Herbal supplements are gaining in popularity, but just because they’re natural, it doesn’t mean they’re safe. Many people fail to recognize that herbal supplements, like medications, have risks as well as benefits. Today, more and more scientific studies are looking into the safety and effectiveness of popular herbal remedies, but so far very little is known about the use of herbs by pregnant women or nursing moms, where the potential effects on a baby must also be considered. While many herbs are touted as improving milk supply, the scientific proof is lacking; and in most cases we don’t know if the herbs cross into breast milk or are safe for infants.
Ginkgo comes in two varieties, American and Chinese, neither of which have been proven to boost milk production. Fenugreek, or Greek hayseed, has also been used to increase milk supply. But, at high levels, it can precipitate labor, or lead to hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. Some women use fennel to increase their milk supply. This herb may have estrogenic effects and even small amounts of the oil have led to allergic rashes or respiratory problems (pulmonary edema).
Another herb, comfrey, has been linked to liver failure and in 2001, the United States Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against internal usage of herbal products containing comfrey, and eventually banned Comfrey products intended for internal use. Since the risk is greatest among infants, comfrey should not be used while nursing. Herbal supplements can also be dangerous when combined with other medications, so be sure to let your doctor know what you’re using.
Some herbal teas that are considered safe for nursing mothers include chicory, orange spice, peppermint, raspberry and rose hips. If you want to boost your milk supply, stay well-hydrated, practice relaxation techniques to help with milk letdown, and use a breast pump after feedings to stimulate greater production. Remember, it’s always best to play it safe and avoid unnecessary risks when you’re pregnant or nursing.
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