Can drinking herbal tea help with breastfeeding?
There are probably as many stories about helpful teas as there are herbs on the market. It helps to get the facts.
“The answer is yes, certain teas may be helpful,” says Lina Wong, DO, a board-certified OB/GYN at St. Jude Heritage Medical Group. “But just as during pregnancy, you have to be selective about what you eat and drink when breastfeeding. Before you reach for the kettle, know which herbal teas are good for you and which to avoid.”
Generally, the most common breastfeeding herbs for nursing teas are:
- Fenugreek. Fenugreek is an herb similar to clover that is native to the Mediterranean region, southern Europe and western Asia. It is commonly used as a poultice to decrease inflammation, as well as for digestive problems, kidney ailments and promoting milk flow when breastfeeding.
- Blessed thistle. This plant is typically prepared as a tea and used for loss of appetite and indigestion, and to treat colds, cough, fever, bacterial infections and diarrhea. It is also used as a diuretic for increasing urine output, and for promoting the flow of breast milk in new mothers.
- Fennel. Fennel has been used for cooking and healing since ancient Egypt. It is believed to have estrogen-like properties and can be eaten raw or cooked, as well as taken as a tea or herbal treatment. Besides promoting milk production, other benefits include assisting with healthy digestion and treating stomach upset for both mom and baby. It can also increase your metabolism and be used for weight loss. Do not, however, use fennel during pregnancy.
- Stinging nettle. Stinging nettle is a plant that grows in North America, Europe and Africa. It has been used as an herbal remedy for thousands of years. The name comes from the stinging sensation that you get when you brush against the plant's hairy stem and leaves.
- Goat's rue. The parts of this plant that grow above the ground are used to make medicine. It is used for diabetes and as a diuretic.
- Milk thistle. Milk thistle is a flowering herb that people have traditionally taken for problems with the liver and gallbladder.
- Anise. The seed and oil, and less frequently the root and leaf, are used for upset stomach, intestinal gas, as a diuretic to increase urine flow, and as an appetite stimulant. In addition to using for increasing milk flow, women use anise to treat menstrual discomfort or pain and ease childbirth. Men use anise to treat symptoms of "male menopause."
- Red raspberry leaf. You may have been drinking red raspberry leaf tea throughout your pregnancy, so you can keep on sipping! If not, this tea is particularly beneficial during the first several weeks postpartum. It is known for helping with milk supply, shrinking your uterus back down to its usual size, and regulating your hormones.
- Coriander. Coriander is used for digestion problems including upset stomach, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, bowel spasms and intestinal gas. It is also used to treat hemorrhoids, toothaches, worms and joint pain, as well as infections caused by bacteria and fungus. In foods, coriander is used as a culinary spice and to prevent food poisoning.
- Caraway. Old superstitions believed that caraway prevented thieves and lovers from losing interest. Today, caraway is used for digestive problems and caraway oil is also used to help relieve constipation. Additionally, it is used in mouthwashes.
- Verbena. Verbena flowers are used as a flavoring in alcoholic beverages. Also, verbena is used for sore throats and to help with depression, arthritis and anemia. Women use verbena for treating menopause symptoms, as well as increasing milk flow when breastfeeding.
Many of these herbs can already be purchased as herbal teas, either individually or in blends. If you choose to prepare your own tea, make sure you purchase high-quality herbs from a reliable source. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbs, which means you’ll have to be very careful to determine they are not contaminated, are pure without unknown additives, and are correctly identified.
When you start a new herb or tea, try a small amount and gradually increase your intake to minimize the risk of side effects. Remember, a small amount may work very well for some new mothers while stronger doses are needed for others.
And here are the herbs that may decrease your milk supply:
If you are trying to produce a good supply of milk, you should avoid large amounts of the following. However, don’t worry about their presence in food--such as sage, which is a very common seasoning. And, if you’re trying to decrease your milk supply and start baby weaning, these may also be very helpful:
Just don’t use them – herbs to avoid:
- Black Walnut
- Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
- Lemon Balm
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
- Mints, including peppermint and spearmint
- Periwinkle Herb
Some herbs just aren’t right for nursing mothers and their babies. This is a short list, so always check with your doctor or lactation consultant.
- Dong Quai (Angelica Root)
- Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
- Indian Snakeroot
- Star anise
Generally, you’ll also want to be careful about large doses of caffeine. Green tea, for example, is rich in antioxidants, but it also contains significant amounts of caffeine. A cup or two a day should be fine, but keep in mind that if you’re also consuming soda or chocolate, you’ve got to watch your caffeine counts.
“Always check with your doctor or lactation consultant to determine what’s right for you,” says Dr. Wong. “And remember, the period you spend nursing is different from pregnancy, so if you are pregnant or pregnant-and-nursing, your needs are different.”
Ultimately, it’s good to keep in mind that there’s a certain amount of relaxation and comfort that comes from enjoying a cup of tea. If you take the time to pause and put your feet up while sipping, it could make all the difference in your busy day.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.