Herbs for Increasing Milk Supply

It is quite possible that herbal remedies help increase milk supply.  There are several  drugs that obviously do increase milk supply, and, of course, it is reasonable to assume that some plants and herbs might contain similar pharmacological agents.  Almost every culture has some sort of herb or plant or potion to increase milk supply.  Some may work as placebos, which is fine; some may not work at all; some may have one or more active ingredients.  Some will have active ingredients that will not increase the milk supply but have other effects, not necessarily desirable.  Note that even herbs can have side effects, even serious ones.  Natural source drugs are still drugs, and there is no such thing as a 100% safe drug.  Luckily, as with most drugs, the baby will get only a tiny percentage of the mother’s dose.  The baby is, thus, extremely unlikely to have any side effects at all from the herbs.
Two herbal treatments that seem to increase the milk supply are fenugreek and blessed thistle in the following doses:

Fenugreek:        3 capsules 3 times a day
Blessed Thistle:   3 capsules 3 times a day or
2 drops of the tincture 3 times a day

The tincture container states that blessed thistle should not be taken by nursing mothers – presumably because of the tiny amount of alcohol the mother would get.  There are some preparations of both herbs that are labelled “not for use by nursing mothers”.  Don’t worry about this; these herbs are safe for the mother to take because so little gets into the milk.  Teas also seem to work, but to take enough to make a difference, you will be drinking tea all day and night since the amount of the herbs you get is much less.

  • Fenugreek and blessed thistle seem to work better if you take both – not just one or the other.
  • Fenugreek and blessed thistle work quickly.  If they do work, you will usually notice a difference within 3 to 4 days of starting to take them.  If not, they probably won’t work.
  • Fenugreek is often sold as a combination with thyme.  Do not buy this combination, but try to get the capsules with fenugreek alone.
  • Herbal remedies are not standardized, so, though the bottle of fenugreek, for example, may say that it contains 405, 505, 605, 705 mg/capsule, we do not really know how much of the active ingredient you are taking.  Fenugreek has a distinct smell.  If you cannot smell it on your skin, you are not taking enough even if you are taking three capsules three times a day.
  • Fenugreek and blessed thistle seem, also, to work better in the first few weeks than later.  In fact, they tend to work best in the first week.  Domperidone works better after the first few weeks.  (See handouts Domperidone 1 and Domperidone 2 for more information.)
  • You can take fenugreek and blessed thistle together with domperidone if you feel they are helping.  If you take the herbs and domperidone, take domperidone at the same time – 3 tablets three times a day.
  • If you are ready to stop fenugreek and blessed thistle, you can probably stop suddennly or wean off over a week or so.
  • Fenugreek does not cause low blood sugar.  Where this rumor came from is unknown.

Other herbal treatments that have been used to increase milk supply are raspberry leaf, fennel, goat’s rue, brewer’s yeast, alfalfa, and many others.  The effectiveness of none of these treatments, incuding blessed thistle and fenugreek has been proved.  Remember…herbal treatments are only part of the solution to “not enough milk”.

Written by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC

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