Just about every mother or mother-to-be who has done a little investigating on rearing a healthy baby has heard about the benefits of breastfeeding. The amount and ratios of proper nutrients, antibodies, and fats that go into breast milk make it an excellent food for your infant. But what do you do if you aren’t making enough milk for your infant? Apart from a pump, another option to consider is fenugreek.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual herb with a rich culinary use. Both the leaf and seed are the parts used in cuisine, and its use spans many different cultures. It is one of a number of herbs that are galactagogues – herbs that increase the production of breastmilk in a nursing mother. Research on fenugreek is positive, if somewhat limited, showing that women who steeped the herb and drank it as a tea were able to increase milk production.
But as with all herbs, a plant has more than one effect on the body, and we have to consider all effects to see if it is beneficial for a nursing mother. One additional use for fenugreek is that the herb helps to maintain glycemic control, making it a particularly good candidate in women who also suffer from gestational diabetes. This regulating ability also extends to reducing the lipid content of the blood, meaning that the herb can treat hyperlipidemia – a condition often considered a risk factor in cardiovascular disease. (As some cases of hyperlipidemia are caused by diabetes and high blood sugar, this is perhaps not a surprising fact.)
In talking about this herb I would be remiss if I didn’t also talk about it’s effect for men, and it’s traditional use in Chinese herbalism. Fenugreek seed in Chinese is Hu Lu Ba, and is actually used for something quite different than breastfeeding. The seed strengthens the Kidney-Yang energy, which manifests as promoting libido, enhancing testosterone production, and treating sharp & fixed pains in the lower part of the body. (Interestingly, modern research bears this out too, finding that fenugreek helps enhance male libido & regulate testosterone levels.) Because the seed has these actions, the Chinese would not give this herb to patients with certain metabolism conditions or nutrient deficiencies. Western research hasn’t quite caught up in this area.
As you can see, fenugreek has a lot of potential to help with breast milk production, but it does have some nuances in its actions that make it not the best fit for everyone. If you are considering the use of herbs to help you with your breastfeeding, consult with your herbalist first to ensure you’re taking the right things. We want to see your baby healthy, just like you.