Fenugreek is a plant widely used in Indian cuisine. Though the whole plant can be used for various purposes, the seeds are mainly used as a spice and as a medicine. This common household spice is mainly used by Indian traditional healers for diseases like Diabetes and Hypercholestremia. Its seeds are specially given to lactating mothers in the form of ladoos(sweet balls) and other preparations. What makes Fenugreek so special to breastfeeding mothers? Why is it mandatory for women to have recipesof this bitter spice in the postpartum period?Dr. Dhanya deliberateson this and more.
Fenugreek is known as methi in hindi and uluva in Malayalam. In traditional medicine, it is used internally to correct appetite and externally as a poultice for local inflammations. It is also used as an aphrodisiac, diuretic, emmenagogue (a substance that increases menstrual flow), galactagogue (a substance that promotes or increases the flow of breast milk) and tonic. It is used in the treatment of abdominal colic, bronchitis, eczema, gout, dropsy, fever, impotency, chronic cough, liver disorders, wounds and commoncold.It is clinically proven adjunct for the management of hypercholesterolemiaand hyperglycemia in cases of diabetes mellitus.
LACTATION- A COMPLEX PROCEDURE
Every living being reserves food for its young one in one way or the other. But giving a nutritious immunity booster food for long periods is a distinctive natural phenomenon seen only in mammals. Scientists are still confused why nature has gifted this uniqueness only to mammals. The process of lactation is very complex and preparations for this begin months before the child is born.
In humans, the milk is produced from a structure called breast. The breast is a specialized structure which contains milk producing parts, supporting fatty tissues and a sucking apparatus. The milk producing parts of the breast are called mammary glands. It secretes milk, which is carried to the tip of the breast by a network of ducts which converge and open into the nipple. The nipple provides a convenient sucking apparatus for the baby. Proper development of these secretory parts of the breasts is important for adequate milk production.
The peculiarity of this milk producing structure is that they produce milk, not regularly but only when it is needed that is after child birth. This arrangement is done by the fine orchestration of a number of hormones secreted from various glands in our body. Estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, thyroid stimulating hormone, oxytocin are the chief hormones that bring about milk secretion and its let down. Both estrogen and progesterone are needed for the development of milk producing tissues. But their high levels inhibit lactation. It is seen that their levels drop at delivery and remain low for the first several months of breastfeeding. It is desirable for breastfeeding mothers to avoid progesterone or estrogen-based birth control methods, as these may reduce milk supply to the baby.Prolactin is the main hormone associated with lactation. It helps in the development of milk producing structures and also regulates milk production by inducing many changes in the mother’s body. Oxytocin causes milk ejection by squeezing the milk into the duct and further into the nipple. In response to the child suckling, oxytocin is produced in the mother’s body. So proper sucking also is required for milk ejection.
Most mothers produce more milk than what is needed by her baby and many others are concerned about whether the milk supply is adequate for her baby. Ineffective feeding techniques are most often the problem of inadequate milk supply. Insufficient breast milk production is an extremely rare condition. Some conditions such as premature birth, maternal obesity, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and poorly controlled insulin-dependent diabetes can affect milk production. Doctors consider non pharmaceutical measures first for increasing the milk production. A substance that increases milk supply is called a galactagogue. Various herbs such as shatavari, vidari, and cotton seed are well known galactogogues. Of these fenugreek remains one the most sought after and effective galactogogues.
FENUGREEK- EFFECT ON LACTATION
Researches show that about 75% mothers taking fenugreek has improvement in milk supply. Though the exact mechanism on how fenugreek works is not fully understood, the seeds are known to contain hormone precursors that may increase milk production. Its steroidal sapogenins (diosgenin, yamogenin, gitogenin, tigogenin, and neotigogen) and mucilaginous fiber are thought to account for many of the beneficial effects of fenugreek. Diosgenin, has been shown to increase milk flow experimentally. One hypothesis states that breasts are modified sweat glands and it is believed that fenugreek stimulates sweat production and therefore it may increase milk production.It is also believed to increase prolactin levels. It has been found that fenugreek can increase a nursing mother’s milk supply within 24 to 72 hours after first taking the herb. It fortifies mother’s milk with added Vitamins C, A, B1, B2, B3, D, calcium, and iron. Other benefits may include relief of infant colic, digestive disorders etc.
FENUGREEK- FACT SHEET
Crushed seeds upto 12 g can be taken in divided doses. Most mothers have found that the herb can be discontinued once milk production is stimulated to an appropriate level.
Available Dosage forms
Dried seeds, capsules, extracts, tea and tinctures
Fenugreek is considered safe for nursing moms when used in moderation and is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe).
Possible adverse reactions and cautions
- Allergic reactions to the seeds following ingestion or inhalation have been reported. These reactions range from running nose, wheezing, fainting and facial angioedema. So allergic people should be cautious when using fenugreek in high doses.
- Sweat and urine smells like maple syrup; milk and/or breastfed baby may smell like maple syrup.
- Occasionally, it causes loose stools which reduce when fenugreek consumption is discontinued.
- Sometimes lactating mothers consuming excess fenugreek may experience an upset stomach and flatulence.
Fenugreek is known to decrease blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking fenugreek along with diabetes medications might cause the blood sugar to go very low. Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs) may interact with fenugreek.
During the process of parturition, not only the baby, but also a mother is born. Like the child she is also a fragile being full of doubts and anxieties. Her greatest anxiety is of course whether her baby is getting adequate milk or not. Adequate milk supply is not only important for the child’s health, but also for the confidence and psychological tranquility of the new mother. Fenugreek is a safe, non-pharmaceutical method to increase breast milk. It also fortifies the mother’s milk and may help in infant colic and digestive problems. During late pregnancy and postpartum period women are more prone to be having increased blood sugar. Fenugreek being a clinically proven hypoglycemic agent can keep the mother’s sugar level in check. The traditional practice of giving fenugreek in postpartum period seems to be scientific and important for both the mother and baby.
Dr. Dhanya. R (Assistant Professor)
Department of Dravyaguna Vigyana ,
Nallasopara Ayurved Medical College,