When I was exclusively pumping, a friend recommended blessed thistle to me as a way that I could increase my milk supply. I had never heard of it before and was wondering – what is it, exactly? Does it really work, and if so, how much should I take? Here’s what I learned, and everything you need to know about blessed thistle and increasing milk supply.
What is blessed thistle?
Blessed thistle is a plant that is native to the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, and now grows in Central Europe and the Southern United States. It grows as a weed, and traditionally been used in different cultures as an herbal remedy to treat digestive issues and stimulate appetite.
Blessed thistle is also thought to be helpful in reducing the likelihood of post-partum hemorrhage, increasing milk supply, and having antidepressant effects.
How does blessed thistle increase milk supply?
One theory is that it is a galactogue that works by stimulating blood flow to the mammary glands.
A galactogue is a substance that increases milk supply, though how it works exactly is often not known. Some galactogues are foods (for example, oatmeal), while others are herbs (such as fenugreek) or medication (domperidone). Other examples of galactogues include brewer’s yeast, fennel, goat’s rue, and raspberry leaf.
Is it effective at increasing milk supply?
Unfortunately, there haven’t been any clinical trials of the effectiveness of blessed thistle as a galactogue. One study did a review of mothers that used it, and their outcomes. There were a few limitations to this the study, though – there were only three participants, and all of them used both blessed thistle AND fenugreek, making it difficult to isolate the effects from each of the two herbs.
Of the three participants using the combination of blessed thistle and fenugreek, two found the combination effective and one was unable to judge. The time frame that the participants took to see results was between two hours and two days.
More anecdotally, Dr. Jack Newman, a breastfeeding expert who has written extensively about medications and breast milk, says that in his clinical experience, fenugreek and blessed thistle taken together “seem to increase the milk supply.”
Therefore, we don’t know for sure, but there are some indications that it may be effective in increasing milk supply.
Is it safe for anyone to use?
Another traditional use for this herb has been to stimulate menstruation or act as an abortifacient. As a result, if you’re trying to boost your supply during pregnancy, it’s probably not a good idea to use blessed thistle, especially without talking to your doctor.
When you buy products containing it, the label may say that it’s not safe for breastfeeding mothers. Dr. Newman states:
There are some preparations of [fenugreek and blessed thistle] that are labeled “not for use by nursing mothers”. Don’t worry about this; these herbs are safe for the mother to take because so little gets into the milk.
What is the recommended dosage of blessed thistle?
In the study, participants used very different dosages, ranging from 600mg per day to 3,000mg.
Dr. Newman recommends the following dosages:
- Fenugreek – 3 capsules, 3 times per day
- Blessed Thistle – 3 capsules, 3 times per day
Unfortunately, he does not specify what dosage of capsules he’s referring to. Most fenugreek capsules are 610mg; blessed thistle seems to come in both 390mg and 780mg doses. To be safe, I would assume he means the 390mg dose; nine capsules of 390mg is about 3,420mg per day, which is close to the maximum used in the study.
Blessed thistle is also often an ingredient in nursing teas, though the amount of the herb is much lower – meaning that you would need to drink quite a bit of tea to get the same result that you might see from the capsules.
What’s the bottom line?
If you’re trying to increase your milk supply and are not pregnant, blessed thistle may be worth a try! You’ll probably have the best results if you take it in combination with fenugreek.
One option is to take individual capsules of fenugreek and blessed thistle as described above by Dr. Newman; however, combination capsules with higher dosages can be a good alternative and usually require taking fewer pills.
Have you tried blessed thistle for increasing milk supply? Let us know if the comments how it went!References
- Living Naturally. “Blessed Thistle.” https://www.livingnaturally.com/ns/DisplayMonograph.asp?storeID=3D9D155236034A5897378F7C5A033221&DocID=blessedthistle
- Newman, Jack, MD. “Herbs for Increasing Milk Supply” https://www.canadianbreastfeedingfoundation.org/induced/herbs.shtml
- Sim, Tin Fie. “The Use, Perceived Effectiveness and Safety of Herbal Galactagogues During Breastfeeding: A Qualitative Study” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586661/
- Westfall, Rachel. “Galactagogue Herbs: A Qualitative Study and Review.” https://www.cjmrp.com/articles/volume-2-2003/galactagogue-herbs-a-qualitative-study-and-review