Fenugreek is one of the most common galactagogues used to assist women in improving their breast milk supply.
In this article we will go into detail on when it would make sense to include fenugreek in your diet, and how to consume the herb.
We will also provide some guidance on how you will know if the Fenugreek is having an effect on your breast milk, and what risks to look out for when going through this change.
In This Post:
Why Would I Need To Increase My Milk Supply?
Women have a few reasons for pumping.
She may start immediately after the baby is born; she may be planning to bottle-feed but still wants her baby to receive the benefits of breast milk.
This also gives her the option of family members sharing in feeding responsibility.
She may start a few weeks after the baby is born; breastfeeding can become painful and some may not be able to endure the wear and tear on the breast and nipple.
She may start a few months after the baby is born; her return to work will require a stock of milk supply for babysitters, daycare attendants, or family members to use.
No matter when or the motivation behind excessive pumping, she is going to need a sizable stock of breast milk on hand.
Sometimes, pumping alone isn’t enough to get the amount of milk she needs.
Low Milk Supply
I believe that every first-time mother goes through a phase of worrying about her milk supply, worrying that she’s not making enough.
While few mothers actually suffer from milk supply, sometimes these concerns are warranted.
Some of the contributing factors to low milk supply include:
- Waiting too long to start breastfeeding
- Not breastfeeding often enough
- An improper latch or incomplete drain of the breast
- Certain medications, supplements, or herbs
- Alcohol consumption or smoking
If you are experiencing low, or uneven milk supply, do not be discouraged.
There is no need for you to discontinue breastfeeding, and the good news is that there are things you can do to increase your supply.
Consult your doctor if you have questions about low milk supply. This short video can also give you some insight into low milk supply, and it gives you some great solutions you can try.
One of these solutions that come highly recommended is taking fenugreek supplements.
Symptoms Your Supply Is Low
For those mothers who are concerned about their milk supply, there are a few telltale signs to watch for to determine if your baby is getting enough to eat.
Your pediatrician should be weighing your little one at every well check-up. Any concerns about weight gain will be noticed and addressed immediately.
Your doctor may ask you some questions to determine if you are having issues with milk supply in regards to your habits when breastfeeding or your baby’s feeding behavior.
This sign can be a little bit tricky since some babies never seem completely satisfied after a feeding.
There are times that your baby may be hungrier than normal (i.e. growth spurts), or your baby may just seem hungry since they don’t want to leave the breast (they may just be pacifying themselves).
However, if your baby seems discontent, fussing and rooting for the breast, they may still be hungry.
If they unlatch on their own, seem content, or start to fall asleep after a full-length feeding, they’re probably getting enough to eat.
You can tell a lot about your baby when you change their diaper.
Their stool color can tell you how they’re feeling or what their digestion is like, the color and odor of their urine can tell you if they’re getting enough fluids, and the number of diapers you go through can tell you if they’re getting enough to eat.
On average, a baby that is exclusively fed breast milk will go through about 4-6 wet diapers a day and have 2-4 bowel movements. Anything outside of this range should be monitored and discussed with your pediatrician.
Comment on Breast Fulness
Keep in mind, just because your breasts may be soft (which is common after your body has regulated its milk supply) or your little one feeds often, it does not necessarily mean your supply is low.
What Is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is a herb native to southern Europe and Asia that has been used for hundreds of years, in ancient civilizations, to help nursing mothers increase their milk supply.
It is now widely grown today and is also used for food additives, medicinal purposes, and dyes.
This herb belongs to a group known as galactagogues, substances that increase milk supply in mammals. Doctors and scientists do not know exactly what causes fenugreek to increase milk production, but it is believed that it stimulates the hormones that create milk and sweat.
How Do You Take Fenugreek for Lactation?
In order to see an increase in milk supply, it is suggested that a breastfeeding mother ingest at least 3,500 mg of fenugreek daily. Any less than that and she will likely not see an increase at all.
So the question is, how do you add fenugreek into your diet?
The most common – and most effective – way to take fenugreek is in capsule form. It is most concentrated this way and yields the best results.
The recommended dosage is two capsules (580-610 mg each) with every meal for a total of 6 a day.
You can also drink fenugreek tea. You can find it pre-packaged in tea bags, or you can make it yourself using fenugreek seeds.
There are downsides to this option though. It tends to be a lot weaker than capsules, which means you will need to drink a lot more or it may not even work.
It also has a bitter taste, which may be unpleasant to some and make it difficult to “swallow”.
Whole fenugreek seeds can be very handy to have around the house thanks to their versatility.
You can eat the seeds themselves, mix them into your baking, or turn them into tea. You can even use them to grow fenugreek sprouts to add to a salad for additional health benefits.
Here is a simple recipe for Fenugreek porridge. As you can see you can get creative if you would like to.
How Long Does it take for Fenugreek to Work?
Fenugreek will start working to increase milk supply within 24 to 72 hours after consuming fenugreek directly or in a supplement.
A telltale sign that you have reached your maximum fenugreek intake, and milk supply, is when your sweat and urine begin to smell like maple syrup.
While most mothers reach their maximum supply with 6 capsules per day, some may need to increase their intake in order to see results.
You will not see partial results if you are not taking enough. You need to reach your maximum intake to see an increase in milk supply.
Of course, there are some women that fenugreek supplementation will not work for. Although most women do see positive results.
Supplements are inexpensive, so it is definitely worth a try if you are looking to increase your milk supply.
Risks And Side Effects Of Fenugreek
There are some precautions to take if you have an existing medical condition, such as nut allergies.
There have been studies that found similar protein structures found in both fenugreek seeds and peanuts. Interest in this connection was sparked after an incident in Norway in 2009.
It was found that the subjects who had peanut allergies had similar reactions to certain curries that also contained fenugreek.
The use of fenugreek can be risky for diabetics if they don’t monitor their blood sugar closely.
Fenugreek has been of interest in the area of diabetes dues to its ability to lower blood sugar. This can be helpful in moderation and in certain cases, but it can cause some serious side effects if your blood sugar drops too low.
Even users without diabetes have claimed to feel the effects of low blood sugar after taking a fenugreek supplement, including dizziness, trembling, and weakness.
Be sure you have something to eat before you take your supplement to lessen some of these side effects.
One of the most unique things about fenugreek is its distinct maple syrup smell. In fact, fenugreek is often used to flavor artificial pancake syrups.
It is also a well-known fact that people who take a fenugreek supplement have a very strong syrupy smell to their sweat (and urine!).
Now for those of us who love breakfast food, smelling like maple syrup may seem like a dream come true, but after smelling it 24/7, you will quickly grow tired of it.
The odor is nearly impossible to get rid of, and the smell will continue for as long as you are taking the supplement. My tip: invest in a strong deodorant.
Should you become pregnant again while still breastfeeding with the help of fenugreek, discontinue its use immediately unless otherwise advised by your OB/GYN.
Fenugreek is especially dangerous to use in late-term pregnancy. It has been known to stimulate uterine contractions, which can put you at risk for going into preterm labor.
Because of its ability to lower blood sugar, fenugreek can also be dangerous for mothers with gestational diabetes.
Effect On Baby
While fenugreek is generally safe to use while breastfeeding, you do need to be aware of potential side effects it may cause for your baby.
The most likely thing to occur is gastrointestinal distress. You may notice that your baby is excessively gassy (and fussy) and that their stools are slightly green and frequent. Because of this, you may also see frequent diaper rash.
The good news is that most cases clear up as soon as the mother stops taking fenugreek. If you have questions or concerns about your baby’s health or digestive situation, contact your pediatrician immediately.
Risk Of Overdose of Fenugreek
There aren’t many reported cases of fenugreek overdose, but there are recommended dosages on the bottle for a reason.
While side effects of an overdose may not be deadly in most cases, you can expect that the above-mentioned side effects or conditions will be worsened with an increased dosage.
DO NOT take more than what is recommended unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.
How Long to Take Fenugreek?
If you are like me, trying to remember one more thing per day (like taking vitamins and supplements) can be a chore.
The good news is that once you have reached the point that your supply increases, you can stop taking fenugreek.
You do need to be diligent with breastfeeding and/or pumping to keep your supply up though.
If you do not effectively drain the breast at each feeding or pumping session, you will put yourself at risk for decreased milk supply and then supplementation will need to start all over again.
Alternative Herbs To Increase Breastmilk Supply
Sometimes fenugreek doesn’t work for some women who are trying to increase their milk supply.
Other women may choose to look for something else that won’t have a negative interaction with a pre-existing health condition (diabetes, nut allergies, etc.).
If you are one of these women, there are other herbal supplements you can try,:
- Blessed thistle
These can be found in capsules and are often included in tea blends that are formulated to help mothers with their breast milk supply.
If you are looking to increase your milk supply, whether it is because it is low or you are just looking to get out a little extra, fenugreek is a great option.
Remember, always consult your doctor before beginning any herbal supplement, especially when the health of your baby is involved.