As herbal medicine starts to gain popularity, it's becoming more common for people to have their medicine cabinets stocked with different herbal products. However, it's not always easy to know which products are safe for breastfeeding mamas to use. Some herbs can have a negative impact on milk supply. Some herbs are also not safe for all ages so you want to exercise caution when ingesting them because they can pass through your breastmilk into your baby.
I've compiled a list of some of my favorite breastfeeding friendly herbs. However, I want to encourage you to always reach out to a healthcare provider whether that's your doctor, a midwife, or a lactation consultant before using any herbs while breastfeeding to confirm that there are no drug interactions that you need to be aware of and to make sure that it is a safe choice for you.
Breastfeeding Safe Herbs
Chamomille (Matricaria recutita)
This gentle herb has a trophorestorative effect, meaning it is calming to the nervous system. It reduces nervous tension that may present as irritability, restlessness, or difficulty falling asleep.
Chamomille can also be used to both restore and repair the lining of the GI tract. This is a great herb for GI upset caused by things like GERD and ulcers because it can help heal the damaged tissue.
This herb can also be used to relax smooth muscles to decrease gas and bloating and even GI spasms. Sip on a cup of chamomile tea to help improve period cramps, GI upset, or irritability that comes with your period.
Crampbark (Viburnum opulus)
Crampbark is a spasmolytic herb, which means it helps reduce muscle spasms. It is most commonly used to relieve the cramping and inflammation associated with PMS. Is can also be used in cases of postpartum hemorrhage or in postpartum uterine cramping.
Keep in mind though, this herb isn't specific to uterine cramps. It can be helpful for relieving muscle aches and spasms anywhere in the body. If you suffer from kidney stones this is a great herb to have on hand as it can help relieve the smooth muscle spasms that occur while your body is working to pass the stone. It's also effective at relieving things like low back pain and leg cramps.
Crampbark is usually found in tincture form, but can also be drunk as a tea. The taste is quite bitter.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpura)
Echinacea is an herb that is used most often for it's benefits in treating bacterial and viral infections. It can be a helpful addition when you are struggling with a cold or the flu and need some immune support. It helps support your immune system by making your body better able to fight off whatever invading pathogens it has been exposed to.
This herb is found in a lot of cold and flu products so be aware that other herbs in the product may not be safe and compatible with breastfeeding.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Elderberries are rich in anthocyanins which are antioxidants. Antioxidants work to fight off cell damage and decrease the negative effects of disease. Elderberry is antiviral, which makes it great for fighting off viral infections when you take it at the first sign of symptoms. This study found that supplementing with elderberry greatly reduced upper respiratory symptoms associated with common colds and the flu.
Elderberry is also anti-inflammatory and immune modulating, which means it aids the immune system in knowing when to use the brakes versus the gas. Another study showed that supplementing with elderberry 10 days before taking a long flight and continuing for five days after the flight decreased the duration and severity of cold symptoms people presented with.
This is a great herb to keep stocked up in your house because it's safe for kids (check for added honey before giving to infants under one) and adults. You can find this herb sold in lozenges, teas, syrups, and gummies. It has a sweet flavor making it a popular home herbal remedy.
Add it to your toolbox when dealing with symptoms of a cold or the flu, or as a preventative treatment if you know you are going to be in a large crowd such as a flight, concert, etc.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Fenugreek seed has been widely used as a galactogogue, meaning it increases breast milk production in lactating women. A study from 2018 found that when lactating mothers supplemented with Fenugreek they had a substantial increase in the breast milk production.
This herb is found to be especially useful in the early days of breastfeeding, and is most often taken in capsule form or as a tea. It tastes similar to maple syrup, making the flavor enjoyable and generally well tolerated.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic is a great herb that is easily accessible because it can be used in cooking. It's shown to be effective as an antimicrobial, meaning this is a great one to utilize when you are trying to prevent or treat things like colds, the flu, and even UTIs.
Garlic is also useful for improving cardiovascular disease. It reduces the formation of atherosclerosis and can help improve high blood pressure. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world, so utilizing this herb can be very beneficial for a lot of people.
Garlic can be used in the kitchen to add flavor to meals. It can also be found in capsules or tincture form if you don't enjoy the flavor in your cooking.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is an herb that has many different benefits. It supports the nervous system, is an anti-viral, and can suppress an overactive thyroid.
Lemon balm is use to promote a sense of calmness and can be combined with other adjunct therapies to treat restlessness, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Consider using it in combination with chamomile to help with mental relaxation. It can also be found in combination therapies for the treatment of ADHD. It has a yummy taste making it well tolerated for children as well as adults.
As an antiviral, lemon balm has been indicated as being an effective therapy against viruses such as the flu and also herpes lesions.
Lemon balm can block auto-antibodies from binding in the thyroid gland and blocks the conversion of T4 to T3. These actions make it useful for people suffering from a hyperactive thyroid and can be a great therapy in addition to other treatments. Be cautious about using Lemon balm if you have an underactive thyroid aka hypothyroidism.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
Marshmallow root is most commonly used to soothe irritation and inflammation. And no, I'm not talking about the puffy white sweets you roast over the campfire. This herb is highly mucilaginous which is how it helps to lubricate and soothe irritation.
Marshmallow is used for digestive tract issues. It can be beneficial for heartburn and ulcers, and has been found to help repair the gut lining. This is often used in conjunction with other herbs and medications to treat digestive issues.
Marshmallow is also found in topical wound care products. It can help soothe and relieve inflammation in minor scrapes and burns.
Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle leaf is one of the most popular herbs used for seasonal allergies thanks to its antiallergic effect. Studies show that nettles help to stabilize mast cells which blocks histamine receptors and in turn reduces the release of inflammatory markers that trigger an allergic reaction.
By taking nettles at the beginning of allergy season and continuing to take it consistently you can stop allergic symptoms like sneezing, sniffling, and itchy eyes from showing up.
Breastfeeding Safety Note
It's always important to reach out to your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant before introducing any new herbs while breastfeeding. All of the herbs in this article have been shown to be safe for breastfeeding and effective at treating different symptoms. However, consulting with a healthcare provider will ensure that you are using the herbs that are the best fit for you.
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