While the herbal teas that you find in your grocery store are not likely to have any medicinal effects, larger doses of other herbs should be used with caution.
Remember that herbs are drugs. In fact, many commercial drugs originated from herbs. You should use the same care when taking an herb as you would in taking an over-the-counter or prescription drug. In fact, use even more caution when taking an herb, because most herbs are not regulated by the FDA. Neither their safety nor their effectiveness have been established by a large body of research.
While many herbs are credited with the ability to increase milk production, none have been proven to do so. The claims that some herbs act as galactogogues (milk-makers) are based on anecdotal reports, meaning people are describing their impression of what happened. This kind of evidence is not as reliable as controlled scientific studies, especially in regards to milk supply which mothers may evaluate in highly subjective ways. This does not mean that galactogogues don’t work or they’re not safe, it just means they have not been studied.
The two most popular galactogogues are:
- Fenugreek seeds
These are usually sold in the form of tea. Since these two ingredients do have a milk-enhancing reputation, there may be some merit in their claims, and they seem to be harmless.
Other herbs that have been used as galactogogues are:
- Milk thistle
- Asparagus racemosus
- Red raspberry
Herbs and teas that should be used with caution because of possible harmful side effects are:
- Comfrey tea
- Sassafras tea
- Ginseng tea
- Licorice tea
Be especially careful if these herbs are taken in excessive amounts.
While some herbs may increase milk supply through a pharmacological action, we believe that for many women galactogogues have mainly a placebo effect. Any substance that a mother believes will increase her milk supply probably will. Also, consider the ritual effect. The mother takes time to prepare the tea just for herself, takes time to drink it, and therefore takes time to relax. Under these circumstances, she probably will make more milk and/or worry less about her milk supply. However, the most reliable method of increasing your milk supply is to nurse your baby more often.