Echinacea is the name of a group of flowering plants (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida) whose roots and leaves are used for medicinal purposes (1). These plants are also called coneflowers and are used in herbal medicine.
Echinacea is commonly used as a herbal remedy for common cold and flu, inflammation, and skin infections. We tell you if it is safe for a mother to use echinacea while breastfeeding, its uses, and probable side effects.
Is It Safe To Have Echinacea While Breastfeeding?
There is little scientific data about the safety and efficacy of echinacea during lactation. Yet, its use under expert guidance in recommended doses is not considered harmful while nursing (2). There is limited evidence to suggest that compounds found in echinacea pass into breast milk.
Echinacea is available as herbal and traditional medicine products like herbal tea, juice, extracts, capsules, and tablets, and dietary supplements. If case you want to use any of these echinacea preparations or products while nursing, then you should do so only after consultation with an expert in herbal medicine. They can guide you about the safe mode of use and appropriate dosage while nursing (3).
Does Echinacea Decrease Milk Supply?
There is no evidence to suggest that echinacea decreases breast milk production. If you are exploring herbal supplements, including echinacea, to manage (decrease or increase) breast milk production, then seek the advice of a complementary medicine expert.
Possible Uses Of Echinacea
Echinacea is often used for lactation-related issues, such as mastitis, in traditional medicine. Research shows that the ethanolic extract of echinacea contains alkamides, ketoalkenes, caffeic acid derivatives, polysaccharides, glycoproteins, and caftaric acid, which are responsible for its medicinal properties (1). These bioactive compounds exhibit immunomodulatory, antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties (4).
The use of echinacea is supported in the herbal treatment of the following conditions.
- Infections: Traditional medicine supports the use of echinacea tincture or extract to treat upper respiratory infections, common cold, cough, and flu. Clinical research shows that Echinacea purpurea might reduce the duration and severity of symptoms when consumed at the first signs of a cold (5). However, more research is needed to establish appropriate use among nursing mothers.
- Immune health: Numerous research studies show that Echinacea purpurea may help your immune system combat infections (6) (7). Even traditional medicine suggests using echinacea with a well-balanced diet to boost overall immunity. However, there are no conclusive studies on this effect.
- Oxidative stress: Bioactive compounds in echinacea, such as cichoric acid and alkamides, exhibit antioxidant properties (3) (8). Reduced oxidative stress may be helpful for lactating mothers.
- Anti-inflammatory functions: Some animal studies showed that the use of echinacea could help reduce excess inflammation (9). However, there are no studies to prove these effects in humans, especially in lactating women.
- Skin issues: Some research studies show that echinacea possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that could help suppress the growth of Propionibacterium, a common cause of acne (10). Echinacea purpurea cream and gel used in a study were found effective in improving skin hydration and reducing wrinkles (11).
The therapeutic effects of echinacea have been documented to be helpful in a few other health conditions, such as gingivitis, canker sores, cracked nipples, wound healing, and vaginitis (12).
Possible Side Effects Of Echinacea While Breastfeeding
Echinacea products are relatively well-tolerated. However, they may exhibit side effects in some cases. The oral or topical use of echinacea while breastfeeding may cause the following side effects (13).
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation and diarrhea
- Skin rash
- Allergic reactions, such as nausea, swelling, hives, and shortness of breath
These symptoms are majorly observed in the cases of a cross-reaction, especially with other flowers from the Asteraceae family (14). Thus, if you or your breastfeeding baby, are allergic to flowers, such as daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and ragweed, then avoid using echinacea.
Echinacea has wide-spread use in herbal remedies associated with several ailments. However, these uses are not well-researched, especially in the case of breastfeeding mothers and their nursing infants. If you want to use echinacea for any health issue or prophylactic reasons, then do consult an alternate medicine expert.
2. Herbals and Breastfeeding; Pharmacistsmb.ca
3. Marwa Amer et al., Safety of Popular Herbal Supplements in Lactating Women; Reaserachgate
4. Aneta Lewicka et al., Supplementation of Plants with Immunomodulatory Properties during Pregnancy and Lactation—Maternal and Offspring Health Effects; NCBI
5. Richard Nahas and Agneta Balla; Complementary and alternative medicine for prevention and treatment of the common cold; NCBI
6. Zili Zhai et al., Enhancement of Innate and Adaptive Immune Functions by Multiple Echinacea Species; NCBI
7. Hyung-Ran Kim et al., Immune Enhancing Effects of Echinacea Purpurea Root Extract by Reducing Regulatory T Cell Number and Function; NCBI
8. Line Thygesen et al., Antioxidant activity of cichoric acid and alkamides from Echinacea purpurea, alone and in combination; Science Direct
9. Qian Liu et al., Chicoric Acid Supplementation Prevents Systemic Inflammation-Induced Memory Impairment and Amyloidogenesis via Inhibition of NF-κB; NCBI
10. M Sharma et al., The Potential Use of Echinacea in Acne: Control of Propionibacterium Acnes Growth and Inflammation; NCBI
11. S Yotsawimonwat et al., Skin Improvement and Stability of Echinacea Purpurea Dermatological Formulations; NCBI
12. Echinacea; Kaiserpermanente
13. Echinacea; Drugs and Lactation Database; NCBI
14. M.B. Fasano; Allergenic Cross-Reactivity between Echinacea and Ragweed; The Journal of Allergy And Clinical Immunology