Expecting mothers have one concern above all else: the health of the baby. A million different things factor into the health of that child, and among them is their source of food. Before they're born, they absorb nutrients from the mother directly, but once they're out, all bets are off.
While today we have formulas and other ways to feed a newborn, nature's pre-designed food comes from lactation. Mother's milk is full of beneficial compounds that do everything from nourishing the child to provide a blueprint for building a baby's immune system.
Thus, it stands to reason that most mothers are concerned about lactation, during pregnancy, and after birth. Making sure your child gets enough milk is a huge concern, so of course, mothers often want to do what they can to bolster and stimulate lactation.
Enter lactation tea. Lactation tea (and other lactation foods, like cookies) is a kind of food that uses ingredients thought to improve lactation, either in quality or quantity.
How to Use Lactation Tea
Normally we'd go into what's into lactation tea and how it works before telling you how to use it, but it's actually very easy to use. Just, you know, drink the tea. Brew up some tea a few times each day, drink several cups, and let the compounds in the tea blends do their work.
There's really nothing more to it. With tea, you can drink as much of it as you like each day, though you may get sick of it before your breastfeeding period is over. With other lactation products, like cookies, you should limit how many you eat just because they're high in calories as well as herbs, and you don't want to over-eat.
One warning is that lactation tea is meant to be a booster, not a fuel. Drinking it can improve your milk production, at which point you're meant to stop drinking it; your body should maintain that production. If you keep drinking it, you could start producing excess, which comes with its own problems.
What Goes Into Lactation Tea?
So if you're interested in lactation tea, you're probably interested in what's in it. First, though, there's one thing that's not in it that you might be interested to learn: tea! In fact, lactation tea is a purely herbal tea. While green and black teas, and their other Camellia Sinensis variants, are packed with beneficial nutrients, they also have caffeine in them. Since caffeine is generally frowned upon during pregnancy, many mothers carry over the habit and avoid it until after they're done breastfeeding.
Now, let's talk about the ingredients found in various lactation teas. We say "various teas" here because there are a wide variety of different recipes and blends. Some people prefer to buy the herbs and brew up their own blends directly, while others buy teas directly from a health or supplement store. Both options are valid, and it comes down to what herbs and blends you want and what brands you trust. So, here are the ingredients you may find in a lactation tea.
Fenugreek. This is by far the most common lactation tea herb, with a taste similar to maple. Some people believe that the phytoestrogen in the plant acts like normal estrogen to stimulate lactation, though evidence to support this is thin. Be aware that fenugreek can cause uterine contractions, and as such should only be consumed after birth, not before. Find a fenugreek-free lactation tea for pre-birth tea drinking if you want to start early.
Shatavari. Shatavari is a kind of asparagus scientifically, though it looks absolutely nothing like the asparagus you get on grocery store shelves. The herb is an ayurvedic staple and is often used for antioxidant properties and because it helps relieve stress.
Garlic. Everyone is familiar with garlic, right? A little bit of garlic in a tea blend can give it a potent taste and may have a wide range of health benefits. We will say, though, that you're probably better off cooking with garlic and leaving the tea to the herbs instead.
Malunggay. This is a tropical plant native to the Philippines, India, and Africa. It's often used as a food crop, but it can also be found as an herbal remedy with a variety of promised effects. If nothing else, it's nutritious, so it's unlikely to be harmful if you consume it as part of your tea.
Nettle Leaf. Often listed as stinging nettle, this plant is dangerous if encountered in the wild, but perfectly acceptable in tea. It's thought to lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation throughout the body. Much like fenugreek, you want to avoid this herb while you're pregnant, but it's safe after you've given birth.
Red Raspberry Leaf. While most of us are familiar with eating the raspberry berries, because they're delicious, the leaves are also often used as a tea ingredient. They're a lot less tasty on their own, we can tell you that much. They're full of antioxidants, though, and are often cited as a beneficial ingredient when it comes to relieving the symptoms of PMS.
Fennel Seeds. Another common spice you can find at the grocery store, fennel is both delicious and may have the beneficial effect of increasing lactation volume. Studies that show this effect are small, though, and need verification before the effects can be fully proven.
Lemon Verbena. Verbena has nothing to do with lemons at all, but it has a sour taste reminiscent of the citrus, hence the name. Native to South America, lemon verbena has a range of potential health benefits and is easy to grow anywhere you have warm summers. The relaxation of a little gardening can help alongside the tea itself, too.
Thistle. There are two kinds of thistles you'll see in lactation teas; blessed thistle and milk thistle. These are actually two completely different plants, so make sure not to confuse them. Blessed thistle is the more common of the two, and has been used by monks for centuries, hence the name. It's usually considered beneficial for the liver and capable of treating digestive issues, though it may have great effects on lactation as well. Milk thistle, meanwhile, came from the Mediterranean region but is now found all over the world. It has a potent antioxidant called silymarin in it, which has been used to treat everything from alcoholism to blood sugar problems and is a potent galactagogue (which is the scientific name for a compound that stimulates lactation).
Anise. Anise is another common spice, found in characteristic star-shaped pods. It's used in a wide variety of recipes and has a powerful, licorice-like flavor. Some people like it, some people hate it, so make sure to try it before you buy too much of it. Will it increase milk production? Possibly, though studies have not really been performed on it.
Goat's Rue. This herb is generally well tolerated by breastfeeding mothers and is thought to benefit milk production, though there are few studies into it at this point. In addition to lactation, it has potential benefits on the liver, adrenal gland, and digestion in general.
Moringa. Those familiar with our blog should be quite familiar with moringa by now; it's a nutritious, healthy plant that is used as both a supplement and a dietary staple. Does it benefit lactation? Quite possibly, though like most other herbs, studies to prove it one way or the other are slim. Still, with all of the other benefits it has, why not try it?
How Lactation Tea Works
There are a few ways in which lactation tea may have a beneficial effect on the body. What we can't tell you, though, is that it will definitely work for you. There are two reasons for this. The first is that, well, it might not. Studies have been performed on various herbal lactation remedies, and results are mixed. Science simply isn't sure if herbal remedies work or not.
The reason why no one is sure is because of the second reason: every person and every pregnancy is different. What you're experiencing now might not be what you experience with a second pregnancy, and it won't be what another mother experiences. A lactation tea might work well for you and not for your friend, or might work well for her and not for you.
If lactation tea works, there are three mechanisms. The first is, as mentioned in the various ingredients above, each herb involved in the tea has an effect on the body. If the herb is strong enough, enough of it is consumed, and it has an effect on your body, it can benefit your health in a variety of ways, including increased milk production.
The second way is that tea is primarily water, and water is good for you. One of the hardest challenges of pregnancy, and of health in general, is staying hydrated. Virtually no one drinks enough water from day to day, and that goes double for pregnant women who have to be drinking enough water for two. Lactation tea is a great way to help stay hydrated, and your body can use that water to produce more milk.
The third way is through relaxation. Taking a few minutes to sit down, relax, and drink a cup of tea can be extremely beneficial for anyone, regardless of whether or not they're breastfeeding or even have a child at all. The stress relief alone is worth the price of entry, and it can do wonders for virtually every system in your body. Just remember that you have to actually relax and take the time to yourself, which means you can't get this benefit if you just brew up some tea in a thermos on the go.
Are There Risks With Lactation Tea?
There are two primary potential risks associated with lactation tea. Both of them are reasonable and are unlikely to be dangerous outside of extreme circumstances, but they're definitely worth knowing about before you start downing cup after cup of the stuff.
First is that, as an herbal blend tea, there are a lot of different herbs involved. There is a potential for you to be allergic to one or several of the plants involved in the tea. Since you're likely starting to drink the tea during the third trimester and after birth, your body is already going through a lot of large-scale changes and trauma. It's very common for pregnant women, after the birth of their child, to develop everything from changes in mental health to physical changes, including developing new allergies.
As with any herbal remedy, you want to try it in moderation first and make sure nothing goes wrong. The chances of you developing an unexpected allergy with life-threatening consequences are very slim, of course, but it could cause indigestion or other unpleasant side effects, and you want to identify and remove the offending ingredient if that occurs.
The second possibility is that some herbal remedies can affect other bodily systems, including things like your blood sugar regulation and blood pressure. If you're on any kind of medication to control those or any medications for that matter, you should talk to your doctor before you start taking a lactation tea. They will be able to help you determine if there will be any medication interactions, and can monitor vitals that would indicate a problem happening below the surface. After all, a little more lactation does you no good if you're experiencing massive swings in blood sugar or other issues.
Other than that, lactation teas are generally safe, and you'll probably be fine consuming them. Whether or not they work for you will depend on your own body and its response to the tea. Hopefully, it works well for you.