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Fenugreek or Milk Thistle?

By Kristi Patrice Carter

If you are a mother who is breastfeeding a newborn and are finding that your milk production is not adequate to meet the needs of your child, you are probably desperately searching for a solution. In many cases, due to risk and adverse affects for both mom and baby, prescription drugs are not preferred. Perhaps you are looking for an herbal remedy and have heard or read about both fenugreek and milk thistle. You may be confused about these two herbs, which is better and which is recommended by professionals.

In a nutshell

Fenugreek: One of the most ancient of all medicinal herbs, fenugreek is a versatile herb that 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. 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.

Milk Thistle: For more than 2000 years, milk thistle has been used as an herbal remedy for treating gallbladder and liver disorders and more recently for increasing milk production in nursing mothers. Milk thistle is a native European plant and generally speaking grows wild in South America and the United States. Extracted from the milk thistle seed, silymarin is a flavenoid complex that is believed to be the biologically active component.


Fenugreek: Fenugreek can increase a breastfeeding mother’s milk production in as little as 24 hours. The other benefit 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.

Milk Thistle: Many women report an increase in milk production within 3-4 days of taking milk thistle. Unlike fenugreek, you must continue taking it to retain optimum milk production levels.

Side Effects

Fenugreek: There are very few side effects reported by nursing mothers who have taken fenugreek. Minor effects include loose stool, uterine contractions, hypoglycemia and urine that emit a sweet odor. In certain instances, the herb has caused adverse affects in women with asthma and diabetes.

Milk Thistle: Mild side effects reported include upset stomach, headache and itching. It has been reported that women who are allergic to plants in the aster family, daisies, artichokes, kiwi or common thistle should carefully consider milk thistle as a milk production herbal remedy, as it could cause allergic reaction or in rare cases, anaphylactic shock. Additionally, taking milk thistle can reduce blood sugar levels and therefore, should be avoided by anyone with diabetes or hypoglycemia, as well as women taking drugs that affect blood sugar levels.


Both fenugreek and milk thistle are readily available at health food stores, drug stores, holistic and herbal outlets and through herbalists and holistic practitioners.


Overall, fenugreek has a longer history of effectively increasing milk production in breastfeeding women, acts quicker and seems to have fewer side effects. However, there are cases where taking fenugreek is not the best option, in which case milk thistle may be a better option for you.