It's natural to want to feel your best and support your body after pregnancy. Herbal supplements and teas are becoming increasingly popular as a way to do this. But many women want to know how safe herbs are to use while breastfeeding and which ones to avoid.
After all, you're now supporting your little one through breast milk, and what you consume can be passed on to your baby. (1)
This can be an uncertain area for many women because there is often conflicting information about whether herbs are safe for pregnancy and lactation or not. Realistically, herbs have been used for thousands of years to benefit new mothers. You just need to know which ones to choose.
To help you feel more confident, here's a list of herbs to avoid while breastfeeding and a few of the best to use.
Herbs to Avoid While Breastfeeding
There are two main types of herbs to avoid while breastfeeding: those that can decrease your milk supply and those that may actually harm your baby.
Some of the herbs you'll see on this list are common kitchen herbs. Generally speaking, these herbs are fine to use while cooking but may decrease milk supply when taken in large amounts. When in doubt, it's always best to check with your healthcare practitioner.
Herbs That May Decrease Milk Supply
This is a list of herbs that can decrease milk supply, but different women will have a different experience with each herb.
Sometimes these herbs are used to help with oversupply or weaning. It's best to consult with a natural practitioner or lactation specialist if you want to use them for either of these reasons.
Parsley: Fine in small amounts. Large amounts in food or supplements may reduce breast milk.
Peppermint: Some women report a reduction in breast milk even after eating breath mints or peppermint candies.
Sage: Larger amounts that normal culinary use should be avoided.
Yarrow: Can be helpful when used externally postpartum but may decrease milk supply when taken internally.
Other herbs in the mint family: Including oregano, thyme, lemon balm, and spearmint. (Culinary amounts are fine.)
Herbs That May Be Harmful While Breastfeeding
Certain herbs are generally contraindicated for nursing women. Those that can have an estrogen-like effect (also known as phytoestrogens) should typically be avoided because of their potential to affect the development of your baby.
Strong laxative herbs are likely to have chemicals that pass through into breast milk and should be avoided. Other herbs contain strong compounds that are fine for adults but may pose a risk for infants.
For example, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are found in certain plants. Studies have shown that these compounds have the potential to cause liver damage. These studies are controversial, but because your baby has such a small body and can't process PAs well, these compounds should be avoided. (2)
It's important to note that not all of the herbs on this list have been proven as dangerous while breastfeeding. They are potentially harmful, and there's no reason to take the risk. (This is also not an exhaustive list. Don't forget to do your own research.)
Buckthorn: Stimulating laxative that can be excreted in breast milk.
Aloe: Used as a laxative, generally contraindicated if used in large quantities.
Black Cohosh: May cause digestive irritation for infants, phytoestrogen.
Borage: Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (danger of liver damage).
Butturbur: Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (danger of liver damage).
Cascara Sagrada: Stimulating laxative that can be excreted in breast milk.
Chaparral (Larrea tridentata): Also known as creosote bush. May be toxic to infants.
Coltsfoot: Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (danger of liver damage).
Comfrey: Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (danger of liver damage). Can be used externally.
Dong Quai: Phytoestrogen.
Elecampane: May be toxic to infants.
Kava Kava: May be toxic to infants. Should be used only under guidance of an herbalist.
Indian Snakeroot: Contains alkaloids that may be toxic to infants.
Licorice Root: May be toxic to young infants in large quantities. Should be used only under guidance of an herbalist.
Rhubarb: May cause digestive irritation for infants, possible toxin.
Senna: Stimulating laxative that can be excreted in breast milk.
Wormwood: May be toxic to infants.
Which Herbs Can Be Used While Breastfeeding?
You've probably noticed that many of the herbs to avoid while breastfeeding are not everyday herbs. You may not be taking any of them on a normal basis, but be sure to check any herbal blends to make sure they aren't part of the formula.
The good news is that there are still many herbal options to safely use while breastfeeding.
Some are herbal galactagogues, which means they help to increase breast milk supply. Other can support and nourish your body (and your baby) as you recover from pregnancy.
For a list of herbal galactagogues and what they do, visit this post on herbs to naturally increase breast milk supply.
Here are a few herbs that are safe while nursing and can benefit you:
- Red raspberry leaf: Red raspberry is one of the best overall herbs for women's health. It's packed with vitamins and nutrients that will support your body. Raspberry leaf can be taken during pregnancy and nursing, typically as a tea.
- Nettle leaf: Nettle leaf is another herb packed with nutrients your body needs. It's especially rich in iron and can help replenish your body after pregnancy.
- Chamomile: Chamomile is a soothing herb that can help with stress, sleep, and an upset digestion. It's very gentle and makes a great herbal tea.
- Ginger: Ginger is often used for nausea and upset stomach. If you're struggling with either of these, a cup of ginger tea can help.
Herbal formulas for breastfeeding:
- Milky Mama tea: Formulated to enrich and increase breast milk supply.
- Breastfeeding Capsules: Take your herbs to increase milk supply in capsule form.
As always, it's important to speak to your healthcare practitioner about any concerns you have while breastfeeding. If you are having trouble with low milk supply or oversupply, reach out to a lactation consultant for help.
This is not an exhaustive list of all herbs contraindicated during breastfeeding.
Many women have found herbal supplements, teas, and even skincare products to be very beneficial after pregnancy. By knowing which herbs to avoid while breastfeeding, you can have much more peace of mind about going herbal.
If you are currently or soon to be breastfeeding, check out these safe herbal lactation supplements.