etc. And this reaction I had was as if I had eaten those things. It was awful. So, I know many women use it with no issues, and have great results, but those with allergies proceed with caution.

    • ldecesare says:

      Erin, I’m so sorry you experienced that – on top of taking care of a baby! Thank you very much for sharing your story, it is helpful to have a forum in the comments here where moms can learn from one another.

  15. Heartsick says:

    Honestly I wish you would remove this post. I am 3 weeks pp with my 5th baby and I am only producing 3-4 oz per 24 hours TOTAL. Obviously my little girl must have formula and/or donor milk while I strap myself constantly to a pump with the desperate hope to suddenly have more milk. Even half of her daily 24 oz would be a blessing.
    I can’t tell you how much I’ve cried. I have seen every professional under the sun and am extremely knowledgeable and educated as well as experienced I’m breastfeeding (have nursed all my babies until this one) and I am so sick of hearing “you probably don’t really have a low supply) until a weighted feed shows baby taking in only a 10th of an oz.

    I’ve resorted to many herbs and supplements and am considering medication to boost supply at this point and continue to read everything I can find (which led me to this post) while sitting hunched at the pump (which is killing my back) in the desperate hope to have something worthwhile to offer my baby.

    Your post is written in such a way as to cause women like me to feel hopeless and incredibly, incredibly sad. I am crying as I type this now. You don’t offer any alternatives and instead make me not only feel like these herbs, this last desparate act will not help me at all but may actually harm my baby (or me!)

    I realize that these herbs are mostly safe because I’ve already done my research and weighed the risks/benefits but now I will worry and fret and wring my hands even more because of your article.

    I’ve been told by the doctors and a whole lot of lactation consultants that they cannot help me other than to recommend these herbs and here this article is, crushing my heart and worrying me that I might harm my baby in my attempt to give her the best nutrition possible.

    I do wish you’d either remove this article or heavily revise it because it is unbelievably disheartening and upsetting and being postpartum along with devastated over my body’s failure to nourish my tiny baby is hhard enough as it is.

    Just something for you to consider.

    • ldecesare says:

      I’m so sad to have caused you any heartache. Nothing I write, ever, is meant to cause pain or sadness, so I’m sorry that it has caused you both. I have supported so many postpartum moms and can feel your frustration and stress in your comment, it is so difficult to have breastfeeding and milk supply issues, which are most certainly real. I hold you in my thoughts and hope you find peace and joy in your newest little one.
      I will reach out to you privately, as well.

  16. […] supplements containing fenugreek that are commonly used to increase milk supply. She mentioned that using fenugreek while breastfeeding can potentially cause peanut allergies in babies when there is a history of food allergy in the family. I had never heard of this before […]

  17. Gina says:

    I used fenugreek and I didn’t see the connection, but my daughter had severe eczema. I think we ran out of breast milk around 10 months or so, and miraculously her eczema almost disappeared around 12 months. She was diagnosed with severe peanut allergy at 16 months. I am not sure if fenugreek was the cause, but please be cautious. I feel horrible that I tried to do good got my baby and may have caused her severe allergies from taking fenugreek. I recommend not going it, just in case. Formula is better than this misery/anxiety/fear.

    • ldecesare says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience. There’s no way to know what caused your daughter’s allergy, she may just have been allergic anyway, please don’t put any blame or guilt on yourself! Perhaps your breastfeeding helped protect her from worse allergies. Two of my three kids, too, have severe nut allergies so I know how difficult it can be but with more kids being allergic, there are more accommodations and awareness in place at schools and other venues.
      My best to you and, again, thanks for commenting here.

  18. Stephanie says:

    So I will not be taking fenugreek anymore. I started taking it at the beginning of April because I was nervous I would lose my supply like I did with my daughter. About 4 days after starting it I began bleeding while having a bowel movement. I didn’t think much about it since I had been having hemorrhoids. I have now been experiencing headaches as well as still bleeding. After reading the side affects I am quite nervous!

    • ldecesare says:

      Stephanie, it’s hard to know if those side effects were from taking fenugreek, but it’s definitely easy to forget that herbs and other “natural” ingredients that we hope to have positive effects can also have unwanted effects. That was my intent in writing this – helping moms make informed choices. In my opinion, if you’ve stopped now, don’t be nervous. Just nurse that little one like crazy and consult with a lactation consultant if you need any help – but as an experienced nursing mom, I’m sure you’re doing great! Congratulations and remember to take care of you, too! Leah

  19. Adriana says:

    Poorly supported article. Need to make a more throrough up to date literature review on the subject. Suggest doing a pubmed search in a University library near you, and actually read and understand content in the papers before writing something like this.

    • ldecesare says:

      I always appreciate comments but disagree that this is poorly supported. This was written in 2010 and I did read the supporting literature. Do you have articles you can cite that refute what I say here?

  20. Mary says:

    I was wondering what you say to a breastfeeding mom who’s having struggles at three months. I understand getting things “right” early is best.

    I had an awesome supply with my first two babies. With my twins, not so much. And I “know how” to breastfeed. All the tips and tricks and support hasn’t made my supply meet the demand. I did find that drinking a decent amount of fluids and taking fenugreek increased my supply. I ran out of fenugreek and wasn’t worried about it. (I was confident.) My supply went down again.

    Our bodies are amazing and yes, we’ve lost a lot in our culture as we’ve moved away from traditional ways. However our bodies aren’t perfect machines. They are quite flawed.

    Just like mentally ill people can’t simply think themselves well, or meditate just the right way. Our bodies often need “outside” help.

    • ldecesare says:

      I appreciate your comment and you sharing our personal experience with Mother’s Circle readers. There are so many scenarios and personal specifics that it’s hard for me to advise you except to say that it sounds like you are an experienced mom and if you see a benefit from something – go for it! Also, I’d ask you if you happen to be taking things like allergy or cold medications, lots of pineapple or sage because these can cause milk supply to drop.

      Keep your confidence and keep doing the best you can – that’s all we can do ever as moms, women and humans!

  21. […] for nursing is a popular Google search, and a post I wrote years ago about fenugreek is read daily by someone somewhere in the world. But really what these Moms are seeking is ways of […]

  22. I am a male (65 years old), of Indian origin (in my previous life) but who never believed in any of the Indian stuff (when I was young and cocky), an engineering scientist and worked as a research program director at NSF, a federal research funding agency. I wrote a nice blog on my transformation in another forum of ALS patients whose link is http://www.alstdi.org/forum/yaf_postsm406270_inflammations-immune-system-gone-crazy-and-what-not–one-person-experience.aspx#406270
    Unfortunately they ask you to register even to see the articles. You might use a temporary email or add a filter to move all their correspondences to trash!

    Basically, Fenugreek is a seed (or herb) which helps in digestion. For 30 years I had all sorts of stomach problems (GERD, IBS, diarrhea, hemorrhoids) with the stomach feeling like a molten lava all the time and sleep problem, Having a US physician next to me all the time made the problem only worse (you want to see this specialist; you want to try this procedure or surgery. I will fix it for you and I went along). As I wrote in my blog:

    First experiment: Then I came across two culinary seeds, Fenugreek and Ajwain, available in local Indian grocery stores. The first is known for digestive properties and the second for removing trapped stomach air (the soaked water given even to a 3 month old baby to relieve the colic pain; unfortunately the Indians forgot about Ajwain and decided it is more fashionable to use the gripe water from abroad!) as well. Most Indians added them to their gravy etc. for centuries, I suppose (fenugreek is bitter and hence like a party pooper, so it must have been added for its good medicinal or healing property; but here still the tongue won with all other spices like red chili dominating!) and hence they get cooked, sautéed etc. I decided I will take them raw after grinding on a coffee burr grinder, mixed 1:1 and 1/2 spoon taken with water (like any tablet) after any meal or coffee etc. In 6 months or so, my digestive system was on the path to healing. My mouth ulcer, esophageal irritation, stomach upset, GERD, hemorrhoids etc. are all gone that I can go back to hot food such as Chiles Rellenos at least once in awhile. The Ajwain seeds will remove the swallowed air quickly before they became smelly relieving me of bloating, diarrhea etc. A theme that emerged is the use in raw form, to be taken after each every meal and even after coffee, perhaps given in their original medical literature but not followed or forgotten.

    In that blog I have added my experimentation with a portfolio of such culinary herbs (ginger is one of them that helped in my vascular and respiratory sides)

    Later I would learn that many women here take the fenugreek for increased lactation, reduced menstrual cramps etc. How can one seed be a solution for so many illnesses? some voodoo magic?

    No. It is winning by not curing you from the diseases but setting your subsystem in the correct path. My educated guess is that it is just healing the digestive system or increasing digestive enzymes — that makes good nutritious food completely absorbed in few hours leaving very little residue for expulsion (increased efficiency from an engineer’s perspective) and not so good food getting quickly expelled from the body — which makes the person productive in whatever they are supposed to do (Macro level action, taking care of digestive system for example, in setting your body in the correct path for best functioning or preventing you from getting any disease or letting you recover fast). In fact, now my peristalsis is so great that I describe the feeling as the closest a man can come in terms of feeling a healthy baby in tummy! .

    And incidentally, the type of female population who seek out such natural remedies are already conscious about their own body in general (and not over abusers) that the seed must be helping them well.

  23. Victoria says:

    I have been taking 2 Fenugreek tablets twice daily since going back to work to ensure my supply stays strong. Personally, I think it is working. My breasts feel fuller and am able to pump greater amounts. It has given me confidence to continue my breastfeeding journey while back to work. I have noticed no side effects

  24. Kaylen says:

    I love this article!! I just finished my CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor) and they spoke about this and provided the same research with the same conclusion: fenugreek doesn’t have enough evidence to support the claim that it help milk supply! Trying to change women’s minds about this including the nurse practitioner and drs I work with has proven to be a difficult task but I love when I find articles that I can show them that have proof and evidence based research!!

    • ldecesare says:

      Thank you for your comment. Confidence matters is also a big component of the CLC training and so all I can do is present evidence and allow women to make their own choices – the problem is when providers don’t know or don’t offer both sides to a suggested remedy. Too many women don’t know these possible warnings and while many use fenugreek without harm, others have problems they hadn’t expected because they were unaware.

      I get hundreds of views on this post daily and I see the search terms mothers are using to find it. Sometimes they make me sad because I can see and feel the frustration and worry and hope and confusion in many of the searches.
      Thanks for your work supporting mamas! We all need it!

    • Marie Breshears says:

      Lack of evidence due to lack of research does not mean there is no affect. I wold recommend that you be very careful throwing the baby out with the bathwater here, pardon the pun. There are a lot of mom and baby breastfeeding relationships hanging dependant on you in your position…. Just to updatr, I am now nursing baby number 5 and he is almost 15 months and the biggest baby of them all. I was able to switch from torbangun to fenugreek as he got older and his tummy could handle it. I would not have been able to do this without fenugreek and other herbal supplements. Unless you have been in the depressing and desperate position of knowing your baby isn’t getting the sustenance they need you have no idea what a woman goes through. (Especially when the “experts” say there isnt/shouldn’t be a problem…)

      • ldecesare says:

        Thank you for your comment and congrats on baby #5! As a mom of three, doula and educator who has supported hundreds of women and families, I have a deep understanding of the emotions and struggles moms face in feeding their little ones. It’s often not an easy road and I’m privileged to be able to help moms at this vulnerable and challenging time in their lives. My best wishes to you and your family.

  25. Kubeshnee says:

    Hi. I have been expressing milk ever since my baby was born. She is now 15 months old. My breast milk is lessening over time. Should I try fenugreek or some product to increase the milk supply or should I try and stop the milk altogether?

    • ldecesare says:

      This is such a complex question and best answered by someone with whom you can talk, someone who can get your history and a full picture of what you’re experiencing. Reach out to your local La Leche League, breastfeeding groups or lactation consultants at your local hospital or birth center, or independent IBCLCs (lactation consultants). My best wishes to you and great job pumping for 15 months!

  26. […] mothers or babies can be allergic to herbal supplements such as fenugreek as explained in this article. Jungle juice is frequently recommended for use to boost breastmilk supply, however there is nothing […]

  27. Raeann says:

    I am one of those moms who has tried almost everything except shiatsu massage, accupuncture, and domperidone. I work as a formulation scientist for pharmaceuticals so I always see chemicals as a last resort. I will say that fenugreek taken together with milk thistle, alfalfa and shatavari started having an effect within the first 24 hours. Mind you my son was born 4 months early, still has another month in the NICU and I’ve been pumping with a $1500 hospital grade pump since he was born. I am also drinking a tea once daily that has goats rue in it. The herbs I use are to not only increase production, but develop breast tissue and correct hormonal imbalance. And if your blog knew anything about the reality of the revolving door that exists between the FDA and pharmaceutical industry then you would understand why most medicines that have been used for thousands of years are demonized in favor of A) a chemical solution like Reglan, or B) soy-based baby formula, also created by the pharmaceutical industry. It’s about money. Every food we eat causes a chemical reaction in our body by it’s very nature. If you want to write about how fenugreek is a legume and warn others about it then maybe you should expound also the dangers of excessive use of water, oatmeal, or sleep, because moms are doing that too to increase production. Historical documents (i.e. Chinese and Indian culture documented for many centuries) are still documented evidence and aren’t easily falsifed like modern reports typed up on a computer. Do you even realize that paper publishing is pushed only so companies can get patents and increase profit? Some of us know better. My point is that the post was used to steer people away from what may actually help them; especially moms like me who have a body that simply wasn’t ready at the time of birth. Presenting all sides of an argument is the best way to inform and help others in making decisions.

    • ldecesare says:

      I always appreciate varying points of view. My post, however, was not at all “used to steer people away from what may actually help them.” As a doula that is entirely contrary to my profession. Instead, my post is to offer an alternate point of view on galactagogues with a valid caution that is not discussed when fenugreek is suggested to moms. Women are wise, know their own bodies, and deserve – and are equipped – to make their own decisions when given different angles to consider. My goal, always, in educating and my work with families, is to empower.

  28. kat says:

    Hello. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on drinking nursing teas (like Weleda or Earth Mama Angel Baby) that contain fenugreek. I enjoy drinking a cup of tea a day, not to increase my milk supply but as part of a bedtime nursing ritual. I chose those teas because they are supposed to be safe for nursing moms and other herbal teas come with warnings. Should I stop drinking these teas, or are the contents of one cup of tea too small to be of concern?

    • ldecesare says:

      Great question. Many many mothers use much more than a cup of tea with the intent to affect milk supply and they don’t have side effects. My hope with this post is to make moms aware of the possible effect and interactions with medications, etc. … If you don’t fall into any of those concerning categories, I feel comfortable saying you’re fine with a cup of tea which include fenugreek. It sounds like a lovely ritual to enjoy a cup of tea with your baby.

  29. Mark says:

    Hi, I found your site while researching fenugreek and bleeding. Why? I just nearly lost my beloved wife as she bled internally after a scheduled C-section. Something bugged in the back of my mind, and I remembered she’s been taking fenugreek, so I did some searching, and found many warnings about fenugreek causing bleeding.

    Different bodies do respond differently to both drugs and herbs and food. The common medical myopia that does not recognize this is one of the great failings of conventional medicine, but this same problem can be seen in those who advocate natural remedies. One size does NOT fit all!

    That means any given food, drug, or herb may be perfectly fine for some, but not for others.

    Am I saying that the fenugreek caused my wife’s bleeding? No, but I AM saying mothers should carefully consider the warnings. As you point out, “natural” does not automatically mean, “safe”.

    For my wife, if the Lord gives us another one, we will not be using fenugreek during the last few weeks, if at all.

    • ldecesare says:

      How very frightening for you and your family, Mark. I’m so glad your wife is okay now.

      I appreciate your comments and they hit on exactly why I wrote this piece. For some, fenugreek may be perfectly fine, for others, it may cause problems. People need to be aware of possible complications, interactions, etc. to make the best decision for themselves and I’m afraid too often fenugreek is recommended without a full account or understanding of potential risks.

  30. Sasha Dahlquist says:

    Timely article ! I was enlightened by the information ! Does anyone know if I might locate a sample ID Blue Cross Form 5-123 example to type on ?

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