Fenugreek is an herbaceous plant mainly grown for its leaves and seeds, which have culinary and medicinal uses. While fresh or dried fenugreek leaves are used as an herb, their seeds act as a flavoring agent in cooking. Additionally, in traditional medicine, the seeds are used as a galactagogue to enhance breast milk production. Being a lactating mother, you may consider fenugreek seeds for improving your breast milk production, but is fenugreek safe when breastfeeding?
Read on to know about the safety of fenugreek seeds when nursing, their additional benefits, possible side effects, and alternatives to consider.
Is Fenugreek Safe When Breastfeeding?
Fenugreek is generally recognized as safe as a flavoring agent by the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) (1). It means breastfeeding mothers may consume fenugreek seeds in small amounts as part of meals. However, when used as a galactagogue, its safety for nursing mothers and their infants is inadequately researched.
If you want to use fenugreek for lactation-related purposes, consult your healthcare provider or a certified lactation expert first. An expert can guide you on the amount of fenugreek you can use to reap fenugreek’s lactogenic effects safely.
Does Fenugreek Improve Breast Milk Production?
Most evidence regarding fenugreek’s lactogenic effect is anecdotal. But, some research studies show promising results.
A 2020 experimental study involving 60 postnatal mothers consuming 7.5g of overnight-soaked fenugreek once daily for seven days demonstrated increased breast milk production and weight gain in infants in the first few days after birth (2). Similarly, a meta-analysis study in 2018 involving 122 nursing mothers showed that mothers who took fenugreek had significantly increased breast milk production (3). Another study involving 66 mothers consuming fenugreek-containing herbal tea showed a significant improvement in their breast milk production compared to a placebo (4).
These studies are promising but not sufficient enough to make any clinical recommendation. It is so because the sample sizes of these studies are too small to draw an assertion. Also, some studies involved herbal tea with other ingredients and not fenugreek alone. Therefore, extensive clinical trials with larger sample sizes and better analysis techniques are necessary to confirm the lactogenic effects of fenugreek.
How Does Fenugreek Work As A Galactagogue?
It is unclear how fenugreek may increase breast milk production. One theory suggests that fenugreek promotes sweat production, and since breasts are modified sweat glands, fenugreek may stimulate them to produce more milk (5). Another suggestive mechanism is that fenugreek increases insulin and oxytocin secretion (6). Insulin and oxytocin are the hormones that promote breast milk production.
The placebo effect is another mechanism that some research indicates as a plausible factor responsible for fenugreek’s ability to enhance milk production.
Other Health Benefits Of Fenugreek
Fenugreek seeds contain several compounds such as mucilage, trigonelline, sotolon, diosgenin, luteolin, and phenolic acids (1). It is owing to these compounds that fenugreek seeds possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties (7).
Additionally, its regular consumption may confer the following benefits.
- Enhance mother’s milk quality by adding vitamin A, B, C, D, calcium, and iron to the milk
- Control blood sugar levels in diabetics
- Reduce blood cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular issues
- Stimulate appetite and treat digestive issues
- Alleviate stress and anxiety
Fenugreek’s use is also prevalent in treating respiratory ailments, painful menstruation, and uterine problems in folk medicine.
How Much Fenugreek Should You Take?
A nursing mother is generally advised a dose of one to six grams of fenugreek seeds a day for increasing breast milk supply (1). However, the dosage varies based on the fenugreek’s mode of consumption (8).
- Fenugreek tea: You can buy fenugreek tea or Mother’s Milk Tea which contains fenugreek. Three to four cups of tea per day is considered to enhance breast milk production in most cases. To prepare fenugreek tea, steep a teaspoon of the seeds in boiling water for three minutes and then strain the tea (9).
- Fenugreek capsule/pills: Most commercial brands contain 580 to 610mg of fenugreek in each capsule. The number of pills you may take in a day to enhance breast milk supply is case-specific. If you are using a fenugreek dietary supplement for promoting breast milk production, consulting your doctor is best to ascertain the dosage suitable for you.
- Fenugreek tincture: Tinctures are alcohol-based preparations that are absorbed faster than a capsule. Fenugreek tinctures are used in alternative medicine for several medicinal uses, such as increasing milk supply. If you plan to use a fenugreek tincture, do so after consulting an alternative therapy expert. The expert will guide you on the exact dosage and the correct mode of administration.
Take fenugreek for lactation-related purposes under medical supervision. Excess consumption of 25 grams or higher per day may lower blood pressure and sugar. Nursing mothers on hypoglycemic drugs, insulin, or blood pressure medicine must also consult their doctor before fenugreek consumption (1).
Possible Side Effects Of Fenugreek
Fenugreek is generally a safe herb. However, it may cause side effects in some cases (1).
1. Gastrointestinal issues: Fenugreek in food and medicinal amounts is usually well-tolerated by adults. Yet, sensitive individuals may develop gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and flatulence. Since fenugreek can pass to breast milk, infants may also develop these side effects if their mothers consume fenugreek in large amounts.
2. Cross-interaction: Herbs contain active ingredients that may interact with other food items, drugs, and dietary supplements. Fenugreek may interact with blood thinners, such as warfarin. Therefore, if you take blood-thinning medications, consult your doctor before consuming fenugreek, especially in the form of a nursing supplement.
3. Allergy: Fenugreek allergy is rare but possible. Some of the common symptoms of allergy that you may notice after consuming fenugreek are hives or urticaria, tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth, swelling of the lips and throat, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting (10).
4. Cross-reactivity: Fenugreek shows cross-reactivity with peanuts and chickpeas. If you are consuming fenugreek for the first time, consult your doctor before using it in any form, especially if you or anyone in your family has a peanut or chickpea allergy.
Besides these effects, fenugreek may make breast milk smell like maple syrup. Since it passes to the baby, it may cause their urine and sweat to smell the same. If you are consuming fenugreek, especially in large amounts, inform your baby’s doctor. A doctor may mistake maple-smelling urine in a baby for maple syrup urine disease.
Ways To Consume Fenugreek
When breastfeeding, you can consume fenugreek as a part of food in the following ways.
- Add fenugreek seeds as a flavoring agent to curries and soups.
- Put sprouted fenugreek seeds to salads or soups, or prepare its curry.
- Add fresh or dried fenugreek leaves to other veggies, such as potatoes, and prepare various dishes.
- Add fenugreek seeds to boiling water and let them steep to make fenugreek tea.
Alternatively, you can use fenugreek oil and seeds powder for cooking baked goods, such as cookies and bread. You can also put roasted fenugreek seeds powder to curd or yogurt and enjoy it.
Raw fenugreek seeds are bitter, so heating or roasting them is good to bring out their sweetness. Upon roasting, fenugreek tastes like maple syrup, and it can enhance the flavor of different culinary preparations.
Alternative Methods To Boost Milk Supply
If you don’t wish to use fenugreek or find the herb ineffective, discuss other galactagogues, such as palm date and milk thistle, with your lactation consultant. In addition, you may try the following alternative techniques to boost milk supply.
- Breastfeed frequently
- Hand express or pump breast milk between feeds
- Massage breast and apply heat pads or take a hot shower
Fenugreek seeds can add flavor to the food and confer several benefits to you and your baby. However, to reap its benefits, you must stay informed on the correct dosage, especially when using fenugreek for lactogenic purposes. For several women, the milk supply improves with fenugreek consumption. However, if you notice no difference, consult your doctor, who may suggest alternative methods to boost milk supply.
2. Reena Ravi and Jasmine Joseph;Effect of fenugreek on breast milk production and weight gain among Infants in the first week of life;Clinical Epidemiology And Global Health
3. Tahir Mehmood Khan et al.;Effectiveness of fenugreek as a galactagogue: A network meta-analysis;NCBI
4. Canan Turkyılmaz et al.;The Effect of Galactagogue Herbal Tea on Breast Milk Production and Short-Term Catch-Up of Birth Weight in the First Week of Life;NCBI
5. Ramzi Shawahna et al.;Which Benefits and Harms of Using Fenugreek as a Galactogogue Need to Be Discussed during Clinical Consultations? A Delphi Study among Breastfeeding Women, Gynecologists, Pediatricians, Family Physicians, Lactation Consultants, and Pharmacists;NCBI
6. Thomas Sevrin et al.;Fenugreek Stimulates the Expression of Genes Involved in Milk Synthesis and Milk Flow through Modulation of Insulin/GH/IGF-1 Axis and Oxytocin Secretion;NCBI
7. Kalyan C Nagulapalli Venkata et al.;A small plant with big benefits: Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum Linn.) for disease prevention and health promotion;NCBI
8. Fenugreek: Herbal Support for Low Milk Supply;Kaiser Permanente
9. How can I use fenugreek to increase my breast milk supply?;UT Southwestern Medical Center
10. Fenugreek (Also Known as Methi);Anaphylaxis Campaign