Breastfeeding is an integral part of an infant’s growth. A mother’s milk contains all the essential nutrients a baby needs to grow healthy and strong. However, not all mothers can produce enough to nurture their children. Let’s explore the seven most effective, research-backed herbal galactagogues or breast milk stimulators in this article.
What Are Galactagogues?
Galactagogues are any foods, supplements, or known herbs to induce lactation. It comes from the root word “galacto,” meaning milk. Although not indicated for any conditions related to low breast milk production, galactagogues have helped numerous mothers provide adequate breast milk for their infants or sustain breast milk supply throughout their breastfeeding period.
It’s also essential to note that many factors can affect a mother’s milk supply, including stress, lack of rest, and other medical conditions. It’s always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before trying any herbs or supplements for breastfeeding.
The Best Herbs for Breastfeeding
There are numerous natural or herbal galactagogues out there, but some are well-studied compared to others. Here are the top ten herbs for lactation.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Fenugreek or Trigonella foenum-graecum is a pea herb from the Fabaceae family. This plant originated in southern Europe and throughout the Mediterranean region. Cultivation of this plant found its way into central Europe, western Asia, India, and parts of Africa.
As with many herbal medicines, the study behind fenugreek is small but not lacking. In one study, forty participating mothers with lactation problems were administered a blend of oral supplements containing 40 mg of fenugreek extracts three times a day for five days. After four days, the mothers produced normal volumes of breast milk without the supplement.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel or Foeniculum vulgare is another significant herbal galactagogue. This herb is classified under the carrot family, with its native roots stemming from the southern European and Turkish regions. The fennel plant is recognizable by its hollow stems, feathery leaves, and clusters of yellow flowers. In ancient times, fennel was used to aid digestion and suppress appetite.
Research shows that fennel contains a lot of estragole and anethole, a phytoestrogen. These constituents are believed to cause an increase in the milk volume among lactating mothers. In a small study, participating mothers were administered 15 mL of a 5% infusion of fennel seeds thrice daily for ten days. After the experiment, the milk volume and fat content were heightened and remained increased for three to five days.
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Another essential herbal galactagogue is anise or Pimpinella anisum. This flowering herb belongs to the parsley or Apiaceae family. Anise was initially cultivated in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean region, but southern Europeans and several Middle Easterns also grow this herb for its fruits, the aniseed.
Like fennel, anise also contains beneficial amounts of anethole, which is believed to contribute to its properties to increase breast milk volume. According to a small, controlled study, a group of participating mothers were given a tea containing two grams of dried anise and one gram of black tea. These mothers produced a higher average volume of breast milk among the placebo and control groups.
Goat’s Rue Herb (Galega officinalis)
Goat’s Rue Herb, or Galega officinalis, is another notable herbal galactagogue that deserves to be on this list. This plant is native to the eastern parts of America and was foraged by the natives for food. This herb can grow up to three inches and bear pink, white, and pale yellow flowers.
In the past, natives would use it to treat type two diabetes and manage one of its persistent symptoms, polyuria. This plant was also utilized to treat tuberculosis, parasitic infection, and bubonic plague and improve milk yield. The latter use of the herb makes it a prominent galactagogue in certain parts of America.
In one small, randomized study, researchers administered 50 women with an undisclosed concentration of goat’s rue extract, while another 50 made up the placebo group. The research concluded with the treated group having an increased milk output of 125%.
Stinging Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioica)
The Urtica dioica, stinging nettle, or simply nettle leaf, is another notable herbal galactagogue. This herbaceous perennial plant is native to Europe, North Africa, and North America but also grows around certain parts of Asia. The most prominent feature of this plant is its stinging leaves, where it got its name.
This “toothed” herb is one of the most commonly used plants among the natives. They often used stinging nettle leaves for culinary, cosmetics, and textiles. Medically, this plant is used as a diuretic and a natural remedy for prostate enlargement. Brewing this plant is also believed to help with gout and arthritis.
In a particular case, an adult and not pregnant woman took 500 milligrams of U. dioica supplements for a month when she reported a colostrum-like discharge secreting from both breasts. All of her metabolic and hormonal panels are normal during this time. She was recommended to stop her U. dioica supplement, and her unusual discharge ceased after a week.
Alfalfa Herb (Medicago sativa)
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a prominent superfood with an expanse of nutritional benefits. This cloverlike herb belongs to the same family as our number one herbal galactagogue, Fabacaea. Alfalfa is indigenous to countries with warmer climates. It’s believed to have originated in south-central Asia before it was introduced to Europe. This plant is known for its cloverlike appearance and ability to withstand extreme temperatures.
This green leafy herb contains vitamins, essential minerals, proteins, and bioactive. This blend of nutrients in a single cup of alfalfa makes it one of the best and most versatile superfoods. Alfalfa has been used before to treat inflammation and repair oxidative damage.
Alfalfa contains a rich amount of estrogenic flavonoids, such as daidzein and genistein. The plant’s leaves are used for its multifaceted therapeutical benefits. According to a journal, mothers taking up to 60g of M. sativa every day reported increased breast milk output.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is a flowering plant widely used as a spice and a medicinal herb worldwide. This perennial herb is part of the Zingiberaceae family, including turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Ginger is believed to have first originated in Maritime Southeast Asia before it was cultivated in other parts of Asia, the Spice Islands, West Africa, and the Caribbean.
Ginger has been traditionally used in herbal medicine since antiquity. It was primarily used to aid digestion and treat stomach upset, diarrhea, and nausea. Ginger is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to treat inflammatory conditions.
In a small study, researchers identified how garlic influences breast milk volume in breastfeeding mothers. The researchers gave participating mothers 1.5mg of garlic in capsule form and alternated it with a placebo pill. The result showed that babies spent more time feeding when their mothers took the garlic supplement.
Read also: Natural Herbs for PCOS
Nurturing your children in their breastfeeding years is crucial and detrimental to their overall health and development. While it may come naturally for some mothers, others may need a little boost in their milk supply. The breastfeeding herbs we mentioned above have been used for centuries by mothers worldwide to increase breast milk production, and you may benefit from including them in your diet as well.
Remember to consult your doctor before integrating herbal supplements into your routine, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications. Enjoy this beautiful bonding experience with your little one and nourish yourself with the necessary nutrients that will benefit you both.
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Herbs For Breastfeeding FAQs
What Are the Herbs Bad for Breastfeeding?
While there are numerous milk-inducing herbs, there are also milk-drying ones you should avoid. These herbs include ginseng, ephedra, wormwood, yerba mate, and male fern.
Herbs To Induce Lactation Without Pregnancy?
Among the herbs listed here, U. dioica, or the stinging nettle leaf, has been documented to cause galactorrhea or breast milk production without pregnancy. Fennel, fenugreek, and anise were also reported to cause some degree of galactorrhea.