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Fenugreek 101 for the Breastfeeding Mom

By Kristi Patrice Carter

Fenugreek is one of the most ancient of all medicinal herbs and has been used for centuries to treat a great number of ailments including breast milk production. Fenugreek is a native plant of the Mediterranean and is primarily grown in Egypt, India and Morocco; but more recently in England as well. Greeks, Romans and Egyptians have used Fenugreek for many medicinal and culinary purposes. It is also said that Fenugreek is was one of the major ingredients in the famous Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, which was a wildly popular 19th Century cure for female ailments.

Blooming with white flowers in the summer months, Fenugreek grows to approximately 2 feet in height and features highly aromatic seeds which are used for many different purposes. The seeds are ground and roasted to flavor curry. Fenugreek seeds are also pounded and powdered to make tonics and lip balms; as well as used to make tea which is helpful in lowering high grade fever and reducing menstrual pain. For many years, fenugreek has been used to treat cough, sinus problems, respiratory conditions and of course, to increase milk production in breastfeeding mothers.

Fenugreek and its Relation to Breastfeeding

Trigonella foenum-graecum is the herbal name for Fenugreek. This herb contains phytoestrogens; plant chemicals similar to estrogen (the female sex hormone).

Although scientists and herbalists are not sure how it happens, or why it works for breastfeeding mothers, what is known is that Fenugreek seeds contain hormone precursors that absolutely increase milk production. However, it is thought that because the breast is a modified sweat gland, Fenugreek seeds work by stimulating sweat production.

In many mothers, taking Fenugreek can increase a breastfeeding mother’s milk production in as little as 24 hours. The other benefit to taking Fenugreek is that once an adequate level of milk supply is attained, most women are able to stop taking the herb and the body will maintain the correct level of milk for nursing.

In today’s world, most women take Fenugreek in pill form, which are generally ground seeds in convenient capsules for easy medicating. Luckily, Fenugreek can be found at most vitamin, herbal and nutrition stores and more recently at many drug stores and supermarkets. If you have trouble swallowing pills, Fenugreek can also be purchased and taken as a tea, although it should be noted that the tea version is not as potent and may take longer to work. Additionally, the tea can be exceedingly bitter in taste and be difficult to stomach.

Fenugreek is an FDA approved herb, and is considered totally safe for breastfeeding mothers. Of course, side effects have been reported, such loose stool, uterine contractions, hypoglycemia and urine that emits a sweet odor.

As a final note, it is important to understand that Fenugreek is not appropriate for every breastfeeding mother. In certain instances, the herb has caused adverse affects in women with asthma and diabetes. It is critical that you discuss your intention to take Fenugreek with your doctor, nutritionist or herbalist before starting a regime.