Many nursing mothers worry about whether they're producing enough milk. The general
rule: If you're drinking enough water, juice, or other nonalcoholic fluids (8 to
12 ounces an hour), resting (such as you can), and nursing on demand, your breasts
respond by making as much milk as your baby needs. If you're still concerned about
boosting your milk supply, lots of nursing mothers swear by certain herbs-fenugreek,
blessed thistle, and other herbs-to boost their milk supply, fight colds, and combat
other problems. Often these herbs are in the form of teas, so it's hard to say whether
a woman's milk supply is enhanced by the herbs or by the additional fluids she's
Do herbs work? The jury's still out. No medical studies prove the effectiveness
of herbal milk-boosters. However, most cultures throughout the world identify certain
herbs and plants as galactagogues. Some mothers and doctors believe that herbal
remedies are largely responsible for their success in breastfeeding. Other moms
report little measurable difference.
Some prescription drugs, as a side effect, do increase milk supply, so it's reasonable
to believe that some herbs and plants contain similar chemicals.
However, even herbs and plants have side effects: A drug from what you think of
as a "natural" source can be harmful or can have dangerous side effects. (And because
herbal supplements are not tightly regulated in the United States, as they are in
Germany and some other countries, the herbs used may be contaminated during preparation.)
Even though your baby gets only a fraction of the dose you take, with certain herbs
and plants, that may be too much for her immature digestive system. St. John's wort,
a popular herbal alternative to prescription antidepressants, is not recommended
for nursing mothers, partly because of its potential effect on babies.
Fenugreek, blessed thistle, raspberry leaf, fennel, and brewer's yeast are the safe
herbal and over-the-counter treatments that seem to successfully increase milk supply.
Many natural food stores carry Mother's Milk Tea, which combines those herbs. You
can also take them in capsule form, but if you use tea infusions, you'll get the
benefit of both fluid and herb.
It is difficult to drink enough tea to make a difference; tinctures and capsules
are better. A typical dosage for fenugreek capsules or blessed thistle capsules
is two capsules, three or four times a day, for a week. You can also take fenugreek
or blessed thistle, or a combination, as a tincture if you don't mind ingesting
the tincture's tiny amount of alcohol (which is the reason for the disclaimer that
nursing mothers shouldn't take it).
Remember: Herbs or drugs alone probably won't solve the problem. You need to seek
help from a lactation consultant to address other possible causes of your difficulties.