February 16, 2018

Does Taking Fenugreek Increase Breast Milk Supply?

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The short answer to this question is: No one knows. There is basically no evidence that Fenugreek works to increase breast milk production and no evidence that it doesn't work to increase supply.

The reason I chose to write this post is because it seems almost every other mom blog out there, especially ones that support breastfeeding, praises Fenugreek as if it some magical cure to low supply. As someone who experienced low supply and saw a lactation consultant about it,  this is just a slap in the face and so I decided to do my own research.

I have had some breastfeeding moms claim that "Big Pharma" is the reason why Fenugreek isn't talked about like it's some hidden gem, but the truth is, if Fenugreek was proven to work, "Big Pharma" would totally jump on it and turn it into a pill. After all, what struggling mom out there wouldn't jump at the chance to take a daily pill if it was guaranteed to boost her milk supply? They would totally be making money off it. The fact that they aren't using Fenugreek to make medicine just shows that they aren't confident enough in its abilities to increase milk supply, which should make us hesitant as well, right?

Well, the thing is Fenugreek is regarded as "safe" (source), so even if there is no evidence that it works or doesn't work, it's not going to kill you if you take it. After all, there are women who claim it works, but as Toronto pediatrician, Jack Newman, says "They seem to, and many mothers swear by their effect, but the placebo effect of any medication is very powerful" (source).

I am a firm believer in the placebo effect, which is why I believe it is hard for researchers to determine if Fenugreek actually works for increasing breastmilk supply. They are also probably lacking the funding and resources to continue doing research.

Drugs.com even provides a list of studies, where the majority of the results aren't even useful because the studies were flawed, lacking control groups or had Fenugreek mixed with other herbs, so they can't determine which one actually helped, or if it even did (source).

I put "safe" in quotes above because there are still side effects and risks of taking Fenugreek. The big thing is to not take it when pregnant as it can cause uterine contractions (source). Here is what WebMD lists for Fenugreek side effects:
"Side effects include diarrhea, stomach upset, bloating, gas, and a "maple syrup" odor in urine. Fenugreek can cause nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, facial swelling, and severe allergic reactions in hypersensitive people" (source).
Also, it seems the medical community is hesitant to say it's "safe," without some kind of "maybe" wordage in front of it. For example, this is what WebMD says about Fenugreek for breastfeeding:
"Fenugreek is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth to increase breast-milk flow in the short-term. Some research shows that taking 1725 mg of fenugreek three times daily for 21 days does not cause any side effects in infants" (source). 
Another thing to keep in mind is that Fenugreek is considered a supplement, so in that case, it's not entirely FDA approved:
"Dietary supplements do not require extensive pre-marketing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers are responsible to ensure the safety, but do not need to prove the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements before they are marketed. Dietary supplements may contain multiple ingredients, and differences are often found between labeled and actual ingredients or their amounts. A manufacturer may contract with an independent organization to verify the quality of a product or its ingredients, but that does not certify the safety or effectiveness of a product." (source)
This post isn't meant to scare, but to inform you before you decide to go the Fenugreek route. Fenugreek should only be used as a last resort, as the popular breastfeeding site, Kelly Mom, states:
"Keep in mind that in almost all cases, non-pharmaceutical methods of increasing milk supply should be tried first, as there can be significant side effects from both herbal remedies and prescription medications used to increase milk supply." (source)
One study also came to this conclusion:
"Nonpharmacologic recommendations should be exhausted before adding therapy. Although anecdotal evidence encourages the use of metoclopramide, fenugreek, asparagus, and milk thistle for their galactogogue properties, efficacy and safety data in the literature are lacking. Oxytocin and domperidone are potentially available for compounding purposes, but safety data are limited. More studies are needed to evaluate the effects of available galactogogues on breast milk production." (source)
After having done the research, I chose not to go the Fenugreek route and instead turned to formula. To me there just wasn't enough research to guarantee its safety and/or if it even works to boost supply. Others obviously feel differently, but my hope is just to get the information out there so others can make an informed decision rather than believing what they hear from word of mouth. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!


Attribution: Image used in blog post photo does not belong to me and was found on pixabay.


  1. I had no idea about this. This is such a natural way. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this post, and for taking the time to research the topic thoroughly! I never had an issue with too little breastmilk, so I can't speak to what does and doesn't work. But I do know that taking supplements or eating large quantities of a specific food can change the composition and taste of your milk. And baby might not accept it!

    For anyone who is having trouble with low milk volume, I'd recommend drinking plenty of water (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommendations are about 13 cups of fluids a day while breastfeeding.)

    I would also suggest more frequent nursing, as well as pumping. Breast milk supply is all about demand. So the more your baby takes (or the more you pump) the more milk your body will produce! If those two things don't work, try getting in touch with your OB/midwife/lactation consultant/community health nurse. They'll be able to suggest other things to try.

    1. Thanks for sharing this information. I have PCOS, which causes me to have more testosterone (male hormones), which is ultimately what we believed to cause my low supply. Plus my mom couldn't breastfeed either, so it may also be genetic.

      No amount of pumping I did helped. I supplemented for 3 months because I believed some was better than none, but when my baby decided she no longer wanted the breast, we just switched to formula. I wasn't going to force it on her anymore and I was getting sick of pumping 30 mins to only get at most an ounce.

      I think it's important that people realize that not all women can breastfeed, but I do encourage all women to try. Just don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work. In the end it's important that your baby is fed, and formula is the next best thing.

  3. I tried everything to nurse my son, nothing helped the to increase my flow, he never got enough and was always hungry. He himself got sick of trying. I liked how you had facts about somethings doesn't work the placebo affect and also that one should try all other things before medications.

  4. It’s so frustrating when your milk supply is low. Thanks for sharing all this info!

  5. i struggled so much with milk supply. i tried fenugreek but it didn't work on me-- it was stressful!

  6. I think a lot of supply issues have to do with the baby which makes it so much harder. Even when you try all the things of the baby isn’t latching right, supply may still be an issue. I had that problem with one and funnily enough he was the one I breastfed until 18 months when I ended up pregnant again. I agree I don’t like to take supplements like this- you only get one body...not worth messing it up!

  7. This is really interesting. I am due with baby #3 in a couple of weeks and while I didn't experience low supply until my babies were 10-12 months, I know that I could have probably done some other things to keep my supply up. I've heard of Fenugreek but honestly, I will probably just stick with some lactation cookies, pumping and oatmeal. ;)

    1. I'm kind of tempted to write another post as I hear a lot about lactation cookies and oatmeal, but those don't have any solid research either. They may help if you already have supply do to the nutrients in them, but as someone who eats oatmeal every day for breakfast, before and after pregnancy, I still had low supply, so eating the right foods and drinking water didn't help me.

  8. I didn't suffer from a low supply, thank goodness. But you know what is a weird thing that increased my supply... Spaghetti squash. We would make it a few times a month and I alway had more milk and would have to do an extra pump. I know it's weird but maybe it could help others.

  9. Always interesting to read the other side. What works for one, doesn't work for all.

  10. I have suggested this to many people and it is a great remedy.

  11. This was a good read, I personally never used fenugreek when I was breastfeeding but I know plenty of moms who swear by it and believe it did increase their supply. We will never know until thorough research is completed but like you said it comes down to inviduals choosing the route they see best.