Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) is an herb that is often used in cooking and for medicinal properties. Women have taken fenugreek for increasing breast milk in India, North Africa and the Middle East since ancient times. The market is flooded with fenugreek supplements for breastfeeding mothers, but do they really work? Let us find out.
Fenugreek health benefits
Fenugreek is rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, which make it useful in a variety of ways. It is often used for:
- Treating heartburn
- Treating menstrual issues
- Skin and hair
- Helping patients with diabetes
- Treating sinus problem
- Fighting infections
- Lowering cholesterol
- Weight loss
- Preventing aging
- As an aphrodisiac
- Most importantly, to increase breast milk supply
How does Fenugreek help to increase milk supply?
Fenugreek is known to contain some plant chemicals that are similar to the female sex hormone estrogen. These hormones stimulate sweat glands. Therefore, they stimulate the breast as well, because the breast is a modified sweat gland.
Some lactation experts are of the view that Fenugreek can increase breast milk supply within 24 hours, and once the milk supply is enhanced, it should stay up even if the use is discontinued after some time.
Research on effects of Fenugreek on Lactation
Several studies have been conducted to study the effect of Fenugreek on lactation, and many of them have shown promising results.
The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life
Sixty-six mother-infant pairs were randomly assigned to a placebo group, control group and a group receiving herbal tea containing fenugreek. It was determined that:
- Maximum weight loss was lower in group receiving Fenugreek tea
- Infants in the fenugreek group regained their birth weight earlier compared to the other groups
- Breast milk volume of mothers receiving galactagogue tea was higher than other groups
The Effect of Fenugreek on Milk Production and Prolactin Levels in Mothers of Preterm Infants
The study involved 26 mothers of preterm infants less than 31 weeks of gestation. Starting on the fifth day after delivery, the mothers were made to consume two capsules of fenugreek supplement thrice a day for 21 days. The results were:
- No difference in milk volume or prolactin between mothers receiving fenugreek supplement and those receiving placebo
- No adverse effects noted
The Use, Perceived Effectiveness and Safety of Herbal Galactagogues During Breastfeeding: A Qualitative Study
For the purpose of research, 20 in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with breastfeeding mothers. All the mothers were either using or had recently used herbal galactagogues. The study showed that mothers perceived galactagogues, particularly fenugreek, to be effective in increasing their breastfeeding adequacy.
The Effect of Herbal Tea Containing Fenugreek Seed on the Signs of Breast Milk Sufficiency in Iranian Girl Infants
This study involved seventy-eight infants age 0-4 weeks that were exclusively breastfed. They were randomly assigned to two groups. One group received herbal tea containing 7.5 gm fenugreek seed powder and 3 gm black tea thrice a day, and the other received herbal tea containing only 3 gm black tea powder thrice a day. At the end of the fourth week, the following changes were noted in infants in the fenugreek group:
- Increase in weight
- Increase in head circumference
- Increase in number of wet diapers
- Increase in frequency of defecation
- Increase in number of breastfeeding times
Considering the results of most of these studies, it is safe to assume that Fenugreek does offer some benefits to lactating mothers. However, it is also important to consider the side effects and counter indications.
Possible side effects
- Urine and sweat smells like maple syrup
- It may cause loose stool, which goes away once fenugreek is discontinued
- Excessive consumption (more than 100 grams) daily can cause nausea and intestinal distress
- Blood sugar levels can decrease if taken with certain other medications
- It can induce uterine contractions
How to consume Fenugreek for increasing breast milk?
- You can easily buy fenugreek supplements in pill or liquid form at herbal stores.
- It can be taken as tea by seeping a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes
- Fenugreek leaves can be used in cooking
- It can be taken in seed or powder form mixed in juice or water
- Fenugreek sprouts can be used in salads
Is it safe for everyone?
It is indicated that you should not consume fenugreek if you:
- Are pregnant
- Have nut allergy, asthma, hypoglycemia, diabetes, low blood pressure, heart disease
- Taking other medications
Fenugreek can help increase breast milk with little side effects. It works quickly and can be discontinued as soon as an adequate supply is established.