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Fennel and Increasing Breast Milk Supply

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Updated October 28, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Fennel and Increasing Breast Milk Supply Photo © Brian Hagiwara/Getty Images

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgete) is a common herb often used for cooking and healing. The use of this sweet, licorice-flavored spice can be traced back to ancient Egypt. It has been used for centuries to treat digestive problems and menstrual issues. It has also been given to nursing women to help stimulate milk production.

Benefits and Uses of Fennel

  • It is believed to help a nursing mother make more breast milk.
  • It has been used to promote healthy digestion and treat stomach upset and gas.
  • It passes through breast milk to help the baby’s digestion and relieve symptoms of colic.
  • It has been used for centuries to relieve menstrual problems and balance the menstrual cycle.
  • It can lower blood sugar levels in diabetics.
  • It can increase your metabolism and has been used for weight loss.
  • It has been used to loosen chest congestion.
  • It is used for aromatherapy treatments and in essential oils.
  • It is thought to increase libido.

Fennel and Breastfeeding

Fennel has been regarded as a galactagogue for centuries. It has estrogen-like properties and is believed to be an herbal treatment that can help increase milk supply.

You can add fennel to your diet by drinking fennel tea, eating it as a vegetable, or using it as a spice to flavor foods. Fennel does enter your breast milk, but it is considered safe and perhaps even good for your baby.

How to Use Fennel

As A Vegetable: The vegetable part of the fennel plant can be eaten raw or cooked. It can be easily added to soups or other dishes.

As a Tea: (Compare Prices) Place 8 ounces (1 cup) of boiling water in a mug with 1 to 3 teaspoons of fennel seed (freshly crushed is preferred) and steep for approximately 10 minutes. The tea can be consumed three times a day.

As An Herb/Spice: (Compare Prices) Fennel seeds can be used to flavor many recipes, including fish, salads and sauces.

Fennel can also be taken in combination with other herbs, such as fenugreek, alfalfa, nettles, and blessed thistle.

Warnings and Side Effects of Fennel

Herbal remedies have been used as medical treatments for thousands of years. Many of the medications available today are derived from herbs. Herbs can be very potent and dangerous. They often have side effects and can even be toxic. Always discuss the use of herbal treatments with your doctor, lactation consultant or other herbal specialist, and be sure to purchase your products from a reputable source.

  • Do not use fennel during pregnancy.

  • Fennel may increase the risk of seizure. Do not use fennel if you have epilepsy, any type of seizure disorder, or if you take medication for seizures.

  • Use with care if you are diabetic or hypoglycemic. Fennel can lower blood sugar levels.

  • Your baby may become sleepy after drinking breast milk containing fennel.

  • Use this herb in moderation. If used in excess, it is believed to do the opposite of what you are using it for and may decrease your milk supply.

  • Fennel is available in an essential oil. It can be very dangerous to use the essential oil during pregnancy, and it should not be placed on small children.

  • When used on the skin, fennel can cause skin allergies or reactions.

Conclusion

The best way to receive the benefits of fennel is to add it to your diet in the foods that you eat. Teas are also a good way to benefit from herbs and are generally safe. Be sure to purchase your fennel seeds from a reputable source. Keep in mind that you do not want to consume too much fennel since it is believed to dry up the body and decrease the milk supply.

You should always use caution and discuss the use of any herbal treatments with a doctor, lactation consultant or herbal specialist.

Sources:

Bown, Deni. Herbal. Barnes & Noble Books. New York. 2001.

Humphrey, Sheila, BSC, RN, IBCLC. The Nursing Mother’s Herbal. Fairview Press. Minneapolis. 2003.

Jacobson, Hilary. Mother Food. Rosalind Press. 2004

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition. Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.

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