The World Health Organization recommends that all infants exclusively breastfeed for a minimum of six months, and up to 2 years when combined with solid foods. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, only around 16 percent of American mothers meet this six-month guideline. Multiple factors contribute to these low rates, but many mothers discontinue breastfeeding because of low milk supply. Before giving up, consider herbal supplements that may increase breast milk production.
First Things First
Before you decide to take any supplements to increase your milk supply, confirm that your supply really is low. Just because your baby is fussy or suddenly wants to nurse more often does not mean that your supply is insufficient. Inadequate weight gain or infrequent wet or dirty diapers are the best indication that your baby may not be getting enough breast milk. If you have determined that your milk supply is indeed low, first attempt other methods of increasing your supply, such as nursing more frequently, drinking more water, ensuring your baby is nursing effectively, and avoiding pacifiers and bottles. See a board certified lactation consultant and consult your physician before adding any supplement to your diet.
If you decide that a supplement is necessary, fenugreek is one of the most commonly used herbs for increasing milk production. Fenugreek is labeled "Generally Recognized As Safe" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can take the herb in capsule form, as a tincture or drink it as a tea. The recommended dosage is 1200 to 2400 milligrams of fenugreek capsules per day, 1 to 2 milliliters of tincture taken three times per day, or one cup of herbal tea two to three times per day. An adequate dose of fenugreek will make your sweat and urine smell like maple syrup. Fenugreek can lower blood sugar levels, so if you have diabetes, be cautious with this herb.
Blessed thistle is another herb commonly used to increase milk production. According the the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, there is insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of using blessed thistle for milk supply. Additionally, the safety of this herb while breast feeding is unknown, so it's vital to speak with your doctor first. The standard dosage of blessed thistle is the same as that of fenugreek. Blessed thistle can cause gastrointestinal irritation and should not be taken if you have Crohn's disease or other intestinal problems.
Brewer's yeast is a nutritional supplement rich in chromium, selenium and B vitamins. While there is no clinical evidence to suggest that it causes an increase in breast milk production, it is another supplement mothers frequently use to increase supply. Even if it does not boost your milk supply, the B vitamins in the supplement may increase the B vitamin content in your breast milk. The recommended dosage of Brewer's yeast is three tablets taken three times per day with meals or a tablespoon of powder mixed with tomato juice.
- World Health Organization: The World Health Organization's Infant Feeding Recommondation
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Breastfeeding Report Card 2013
- KellyMom.com: Increasing Low Milk Supply
- KellyMom.com: Fenugreek Seed for Increasing Milk Supply
- Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine: ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of Galactogogues in Initiating or Augmenting the Rate of Maternal Milk Secretion
- Breastfeeding Basics: Increasing Your Milk Supply
- MedlinePlus: Blessed Thistle
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Brewer's Yeast
- iVillage: Breastfeeding: Can Brewer's Yeast Increase Your Milk Supply?