Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant from India and the Mediterranean. The seeds from this plant have been used throughout history for cooking, flavoring and healing. They have a pleasant maple syrup smell and a bitter taste.
Fenugreek has been utilized for centuries to promote health and well-being. It has been given for digestive health, gynecological health and as a galactagogue. It has even been used by dairy farmers to help increase the milk supply of cows.
Fenugreek and Breastfeeding
This herb has a long history of use in women's health. It has been given to induce labor and help with childbirth. It is known as a treatment for gynecological issues, such as painful menstruation and uterine problems, and it is probably the most common and possibly the most effective herb used by women to make more breast milk. Many women say that they have an increase in their milk supply after taking fenugreek, however, it does not appear to work for everyone.
Fenugreek does pass through breast milk. It is believed to be safe for both mom and baby when used in moderation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has rated it as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS).
Using fenugreek can cause your breast milk, urine, and sweat to smell like maple syrup. And since it passes to the baby, it can also cause the baby’s urine and sweat to smell like maple syrup. The most common side effect is diarrhea in the mom or baby from the introduction of fenugreek into the diet too quickly. This can usually be avoided if the herb is started at a low dose and gradually increased.
How to Use Fenugreek:
Capsules: () Fenugreek is available as a capsule. The capsules come in different doses. Talk to your lactation consultant or herbal specialist to determine the dose that is best for you. In general, you will begin by taking one capsule three times a day, increasing slowly until you smell of maple syrup or you are taking three capsules three times a day.
Fenugreek is thought to work well in combination with other herbs, such as blessed thistle, alfalfa and fennel. It is often one of the main ingredients found in nursing teas. When taken as directed, results can usually be seen within one week.
Health Benefits and Uses of Fenugreek:
- It the most widely used herb to help lactating mothers increase their milk supply.
- It is believed to promote a healthy liver.
- It has been used to loosen chest congestion.
- It is believed to be good for intestinal and digestive health.
- It may lower cholesterol.
- It is believed to be helpful in stimulating appetite.
- It is used in skin ointments and skin creams to help reduce inflammation of the skin.
Warnings and Side Effects:
Always consult a doctor, lactation consultant or herbal specialist before taking any herbal treatments. Herbs are similar to medications. They can have side effects and they can be dangerous for you or your baby.
Do not take fenugreek during pregnancy. This herb has been used to induce labor and it can cause contractions, premature labor and miscarriage.
Fenugreek can lower your blood sugar levels. Use caution and speak with your doctor if you are hypoglycemic or diabetic.
Fenugreek can thin your blood. Do not use it if you are taking anti-coagulant medication unless under the direct supervision of your doctor.
Allergic reactions are possible. If you have asthma or you are allergic to soy or peanuts, you may also be allergic to fenugreek.
When started rapidly with a large dose, fenugreek may cause diarrhea. The herb does pass through breast milk, so the baby can also get diarrhea or display symptoms of colic. Start with a small dose and gradually increase the dose.
Your breast milk, urine and sweat may smell like maple syrup.
Tell your baby’s doctor you are taking fenugreek. Fenugreek can make the baby smell like maple syrup. The smell of maple syrup caused by fenugreek is not dangerous, but there is a serious illness that is characterized by a maple syrup smell. It is very important that you tell your baby’s doctor that you are taking fenugreek, so the baby is not misdiagnosed as having maple syrup urine disease.
If you are concerned that you are not making enough milk and you have tried to increase your milk supply naturally without success, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant. She may recommend taking fenugreek to try to augment your supply. Remember to start at a low dose and gradually increase the amount you are taking to help prevent side effects. Always follow the advice and directions of your health care provider. If, at any time you believe your baby is not getting enough milk, contact your baby’s doctor.
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.