In our blog ‘Breast is Best- Part 1’ we discussed the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies, why breast milk is so unique for the overall health of infants, national breastfeeding guidelines and dietary and nutritional tips to support breast milk production. To continue our support for World Breastfeeding Week, this blog discusses the benefits and concerns around the use of Western herbal medicine during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
As Naturopathic practitioners, we have access to herbal medicines that have traditionally and clinically shown to have a ‘galactagogue’ action….. “a galacta-what?”. Galactagogue is a Greek word meaning ‘a substance that promotes lactation in humans and other animals.’ There are a number of natural remedies that can be helpful to support breast milk production and breast milk quality for breastfeeding women, as well as assisting their postpartum recovery and their adaptation to new routines and challenges.
Not all herbal and nutritional supplements are safe for use during pregnancy and should not replace a balanced diet. As a general rule, we do not recommend the use herbal medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to the lack of evidence verifying their safety. Some of these herbal benefits and concerns will be discussed below.
The most popular and traditional Western herbal medicines we use as galactagogues here at Des Lardner’s Organic are: fenugreek seed, goat’s rue, shatavari and blessed thistle. Although clinically we find these herbs to assist breast milk production, quality and flow while breastfeeding, they are not safe for use during pregnancy and should not replace a balanced diet. According to the literature, the following herbal medicines have been shown to be both safe and effective for breastfeeding mothers and babies:
Fenugreek seed- Fenugreek seed taken three times daily as a seed or a 610mg supplement has been shown to significantly increase daily breast milk production from 207ml in week one postpartum to 464ml in week two postpartum; these results were significantly higher than subjects not using the herb1. Another study has also shown a fenugreek herbal combination to increase average breast milk volume from four weeks postpartum to eight weeks postpartum by 104%, compared to no supplementation2. Therefore it is evident that fenugreek seed may assist lactation for breast feeding mothers’ challenges in breast milk production and flow. An interesting side effect to note is that, at high doses, mothers may experience a maple syrup odour to their urine, sweat and faeces, possibly due to the sotolon constituent in fenugreek2.
Goat’s rue- The Latin name for goat’s rue is Galega officinalis, derived from the word ‘gale’ meaning milk and ‘ega’ meaning ‘to bring on’3. Most of the scientific studies surrounding this herb are based on its active ingredient guanidine, which has been extracted and synthesised into the popular diabetes drug metformin3. The earliest literature on goat’s rue was noted in a letter by a farmer named Gillet Daimette in 18733. He detailed that the weed increased milk yield by 35-50% when fed to his goats and dairy animals3. Goat’s rue has been used as a galactagogue for humans and animals for hundreds of years with no reported safety issues, besides caution in patients on antidiabetic drugs or insulin3.
Shatavarai- Shatavari in Ayurvedic medicine translates to “she who possesses a hundred husbands”, implying its ability to increase fertility and vitality4. It also supports longevity, immunity, mental function, vigor and is used for nervous disorders, inflammation, liver stress and constipation. This is all very helpful for an exhausted, sleep deprived mother5. Gupta and Shaw found shatavari root extract to have a significant effect on prolactin levels and infant weight gain4.
Other herbal considerations: Blessed thistle is another herb we consider safe for most breastfeeding mothers upon consultation and clinically we see positive results, however its use is mainly guided by the Materia Media and traditional literature.
As practitioners, we may consider adaptogens, nerve tonics, and immune support for each client’s individual circumstance and health status. You may have read or heard of other herbal remedies used during breastfeeding from the internet, friends or other health professionals; however we recommend always consulting with a herbal medicine or naturopathic practitioner before considering supplementation.
Mothers’ have a challenging but amazing role in nurturing their child during breast feeding. No matter your choice or your role in feeding your baby (including father), we offer support here at Des Lardner’s Organic.
If you would like more information about how we can help to support breastfeeding mothers, please contact our staff in store or ask to speak to our Naturopathic practitioners. A lactation consultant, midwife, doctor or nurse can also provide information, as well as the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Please see part 1 of this blog, for more information on nutritional support for breastfeeding mothers and babies.
Written by Naturopath, Ebony Jordan.
- Khan TM1, Wu DB1, Dolzhenko AV (2018), Effectiveness of fenugreek as a galactagogue: A network meta-analysis. Phytother Res.32(3):402-412.
- Turkyılmaz C1, Onal E, Hirfanoglu IM, Turan O, Koç E, Ergenekon E, Atalay Y (2011), The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life. J Altern Complement Med. 17(2):139-42.
3. Drugs and Lactation Database (2006), Goat’s Rue, National Library of Medicine (US)
4. Gupta M, Shaw B (2011), A Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial for Evaluation of Galactogogue Activity of Asparagus racemosus Willd. Iran J Pharm Res. Winter; 10(1): 167–172.