by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
The following describes the use of some herbal treatments for breastfeeding mothers who are having various problems.
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 dosages:
Fenugreek: 3 capsules 3 times a day
Blessed Thistle: 3 capsules 3 times a day, or 20 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.
Other herbal treatments that have been used to increase milk supply are:
Some lactation teas may be effective for some mothers. Again, with no standardization and little empirical evidence it is hard to know. We do hear from many mothers that have helped to increase their milk supply. These include: mother's milk teas, nursing teas, lactation teas. Certainly, it cannot hurt to try.
Food that may help: