Fenugreek for Breastfeeding: Can it Help Increase Low Milk Supply?
If you've done any research on increasing breast milk supply, chances are you've heard of fenugreek. Fenugreek is a galactagogue, meaning it's a substance that is used to promote breast milk production. In fact, it's the most popular herbal remedy for low breast milk supply and is recommended by many lactation consultants.1 If you're searching for a natural way to boost your breast milk supply, fenugreek is a great place to start. Fenugreek is considered safe, but like any remedy, not everyone will have the same experience. It's important to talk to your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns prior to taking it.
What is fenugreek?
Fenugreek is a plant native to southern Europe, the Mediterranean region, and western Asia. It's a flowering plant from the pea family, and its leaves and seeds are edible. The seeds are popular in South Asian cuisine, often used in curries and soups to add a subtle sweetness. Fenugreek has a distinct maple syrup-like odor and is bitter if eaten raw.
What is fenugreek good for?
Fenugreek has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. It's been traced back to Ancient Egypt, Hippocrates in Greece, and is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine in India. It was often used for digestive issues, skin issues, to ease childbirth, to support breast milk supply, and to improve metabolism.2 More recently it's been shown to help lower blood sugar and has become an effective treatment for diabetes.3 Studies have also found it to help improve cholesterol, asthma, menstrual cramps, and Polycystic Ovary Syndome.4
Aside from its potential medical uses, fenugreek contains a lot of nutritional value. It's high in fiber, which aids digestion, as well as iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins A, B, and C.5
Does fenugreek really help with low breast milk supply?
Studies have been done to measure the effects of fenugreek on breast milk production with mixed results. Studying breast milk production in humans is difficult for a number of physical and ethical reasons. The studies tend to be small and lack the proper structure, but many have noted positive results. One study found that fenugreek's effect on insulin and oxytocin (oxytocin is one of the two main hormones involved with breastfeeding, along with prolactin) caused an increase in milk production.6 Another study concluded that taking fenugreek was most effective on milk supply when taken within the first two weeks after birth.7
Despite the challenges around clinical studies, we do know that women have been utilizing fenugreek to increase their breast milk supply for centuries. The knowledge passed down from our ancestors is valuable and has remained relevant for a reason – it's historically shown that it works for many women. Women continue to use fenugreek for breastfeeding to this day with positive results, even if there is still more to learn about the science behind it.
Does fenugreek have any side effects?
Some moms have reported minor side effects when using fenugreek. The most commonly reported effect is body odors that smell like maple syrup. It's perfectly safe, but can be unexpected. Or it could be considered a bonus if you love pancakes! Other parents have also reported experiencing mild to moderate gastrointestinal upset.
There have been some cases of allergic reactions. Fenugreek is a legume and is closely related to peanuts, so people with a peanut allergy have a higher chance of reacting to it.8 Read any warnings included with fenugreek products and, as always, contact your doctor before taking any new galactagogues.
The good news is that fenugreek is generally recognized as safe by the FDA9, and the majority of people experience no adverse effects.
Is fenugreek for me?
That question can only be answered by you! If you are struggling with milk supply, the best option is to talk to your doctor. But if you're searching for an easy way to support your breast milk production, fenugreek is worth a try. For a convenient and delicious option, try our Lactation Smoothies with fenugreek in Apple Pear or Mango Banana flavors!
Everyone is different, taking fenugreek may work like a charm, or it may not work as well as you hoped. Low milk supply can be incredibly frustrating, and many parents feel ashamed of not being able to provide enough food for their baby. It's important to know that there's nothing wrong with you, it's perfectly normal and a common struggle. And there are so many choices for feeding support! There's a multitude of natural galactagogues to try out, and of course combination or formula feeding is always a great option. No matter what, fed is best.
- Jonathan Schaffer, Cheryl Czapla. Survey of Lactation Instructors on Folk Traditions in Breastfeeding. 3 August 2012. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/bfm.2011.0054 Accessed 14 July 2023.
- Dilipkumar Pal, Souvik Mukherjee. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum) Seeds in Health and Nutrition. 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780128185537000139 Accessed 14 July 2023.
- Singletary, Keith W. PhD. Fenugreek: Overview of Potential Health Benefits. Nutrition Today. 2017. https://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/Fulltext/2017/03000/Fenugreek__Overview_of_Potential_Health_Benefits.10.aspx Accessed 14 July 2023.
- Ross Phan, PharmD, BCACP, BCGP, BCPS. What Is Fenugreek? verywellhealth. 15 March 2023. https://www.verywellhealth.com/benefits-of-fenugreek-88686#citation-24 Accessed 14 July 2023.
- Awais Ahmad, Salem S. Alghamdi, Kaiser Mahmood, Muhammad Afzal. Fenugreek a multipurpose crop: Potentialities and improvements. 14 September 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4894452/ Accessed 14 July 2023.
- Thomas Sevrin, Clair-Yves Boquien, Alexis Gandon, Isabelle Grit, Pierre de Coppet, Dominique Darmaun,Marie-Cécile Alexandre-Gouabau. Fenugreek Stimulates the Expression of Genes Involved in Milk Synthesis and Milk Flow through Modulation of Insulin/GH/IGF-1 Axis and Oxytocin Secretion. 16 October 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7602737/ Accessed 14 July 2023.
- Anaphylaxis UK. Allergy to fenugreek (also known as methi). December 2018. https://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Fenugreek-Factsheet.pdf Accessed 14 July 2023.
- Rania Mohamed Abdou, Mona Fathey. Evaluation of early postpartum fenugreek supplementation on expressed breast milk volume and prolactin levels variation. September 2018. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1110663818300387?via%3Dihub Accessed 14 July 2018.
- Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 7 June 2023. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?cfrpart=182&showfr=1 Accessed 25 July 2023.