“How to increase breast milk supply” is a common concern among lactating mothers. Even though galactagogues, or herbs that help stimulate breast milk production, have been used for millennia, so far only some earned scientific recognition. Nevertheless, they can be a valuable addition to your breastfeeding journey, especially when paired with frequent nursing, proper hydration, correct latch, and other milk-stimulating practices. Read on to discover 5 best herbs to improve breast milk supply!
Fenugreek is perhaps one of the most popular herbs for increasing breast milk supply. Known for their maple-like, rather bitter taste, the seeds are a common ingredient in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
While the exact mechanism is not well understood, research has shown that fenugreek can effectively increase breast milk production.1 One study has also found that it can help newborns regain their birth weight.2 Women can steep fenugreek seeds into an infusion. Or there's quite a large selection of fenugreek supplements for lactation.
Fennel is another wonderful herb for breastfeeding that has been used for centuries. It has a sweet, licorice-like flavor that complements many Mediterranean dishes.
Of interest to lactating women, fennel has been shown to improve not only milk volume, but also milk's fat content and babies' weight regain after birth.3 As an added benefit, mothers' consumption of fennel is believed to help relieve infant colic. Similar to fenugreek, fennel can be enjoyed as a tea or in lactation supplements.
3. Milk Thistle
Another herb with effective galactagogue properties is milk thistle. The leaves of this Mediterranean native have white veins filled with milky white sap, hence its name. The herb is also known as Saint Mary's Thistle.
The milk-boosting effects of milk thistle are thought to be related to the herb's ability to increase prolactin hormone levels.4 The hormone's main functions are milk production and mammary gland development within breast tissues. However, research on milk thistle's role in stimulating milk production is still scarce.
4. Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle, or just nettle, is a great choice for mothers looking for herbs to increase milk supply. The plant's leaves are covered in tiny sharp leaves that are painful to touch.
Nettle is a rich source of key minerals and vitamins, which makes it effective for ensuring optimal milk supply as well as complementing lactating mothers' nutrition, including preventing anemia.5 Nettle for breastfeeding is most commonly taken as a tea.
5. Blessed Thistle
Blessed thistle, also referred to as holy thistle, is another herb that has originated in the Mediterranean region. It has long history of use as a cure-all dating back to the Middle Ages.
Considered an effective galactagogue, blessed thistle is a frequent ingredient in many lactation products, like teas and supplements. As an added benefit, blessed thistle may help improve women's mood during postpartum. However, more research is needed to fully explore its potential uses for breastfeeding.
Despite their long-standing traditional uses, none of the aforementioned herbs are a bulletproof method of increasing breast milk supply. To ensure your and the baby's optimal health, it's also recommended to consult a physician about safety and proper dosages before starting any herbal regimen.
- Canadian Journal of Midwifery Research and Practice, Galactagogue herbs: a qualitative study and review, 2003
- Complementary Medicine Journal Arak University of Medical Sciences, Effect of Milk Thistle Plant on Breast Milk Volume: A Systematic Review, 2022
- Drugs and Lactation Database, Fenugreek, 2022
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Efficacy of a galactogogue containing silymarin-phosphatidylserine and galega in mothers of preterm infants: a randomized controlled trial, 2016
- StatPearls, Physiology, Prolactin, 2022
- The Ochsner Journal, A Review of Herbal and Pharmaceutical Galactagogues for Breastfeeding, 2016
- Phytotherapy Research. (2018). Effectiveness of fenugreek as a galactagogue: A network meta-analysis. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29193352/
- The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. (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. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2010.0090
- Drugs and Lactation Database. (2022). Fennel. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501793/#LM883.REF.13
- Drugs and Lactation Database. (2022). Milk Thistle. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501771/
- Drugs and Lactation Database. (2022). Nettle. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501777/