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If you are a breastfeeding mom looking for ways to increase your milk supply, you have probably looked into herbal supplements. There are so many lactation supplements in so many different forms it can be difficult to know which are the best supplements to increase milk supply.
I live in a community where herbals and homeopathic remedies are commonly used for health and wellness goals as well as to treat illness. However, I knew that supplements to help milk production had gone mainstream when I saw them on the shelf at my local Target.
Substances that include herbs and foods that can increase breast milk supply are called galactagogues.
If you are wondering if things like herbs, teas, or cookies can boost your milk production, keep reading to find out what the research says and what other moms say about supplements to help increase breast milk.
BUT FIRST – BREAST MILK SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Before looking into supplements, you will want to make sure that you’ve got the whole supply and demand thing covered.
You want to send your breasts the message to make a lot of milk by stimulating them frequently. This is especially important in the early weeks of milk production.
Typically a minimum amount of stimulation will require at least eight to twelve breastfeeding or pumping sessions or a combination of the two each day. Each session needs to be at least ten to twenty minutes.
If you are trying to make more milk, you first need to make sure you are doing the minimum.
If possible, increase breastfeeding frequency or add some pumping sessions to stimulate increased milk production.
- If your baby sleeps for longer stretches at night, you can try pumping two to three hours after the last feeding of the day.
- You can also try pumping for five to fifteen minutes right after feedings.
- Even if you don’t express a lot of milk initially, the additional stimulation will tell your breasts to ramp up production.
A good latch is essential for sufficient milk removal. If a baby does not latch well and, as a result, can’t remove enough milk, this tells your breasts to make less milk.
For a mama who is pumping, proper fit of the breast shields, also called flanges, is critical to adequate milk removal and mom’s comfort.
FACTS ABOUT MILK SUPPLY SUPPLEMENTS
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements.
- Not all supplements are safe for breastfed babies.
- When choosing the best lactation supplements, look for those classified by the FDA as “GRAS.” This stands for Generally Recognized As Safe.
- There is not a lot of research done on supplements, but there is some. More on that in a minute.
- What this means is that much of the information we have about supplements to boost breast milk production is from anecdotal reporting
- Women in every culture consume specific foods and herbs traditionally believed to help increase their milk supply.
- There are different reasons a woman might be experiencing a low milk supply. This is part of the rationale of why a particular supplement may work for one mom and not have any effect on another.
REASONS YOU MAY WANT TO CONSIDER TAKING SUPPLEMENTS TO HELP MILK SUPPLY
Most women will make as much milk as their baby needs.
Some moms will struggle with a low milk supply.
However, not every mama who is looking for the best milk supply supplement is having trouble making enough milk for her baby.
There are a few reasons why a mom wants to boost her production.
- A mother may make enough for her baby but has trouble pumping extra.
- Some moms are trying to build a freezer stash.
- A freezer stash is a good idea for every mom in the event of an emergency.
- In preparation for going back to work
- A mama may need to quickly increase her supply for a separation from her baby.
- Business trip
- Planned surgery with hospitalization
- In rare cases, a mom may need to take a medication that is not safe to breastfeed while taking it. If she has advance notice, she may be able to pump enough milk for the time she has to pump and dump. (Or find another use for the milk).
HOW DO HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS TO INCREASE BREAST MILK PRODUCTION WORK?
Different herbs can affect your milk-making system in different ways.
- They are affecting hormone levels, for example, increasing your prolactin levels.
- Helping your let-down reflex
- Correcting nutritional deficiencies
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS TO HELP BREAST MILK PRODUCTION?
There have been a number of studies looking at whether supplements that are classified as galactagogues are effective in increasing milk supply. Most of the studies showed an improved milk supply when the galactagogues were taken (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3).
However, many of the studies are considered to be of low quality. This could be because of a small number of participants or the way the research was conducted.
ARE HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY SAFE?
While herbal supplements are natural, that does not mean every herbal supplement is safe for a breastfeeding mother to take.
The five supplements that I review in this post are all considered safe for a breastfeeding mom and her baby when taken at the recommended dosages.
If you are pregnant and breastfeeding, I urge you to work one on one with a lactation consultant. Some herbs should be avoided during pregnancy.
Herbs are like any food or drug, and some people will not have any problems or issues when taking them. Other people can experience unpleasant side effects or even an allergic reaction.
If you or your baby experience an unpleasant side effect, you can try taking a lower dosage. You can also see if taking the supplement with food helps the side effects.
If you experience any kind of allergic reaction, you should stop taking it immediately.
The potential for side effects and allergic reactions is why I generally recommend trying individual herbs initially instead of combinations of herbs. If you take something with four or five different herbs in it and you have a reaction, you won’t know what is causing it.
The other aspect of herbal supplement safety is making sure you procure herbs that are from a safe source. There have been reports of herbal supplements containing heavy metals and pesticides.
One final thing to consider in terms of safety is whether an herb can interact with a medication a mother is taking. An excellent source to check on potential drug/herb interactions is the National Center For Complementary and Integrative Health’s Herb-Drug Interactions.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE SUPPLEMENTS TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY?
Some women have reported an increase in milk supply within 24 to 48 hours from when they started taking the supplement.
I encourage women to give it at least a week at the maximum recommended or tolerated dosage. If you do not see any difference before that, it probably is not working for you.
If a particular herb does not provide the increase in supply that you are looking for you can try another herbal supplement by itself or add it to what you are already taking.
BEST SUPPLEMENTS TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY
I think these are the best supplements to increase milk supply based on what is used most often combined with the research.
There are many other supplements that are taken by women trying to boost their milk production, but these are the ones that I think are the top five.
FENUGREEK TO INCREASE MILK PRODUCTION
Fenugreek is one of the most popular and best herbs to increase milk supply. It is a common ingredient in Indian cooking. It is used in imitation maple flavorings.
If you have diabetes, you should consult a healthcare professional before trying Fenugreek as it has anti-diabetic properties.
In a study on rats, high doses of Fenugreek resulted in lowering the thyroid hormone T3. Moms who have low thyroid should consider this when deciding if they want to try it. You would definitely want to monitor your T3 levels.
There have been a handful of reports of moms with low thyroid who experienced a decrease in supply. Most of them were able to return to their previous level of milk production when they stopped taking it.
The maximum recommended amount to take is 6 grams per day. Fenugreek has the potential to cause digestive upset in you and your baby, so I don’t recommend starting with the maximum amount.
One notable side-effect of Fenugreek is that it will give you a maple syrup smell. I can often tell a mom is taking it because of the odor when she walks into my office. I tell the mamas I work with that if their partner starts asking for pancakes, then they are on the right track.
Start with 1000-2000 mg divided into at least three doses throughout the day. If you and your little one tolerate it without any side effects, you can gradually increase the amount every two to three days.
Fenugreek can be taken in a variety of prepared forms.
- Tincture – Motherlove Herbals makes an alcohol-free version.
- Powder – you can add it to cookies, smoothies or oatmeal.
GOAT’S RUE TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY
Goat’s Rue is another herb that a lot of the mothers I have worked with have taken with good results. Many of them reported that it resulted in increased breast growth.
Like Fenugreek, Goat’s Rue also has anti-diabetic effects. It is also a diuretic, so make sure you drink plenty of water if you take it.
Goat’s Rue Preparation Options:
A typical dosage is one to two ml of the tincture taken up to three times a day. To be able to pinpoint any reactions start with the lower dosage and work your way up.
SHATAVARI AND BREAST MILK
Shatavari is a common supplement taken by women in both China and India.
There has been some promising research on Shatavari.
Shatavari preparation options:
The commonly recommended dosage is 500 mg to 1000 mg twice a day.
MILK THISTLE FOR BREAST MILK SUPPLY
Milk Thistle, also called Blessed Milk Thistle, is another traditional galactagogue. Like several other herbal supplements, it has anti-diabetic properties. Some people take it because of its protective effect on the liver.
Milk Thistle Preparation Options:
The max dosage is 1000 mg taken up to three times daily.
MORINGA TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY
Moringa is a plant that has several research studies supporting its use as a galactagogue. It is also called Malunggay.
It is a common food eaten in the Philippines.
Moringa Preparation Options:
The usual dosage is up to 250 mg to 350 mg taken two to three times a day.
If you take the blood thinner warfarin, Moringa should be taken with caution.
RECOMMENDED BREAST MILK SUPPLEMENTS
As I said, you want to make sure you are purchasing your herbs to increase milk supply from a reputable company. This will ensure both safety and effectiveness.
These are two companies that I feel comfortable recommending:
I also recommend choosing an organic whenever possible.
BEST TYPE OF SUPPLEMENT PREPARATION
Herbal supplements come in a variety of preparations.
- Capsules or tablets
In my experience, tinctures seemed to produce the best effect on the milk supply. They are strong flavors and often not very pleasant tasting. Taking it with a small amount of a strong-tasting juice like cherry or pomegranate can mask the taste.
Teas can help in your efforts to stay well-hydrated. However, the freshness of the herbs and how long it is brewed for will impact its effectiveness.
Some lactation teas that you can find at the store or online often do not have the herbs in amounts that will significantly impact milk supply.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU TAKE A GALACTAGOGUE?
The length of time you take a lactation supplement will depend on your motivation to increase your milk supply.
Herbal Supplements For Low Milk Supply
If you had a low supply, I would recommend continuing to take the supplement for at least a month once you produce a full milk supply. After a month, you can try gradually decreasing the dosage.
If your supply maintains, you should continue to gradually decrease how much you are taking until you are completely weaned off of the supplement.
If your supply begins to decrease, you can just increase the dosage again. Some mothers do find they have to take the supplement for the entire duration of their breastfeeding experience.
You can try weaning off of it at a later date as well.
Supplements Taken To Temporarily Increase Supply
If you were trying to boost your breast milk production to build your freezer stash or in preparation for a separation from your baby, you can stop taking the herbs when you reach your goal.
Dealing With The Middle Of The Work Week Drop In Supply
Some mamas who work a four or five-day workweek notice their milk supply seems to drop as the week progresses. If this is what is happening to you, try taking the supplement at the start of the workweek. You can probably stop it after you pass the middle of the week and resume again at the beginning of the next week.
SHOULD I TRY HERBAL BLENDS TO MAKE MORE MILK?
There are a plethora of galactagogue blends that combine several different herbs.
If you have taken the different herbs safely, these blends have been effective in many mothers.
They are certainly worth a try.
Some popular blends:
- Motherlove More Milk Special Blend
- Motherlove More Milk Plus
- Motherlove More Milk Two is a blend for pregnant mamas. It does not contain Fenugreek.
- Wishgarden Milk Rich
DO LACTATION COOKIES INCREASE MILK SUPPLY
Pinterest is full of cookie recipes that promise to increase supply. These tasty treats are also available premade.
They often contain herbs like Fenugreek as well as other foods purported to have galactagogue properties. However, the amounts of herbs in them may not be enough to make a significant difference.
Many moms swear by them, so it is possible they can help you make more milk.
Be aware of how many calories and how much sugar may be in them. If you make your own with herbal powder you will have more control over the amount of sugar in them.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BEST SUPPLEMENTS TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY
Nursing moms who are looking for the ideal supplements for milk production have many to choose from.
Because a mama doesn’t always know the reason for a low milk supply finding the best supplement to increase her milk production may take some trial and error. The information in this post should give you the knowledge to use herbal galactagogues effectively and safely.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.