fenugreek while nursing?
February 19, 2007 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Fenugreek and nursing moms?

My daughter, who breastfeeds, has seen a lot of internet advice regarding fenugreek increasing the milk supply. When she got some she noticed that the label advised not taking it for pregnant or nursing moms.

So, what gives? Have any of you folks taken it whilst nursing? If so, did it work? And what harm could it conceivably do if she does take it?

(I'm over at her place now and we both await the wisdom of the hive mind.)
posted by konolia to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
My wife used fenugreek when she was nursing (on the advice of our pediatrician, who said it was harmless to the baby). It made her smell like maple syrup, and it really increased milk production. Almost too much. If you try it, I'd start with a relatively low dose at first. Oh, and this was a couple of years ago, so it would probably be wise to check with a pediatrician before using it, just to be sure it is still recommended.
posted by nixxon at 8:16 AM on February 19, 2007


Thanks!

Anyone else wanna weigh in?
posted by konolia at 8:40 AM on February 19, 2007


My female partner is getting ready to adoptive nurse our daughter. (I'm due in two weeks) We have an adoptive lactation consultant who put her on HEAVY fenugreek for three months, and nixxon is right, her primary side effect was that her pee and her skin reeked of maple syrup. Very bizarro. Her milk has still not let down but the fenugreek really increased the weight of her breasts.
The FDA has not tested fenugreek as safe for infants/pregnant women/nursing mothers so that's the origin of the warning - it's their standard language. (This is according to the consultant and a great nursing website called Kellymom.com. No one in the nursing community considers it anything but perfectly safe.
I've also learned a lot from a site about breast feeding after breast reductions, because they discuss low milk supply in great detail.

Tell your daughter good luck!
posted by pomegranate at 8:51 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Similar advice as nixon. My wife used it occasionally, it works really well, you do end up smelling like maple syrup, and no observed ill effects to anyone. I was thinking of trying it myself just to see what would happen. :)
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:51 AM on February 19, 2007


k - does your daughter have a lactation consultant? If not, she should find a good one, or talk to the LaLeche League people.

I'm a BFAR mom (Breast Feeding After Reduction) and the supplement More Milk Plus (fenugreek seed, blessed thistle, nettle leaf, fennel seed, non-GMO soy lecithin, coconut oil, vegetable cellulose) was given to me by my board-certified lactation consultant. With it, I was able to feed him 80% breastmilk/20% formula for the first 3 months of his life. Without it I could barely produce an ounce or so of milk a day. Although now that he's 7 months old we only really night feed, I'll still use it on occasion to bring my milk supply up (for example, we were both very sick recently with RSV, and he refused to nurse for days on end, and I'm not sure I could have nursed had he wanted to).

pomegranate - again, congratulations and best wishes. The internet awaits photos!! :-)
posted by anastasiav at 9:03 AM on February 19, 2007


I would not do this. Here is what a generally herb-positive site has to say about it:

The only common side effect is mild gastrointestinal distress when it is taken in high doses. Because fenugreek can lower blood sugar levels, it is advisable to seek medical supervision before combining it with diabetes medications. Extracts made from fenugreek have been shown to stimulate uterine contractions in guinea pigs. For this reason, pregnant women should not take fenugreek in dosages higher than is commonly used as a spice, perhaps 5 g daily. Besides concerns over pregnant women, safety in young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has also not been established.

Dosage: Because the seeds of fenugreek are somewhat bitter, they are best taken in capsule form. The typical dosage is 5 to 30 g of defatted fenugreek taken 3 times a day with meals.

The fact that it is so bitter you have to take it by capsule is your body's way of saying 'Hey! Don't eat this!'-- a message it would seem unwise for a nursing mother especially to ignore. Also, if we combine the warning about blood sugar with nixxon's report that it made his wife smell like maple syrup, it sounds like fenugreek is doing something weird like making glucose be excreted on the skin, which I find bizarre and ominous.
posted by jamjam at 9:05 AM on February 19, 2007


I've been using Fenugreek for almost 7 months on the advice of my lactation consultant who is also an L&D RN. 3 capsules 3 times a day. I had absolutely no faith in "alternative" medicines and tried it only out of a last ditch effort to make breastfeeding work. It did. I still have to supplement occasionally but it has made a huge difference.
I smell funny - apperently that's how you know you're taking enough. It took about 2 days of 9 capsules a day to notice the milk supply increase.
I know how frustrating low supply can be. If she has access to a pump - encourage her to pump for 10 minutes after every feeding. This also helped me a lot.
And remember - even if the little one only gets a little breast milk every day - they are still a breast fed baby. And even if you exhaust all the options and breastfeeding isn't in the cards- formula is great stuff for babies. The guilt put on new moms over breastfeeding drove me to tears on a number of occasions (ok almost constant tears for weeks on end - being a new mom is hard ) Good luck to your daughter!
posted by Wolfie at 9:15 AM on February 19, 2007


she's actually doing ok on the nursing-she just felt some help particularly for expressing purposes would be good. she isalso a bit lopsided-one breast at least a cup size larger and worries about onesided prpduction...xcuse the typos as i am posting with a grumpy baby in arms.
posted by konolia at 9:22 AM on February 19, 2007


oh, and she does go to LLL.
posted by konolia at 9:32 AM on February 19, 2007


if we combine the warning about blood sugar with nixxon's report that it made his wife smell like maple syrup, it sounds like fenugreek is doing something weird like making glucose be excreted on the skin, which I find bizarre and ominous.


Fenugreek the raw spice also smells like maple syrup. There's no weird reaction going on to produce the smell, it's just like when you eat a lot of garlic and the smell comes out of your pores. I can't speak to the blood sugar claims on your link, though.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:10 AM on February 19, 2007


The fact that it is so bitter you have to take it by capsule is your body's way of saying 'Hey! Don't eat this!'-- a message it would seem unwise for a nursing mother especially to ignore.

People also take garlic by capsule because eating plain garlic for nutritive benefits can just be plain nasty. Capsules also concentrate the effect. So your advice doesn't make any sense -- hey! the reason capsaicin is really hot is to tell your body not to eat it (which, evolutionarily is correct). Better avoid eating peppers!

Fenugreek, like most other nutritive supplements, IS used in cooking, and digested by normal people. It's odd all the bitter and distasteful foods humans ingest and seemingly enjoy. In any case, it's "considered safe for nursing moms when used in moderation and is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe)." Some cautions it notes are for those with asthma or diabetes, or if you're pregnant.
posted by artifarce at 10:33 AM on February 19, 2007


Humans are really flexible: it’s so cool.

Bitter foods contain alkaloids, which have the potential to be quite toxic. However, some alkaloids have medicinal properties and are beneficial. Hence the default human reaction to bitterness is to reject it — just in case. But we can also develop an acquired taste for bitter foods, usually through exposure in childhood. Stuff you eat as a kid is typically given to you by your parents. If your parents are healthy enough to birth, raise and feed you then they’re clearly doing something right, and if they are eating bitter plants it’s a good idea for you to do that too. This allows the wisdom and experience of the group to be perpetuated.

Thus evolution has permitted us two responses: the default rejection of bitter plants, plus the acquired taste for bitter plants approved by the group.

Humans are really flexible: it’s so cool.
posted by kika at 10:53 AM on February 19, 2007


The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (pharmacist's bible on herbal supplements - extremely well referenced, based on the latest scientific evidence) has this to say:

No studies currently exist that confirm its use to increase milk supply.

Interactions - it lowers blood sugar and reduces blood clotting, so don't take it if you are also taking diabetes medications or anticoagulants such as aspirin, NSAIDs, or warfarin (Coumadin), Taking it with diabetes drugs might cause hypoglycemia, and taking with anticoagulants mich cause increased bruising/bleeding.

It has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status in the US, which is an FDA designation meaning it's ok to use as a food additive.

Now, on a personal note, I did use it myself when I was trying to get my milk supply in for my first child. Worked great for me. The fact that there are no studies confiriming its effectiveness just means no one has bothered to fund a study yet - it doesn't necessarily mean it's ineffective. If she's not on diabetes or antiplatelet/anticoagulant meds, then it should be safe.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:11 AM on February 19, 2007


As a Middle Eastern kid who was raised happily eating fenugreeky foods, I would not worry a bit. My ancestors have used it heavily in cooking since approximately the dawn of time. If the capsules give you the wig (and I can see how they might), I know there are also fenugreek teas you can get. From experience, I can tell you they don't taste like much of anything even if you brew a strong cup, but they smell quite strongly of - well, fenugreek.

I don't know if you'll get the dosage you need from just a tea, but it's worth a shot.
posted by crinklebat at 11:25 AM on February 19, 2007


Fenugreek the raw spice also smells like maple syrup.

Thanks for the information, Lentrohamsanin; sotolone is the odiferous compound, and it is apparently the source of a characteristic component of the smell of maple syrup and curry, etc.

However, it is also the source of the smell in maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), caused by hereditary enzyme deficiencies which lead to a toxic build-up of certain amino acids and their breakdown products (including sotolone), and which produces severe neurological problems absent stringent dietary restrictions. Nothing I was able to find implicated sotolone directly in this toxicity, but nothing specifically exonerated it, either. Apparently, enough sotolone can get into the urine of babies whose mothers have consumed fenugreek tea that it can lead to false diagnoses of MSUD.

While it is true that we humans have an almost boundless enthusiasm for bitter, bitter herbs in our food, you will find relatively very few individuals under 4.5 ft. tall in those surging crowds by choice. Vegan parents must notoriously drag them kicking and screaming. One possible explanation for this is that bitter compounds are often cytotoxic, especially for fast-dividing cell populations, and therefore children avoid them because they consist largely of such cell populations, and adults seek them out because, for them fast dividing cell populations mean cancer.
posted by jamjam at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2007


sotolone is the odiferous compound, and it is apparently the source of a characteristic component of the smell of maple syrup and curry, etc.

Awesome, I never knew it was the same exact compound.

One possible explanation for this is that bitter compounds are often cytotoxic, especially for fast-dividing cell populations, and therefore children avoid them because they consist largely of such cell populations, and adults seek them out because, for them fast dividing cell populations mean cancer.

That seems like a stretch: there's nothing we can eat that will reliably cure or prevent cancer, so I'm not sure I see how taste could be selected for that way.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:12 PM on February 19, 2007


For me, eating oatmeal worked better at increasing supply than fenugreek. YBodyMV.
posted by mogget at 1:43 PM on February 19, 2007


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