Between stress and busy lifestyles, most nursing mothers occasionally experience a dip in milk production. If this happens to you, before you decide to supplement or stop breastfeeding, you should consider using a lactation tea.
Research has shown that herbal teas containing certain ingredients can increase milk supply. These studies have generally been small. Larger studies are needed before we can say for sure which herbs are best for boosting milk production.
Still, breastfeeding moms have been using herbal products to stimulate milk production for many decades. Many nursing mothers who have used lactation teas will readily say that they did increase their milk supply.
In addition to the herbal effects of the tea, just sitting down and having a nice hot drink is relaxing and may help with letdown. Also increasing fluid intake is helpful, and drinking a cup of tea several times a day is a more pleasant way to do it than simply chugging water.
Most herbal supplements are safe as long as you use them as directed. Still, it’s always best to consult your pediatrician before you do anything that could affect your baby’s health.
Here’s a preview of the best lactation teas.
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What Causes Low Milk Supply
The basic formula for breastfeeding states that milk increases in response to frequent demand, whether from your baby or from the process of pumping. Babies who are exclusively breastfeeding generally want to eat every two or three hours. If you are trying to simulate that process by using a breast pump, you will need to pump at similar intervals.
Any time you want to increase your milk, you will need to increase the demand. Put your baby to the breast more often, pump more often, pump after feeding or pump in between feedings.
Certain situations can keep this demand = supply formula from working perfectly. For example, mothers typically experience a reduction in breast milk when their menstrual periods return or when they restart their birth control pills. Also, if you have been busy or stressed and haven’t been drinking enough fluids, your breast milk may decrease.
If your baby isn’t latching properly, your breast will not be emptied efficiently and won’t get the signal that it needs to produce more milk. Learn the signs of a poor latch and what to do about it.
More extreme situations can also cause problems with breast milk supply, including circumstances that have you pumping exclusively, such as having to travel for an extended period of time.
If your baby is ill or in the hospital, the stress plus the break in your nursing routine can cause problems with supply. If you are ill, you may experience reduced milk flow.
In all of these situations, some moms choose to use lactation teas. And some moms choose to use them on a daily basis simply to prevent any possible problems.
Are Herbal Teas Safe?
Some moms believe that since herbs are natural, they cannot be harmful. It’s important to realize that herbs can act like drugs on the body. In fact, many common pharmaceuticals are extracted from plants.
These drugs include aspirin, opiates, digitalis, and the decongestants ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. So the line between herbs and drugs isn’t exactly clear-cut.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does distinguish between drugs and herbs. The FDA regulates herbal products as dietary supplements rather than as a medicine.
That means that oversight isn’t as strict. That’s why websites that sell herbal products contain this statement: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not designed to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
Some herbs should be used with caution. Among these are the phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived substances that act similarly to estrogen.
Soy is the best-known phytoestrogen. Care should be exercised with these substances as they can disturb the endocrine system and cause other problems.
For example, some doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid phytoestrogens because they could stimulate contractions.
Also, phytoestrogens are sometimes off-limits for women with hormone-sensitive cancers. There is no definitive list of phytoestrogens, but alfalfa, licorice root, anise, and fenugreek are commonly considered to fit into this category.
Proper dosing is another concern with herbal teas. If we take herbs in the form of tablets or capsules, we are likely to follow the dosing instructions.
For herbal teas, however, we tend to be less rigid. We may not even count how many cups we drink in a day. If you are a nursing mom, it is important that you follow the recommendations on the package about using herbal teas.
Herbs That Promote Lactation
Substances that increase lactation are known as galactagogues. Some herbs have the reputation of being galactagogues. These include:
- Alfalfa. A member of the pea family, alfalfa is widely used as a food for livestock. The dried leaves are used in herbal preparations and to increase breast milk, but they can cause diarrhea. Learn more about alfalfa from VeryWell.
- Anise. The seeds and oil of anise are used for digestive upsets and respiratory conditions. In addition, anise is a phytoestrogen often used to treat female problems and to boost milk production. Anise has a strong taste and fragrance that is very similar to black licorice. Learn more about anise from WebMD.
- Blessed Thistle. This plant has been used medicinally at least since the Middle Ages when it was used to treat bubonic plague. It is used as a diuretic and to increase milk flow. Learn more about blessed thistle from WebMD.
- Cilantro. Also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley, coriander is widely used in cooking. Its seed is used for medicinal purposes, mainly for digestive ills and to boost milk production. Some evidence suggests that it lowers blood sugar. Learn more about coriander from WebMD.
- Fennel. An attractive feathery herb with yellow flowers, fennel is used for many different purposes. All parts of the plant are utilized. The seeds have a distinctive anise-like flavor. The seeds and the oil are used for medicinal purposes, including soothing gastrointestinal and respiratory ailments. Females have traditionally used fennel for stimulating menstruation and increasing lactation. Learn more about fennel from WebMD.
- Fenugreek. This clover-like plant with aromatic leaves and seeds is generally considered the rock star of galactagogues. You have eaten it if you use the spice blend garam masala. The seeds smell like maple syrup and are used to simulate the taste of real maple syrup. Besides being used to stimulate lactation, fenugreek is sometimes recommended to diabetics as a natural way to control blood sugar. It is also a phytoestrogen. Learn more about fenugreek from the National Institutes of Health.
- Goat’s Rue. A plant that is related to fenugreek, goat’s rue is also considered a galactagogue. Interestingly, the fresh herb can be quite toxic, so only dried leaves should be used. Goat’s rue is used as a diuretic, and it is considered to have anti-bacterial qualities. Leave more about goat’s rue from VeryWell.
- Milk Thistle. This plant has white veins running through its stalks. That characteristic, which gave the plant its name, may have induced the ancients to associate it with breastfeeding. Still, some modern moms have found it helpful. The plant has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has traditionally been used to ease liver problems. Learn more about milk thistle from VeryWell.
- Stinging Nettle. Although consuming a nettle may seem unwise, this plant is very nutritious and is particularly iron-rich. For centuries women have used it after childbirth to combat anemia and build up breast milk. Learn more about stinging nettle from VeryWell.
In addition to these herbs, lactation teas may contain other ingredients that simply enhance the taste and smell of the tea or that help moms relax. These ingredients may include chamomile, lavender, lemongrass, lemon verbena, lemon balm, marshmallow root, orange peel, raspberry leaf, and hibiscus.
More About Herbal Teas
Consumers who are not accustomed to herbal teas may expect their brewed tea to have a dark color and strong flavor. Many herbal teas barely color the water, and often the taste is very delicate as well. These attributes do not mean that the product will be weak or ineffective as they are unrelated to the herbal content of the tea.
Many individuals do not like the taste of herbal teas, and many others have to acquire a taste for these brews. Those who don’t like the taste of a particular tea sometimes add honey, other sweeteners or flavorings to make the tea more palatable.
Of course, what one person finds disagreeable another person may love. That’s why taste shouldn’t be factored in too strongly when choosing a lactation tea.
Still, it’s a good idea to buy a small amount first or look for a sampler so that you’re not stuck with a large quantity of a tea that you can’t stomach.
The primary complaint with all lactation teas will naturally be that the tea did not increase the user’s milk supply. Again, this charge shouldn’t be considered too strong.
Just because a particular product doesn’t work for one person doesn’t mean it won’t work for another. Also, many other factors influence the production of milk.
With all of this information in mind, let’s take a look at the best lactation teas.