Some Herbs Should Be Avoided by Nursing Mothers
CHICAGO, Nov. 3, Reuters Health -- Two popular herbal remedies for nursing mothers -- fenugreek and comfrey -- can pose a health risk to their infants, according to Dr. Ruth A. Lawrence, who reviewed the use of herbs by breast-feeding mothers at a presentation during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Lawrence, from the University of Rochester, New York, said in an interview with Reuters Health that "many mothers take fenugreek to increase their milk supply, but there has never been a study to prove that fenugreek increases milk supply."
While there is no proof of its benefit, Dr. Lawrence said that there "are data about the risks. Specifically it can cause hypoglycemia in the nursing mother and it can raise blood pressure." She said that in some infants fenugreek has been associated with increased "colic and diarrhea."
While she advises women to avoid fenugreek, comfrey is "much more dangerous and is banned in Canada." Comfrey is rubbed on the nipples of nursing women to prevent dryness and cracking, she said. "But it does pass to the infant," she said, and has been associated with hepatic veno-occlusive disease in infants.
She recommends that physicians caution nursing mothers who have postpartum depression that self-medicating with St. John's wort may be risky. She said that although studies have demonstrated some efficacy for St. John's wort, "those studies were done in men, not women. Also, St. John's wort does contain a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, but because the FDA does not regulate herbs there is no way to determine how much of the SSRI is passed to the infant."
In concluding, Dr. Lawrence said that nursing mothers should be steered away from most herbs, but "there are some teas that I can recommend for women who want a nice herbal tea. Chicory, peppermint, orange spice and red bush tea are all fine. Rose hips is an especially good tea because it has a very high concentration of vitamin C."