Increasing Breastmilk Supply with Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle
Breastfeeding is natural. So, it should come easily, right? Unhappily, that isn’t the experience of many moms. It wasn’t my initial experience of breastfeeding either.
When I was pregnant with Luke, I did a lot of research and reading on breastfeeding. It was clear to my husband and me that we wanted Luke to be breastfed. We even took a class together. We learned how breast milk provides the perfect nutrition, with vitamins, proteins, and fat that make food specifically formulated for what our baby would need; not to mention that it provides anti-bodies to fight off bacteria and viruses. We wanted this for our son. The benefits for me, as a mom, were clear as well: an increase of the oxytocin hormone to help create the bond between mother and child and to help shrink the uterus.
Finding solutions to breastfeeding problems
However, when Luke was born I had great difficulties with breastfeeding, mostly due to latching issues. Breastfeeding was very painful, frustrating, and slow. I remember feeling so discouraged. Breastfeeding was something that I had assumed would come more easily but I was in tears over the pain and effort that went into feeding him. It got to the point where I started to dread breastfeeding. I was so fortunate to have support from my husband and a lactation consultant, both of whom encouraged me and helped me find solutions. Finally, I used a nipple shield for Luke to be able to nurse. Nipple shields can affect the milk supply because the areola is not adequately stimulated, but thankfully, I found fenugreek and blessed thistle to be very helpful in increasing my supply. Having a decreased milk supply on top of the struggles I was already experiencing would have been even more trying. Happily, after three months, I was able to transition Luke off the shield.
Perseverance, support, and finding solutions along the way permitted me to continue breastfeeding. In the end, I came to a place of confidence and ease in our breastfeeding relationship. I loved the time I had breastfeeding Luke and the bond it created for us.
Most women who stop breastfeeding say it is because of milk supply issues, a very serious and valid concern. Milk supply can be diminished for many reasons, including stress, latching issues, and tongue tie, to name a few. Enter fenugreek and blessed thistle as nature’s expert herbal solution for increasing breastmilk production.
Fenugreek and blessed thistle: An overview and history
Fenugreek: Good in curries, good for mama!
From the very earliest times, fenugreek seeds have not only been a wonderful seasoning in Asian dishes, they have been recognized and used by women to stimulate the flow of milk during breastfeeding. This is true of several herbal traditions and is supported by modern research. In fact, a recent clinical trial showed that the seeds doubled the production of milk by nursing mothers with newborns.
What’s so ‘blessed’ about blessed thistle?
Since the 17th century, blessed thistle has been primarily recognized by herbalists as a remedy to enhance milk production in nursing women. It is an excellent appetite and digestive aid and is especially good for breastfeeding women with a low milk supply. Researchers theorize that it stimulates blood flow to the breasts.1
The International Breastfeeding Centre and Dr. Jack Newman
A lactation specialist at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Dr. Jack Newman, writes about the effectiveness of blessed thistle and fenugreek when used together: “These two herbs seem to increase milk supply and increase the rate of milk flow.” He adds that their effects are additive: “Fenugreek and blessed thistle seem to work better if you take both, not just one or the other.” Dr. Newman notes that mothers generally notice an increase in milk production within 24-72 hours after starting the herbs. The herbs also work best for young babies within the first few weeks after birth.
- Antonia Zapantis et al, “Use of Herbals as Galactagogues,” Journal of Pharmacy Practice 2012 April; 25(2): 222-31.