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August 2019

National Breastfeeding Month: Natural Medicines for Lactation

August is National Breastfeeding Month. Up to 60% of pregnant and breastfeeding women use alternative therapies, including natural medicines and herbal products. How should you counsel these women? Do any natural medicines help with breastfeeding?

Low milk production is one of the top reasons women turn to natural medicines. Fenugreek is very popular for this use, but there actually isn’t any reliable evidence showing it works. Early research doesn’t show any safety concerns for the mother or baby, but long-term safety hasn’t been adequately studied. Moringa is also used as a milk stimulant, but it’s still not clear if it’s safe for the nursing baby. Alfalfamilk thistlecaraway and many others are also touted for their milk stimulating effects, but reliable clinical evidence is lacking. 

While it’s not clear if any natural medicines can improve milk production, applying chilled cabbage leaves appears to provide some relief for breast engorgement. No serious side effects have been reported, so it’s likely safe for women to apply these leaves topically.

Keep in mind that most natural products have not been studied in breastfeeding women, and safety information in the nursing babies is very limited. Make sure women understand that just because a product is marketed as natural doesn’t mean it’s safe for the baby long-term. The same goes for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant. Just recently, the FDA warned about vinpocetine increasing the risk for miscarriage and birth defects.

Always check the pregnancy and lactation safety sections in our Natural Medicines monographs for more details, and take advantage of our easy to use Pregnancy & Lactation Checker. Also review our CE/CME course on Natural Medicines Used During Pregnancy and Lactation.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2019 Natural Medicines Inc. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. Natural Medicines is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.