I had a great experience using fenugreek to boost my supply when I was exclusively pumping and about 4 weeks post-partum. Between taking it and consistently pumping about two hours per day, I was able to get my supply up from 24oz per day to about 35oz per day in a week or so. Below are some common questions about fenugreek usage:
What is fenugreek, exactly?
Fenugreek is an herb. Its primary uses are as an herb or spice in Indian and Persian cuisine and as a galactagogue for breastfeeding mothers.
Wait, what is a “galactagogue”? Why would I take one?
A galactagogue is a substance (food or drug) that increases the amount of milk produced by a mammal. Thus, you would take it to increase your milk supply.
How do galactagogues increase milk supply?
Not much clinical research has been done as far as how and why different galactagogues work – especially herbal galactogogues like fenugreek and blessed thistle. Generally, they work by increasing prolactin levels. Domperidone, for example, is a drug galactagogue that works by blocking dopamine receptors, which prevents inhibition of prolactin release and thus helps increase milk supply.
Enough about the galacta-whatevers. I am not pumping enough and need to increase my supply. How do I get fenugreek and how much should I take?
Most capsules come in 610mg doses. Generally, lactation consultants recommend starting with taking 2 capsules, 3 times per day, with food (for a total of six capsules per day). If you don’t have any side effects at this amount (see below) AND you don’t smell like maple syrup, you can gradually increase the dosage up to 4 capsules, 3 times per day.
What are you talking about with the maple syrup?
Smelling like maple syrup is how you know that it’s working. Your sweat and urine will smell like you went on a pancake bender. Your baby might begin to smell that way, as well.
How long does it take to work?
Generally, if you consistently take fenugreek and continue with a good pumping schedule (two hours per day for exclusive pumpers), you should see an increase in your pumping output in 24-72 hours.
Does it always work?
No. It works for many women, but not all, and not much clinical research has been done about its effectiveness. It’s not very expensive (about $5 for a bottle of 100 capsules), so it may be worth a shot.
Do I need to keep taking fenugreek and smelling like maple syrup forever?
No. Once you see the increase, you can discontinue fenugreek and rejoice in the extra milk and smelling normal again. However, you need to keep removing the new and improved amount of milk from your breasts to keep your supply up.
What are the side effects of fenugreek?
In addition to smelling like maple syrup, you may experience loose stools or hypoglycemia. You should use it with your OB’s supervision if you are diabetic, because it can lower your blood glucose levels.
I got pregnant again but I’m still nursing my baby and my supply tanked. Can I take fenugreek?
No. Fenugreek is not safe for pregnant women because it can cause uterine contractions.
(Note: For more information about fenugreek and other methods of increasing your supply, check out my e-book. It includes data from a survey I did of exclusive pumpers about how well they found fenugreek, domperidone, power pumping, drinking water, etc. to work for them. Thanks!)