Like the foods we eat and the medicines we take, some of the constituents in herbs are excreted in breast milk and are, therefore, ingested by a nursing baby. Some of the herbs on this list are included because they contain constituents that may be harmful to the mother or baby.
There are other herbs to be avoid during breastfeeding because they are traditional antilactagogues used during weaning and can reduce breast milk production.
Herbs That May be Harmful to Mother & Baby
- Alder Buckthorn berry and bark (Rhamnus Frangula); closely related to cascara sagrada – purative, laxative intestinal irritant, anthroquinones glycosides excreted in breast milk
- Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria); hepatotoxic phyrrolizidine alkaloilds secreted in breast milk
- Aloe (Aloe barbadensis); purgative/cathartic, anthroquinones glycosides excreted in breast milk
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum); possible mutogenic effect of the essential oil
- Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva ursi), potential hepatotoxic hydroquinones secreted in breast milk
- Black Cohosh (Cimifugia racemosa); digestive tract irritant, may cause digestive irritation for the baby
- Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus); high levels of iodine and possible heavy metal contamination
- Borage (Borago officinalis); hepatotoxic pyrrolozidine alkaloids excreted in breast milk
- Butterbur (Petasites hybridus); hepatotoxic pyrrolozidine alkaloids excreted in breast milk
- Cascara Sagrada bark (Rhamnus purshiana); purative, laxative intestinal irritant, anthroquinones excreted in breast milk
- Chaparral (Larrea tridentate), potential toxicity to the infant
- Cinchona bark (Cinchona spp.); potential toxicity to the infant
- Coltsfoot leaf (Tussilago farfara); hepatoxic pyrrolizidine alkoloids excreted in breast milk
- Comfrey leaf and root (Symphytum officinale); hepatoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids excreted in breast milk
- Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis), contains estrogenic compounds
- Elecampane (Imula helenium), potential toxicity to the infant
- Ephedra/Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica); stimulants excreted in breast milk
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), may increase infant bilirubin levels
- Guarana seeds (Paullinia cupana); stimulants secreted in breast milk
- Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum); hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids secreted in breast milk
- Kava Kava (Piper methysticum); possible passage of pyrones into breast milk, central nervous system depressant
- Indian Snakeroot (Rauwolfia serpentine), reserpine alkaloids, potential toxicity to the infant
- Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra); potential toxicity to the infant (Earth Mama now has a licorice-free throat soothing tea that's safe for everyone!)
- Madder root (Rubia tinctorum); potential toxicity to the infant
- Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas); potential toxicity to the infant
- Mate leaves (Ilex paraguayensis), stimulants excreted in breast milk
- Prickly Ash bark (Zanthoxylum americanum), digestive tract irritant, may cause digestive irritation for the baby
- Pulsatilla plant (Anemone pulsatilla), digestive tract irritant, may cause digestive irritation for the baby
- Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum); potential toxicity to the infant, may cause digestive irritation for the baby
- Senna leaf (Cassia spp.); genotoxic anthraquinones excreted in breast milk
- Tobacco (Nicotine tabacum); diminished milk production, excreted in breast milk
- Wintergreen leaves (Gaultheria procumbens); potential toxicity to the infant
- Wormwood (Artemis absinthium); potential neurotoxins excreted in breast milk
Herbs To Avoid During Breastfeeding
Herbs that can reduce breast milk are called antilactagogues (like Earth Mama's No More Milk Tea). Several of these are members of the mint family of plants and are recommended to be avoided in larger than culinary amounts during breastfeeding. Many women even experience a reduction of breast milk when they eat peppermint candies or menthol cough drops.
- Parsley leaf (Petroselinum crispum) Culinary amounts are a sprig or a sprinkle, watch for foods with larger amounts of parsley, such as tabbouleh.
Peppermint leaves (Mentha piperita) Be mindful of peppermint candies and breath mints for all herbs in the mint family.
- Spearmint leaves (Mentha spicata)
Sage (Salvia officinalis) Please note, sage should not be consumed in greater than culinary amounts during pregnancy.
Of course this isn’t a complete of herbs to avoid during breastfeeding. Some plants are generally toxic and should not be ingested at all. But you’re not likely to ingest random unknown plants, or chomp on the highly toxic Castor Bean in your every day herb excursions. This list includes common herbs that you might see in herbal preparations, supplements or foods.
As always, for your safety and your child’s safety, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding check with your healthcare provider before taking herbs, prescription or over-the-counter medications.
- The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines,Ed. Mark Blumenthal, et. al.,The American Botanical Council, Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998.
- European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy Monographs, The Scientific Foundation for Herbal Medicinal Products, Argyle House, 2nd ed. 2003
- The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs, Mark Blumenthal, 1st ed. 2003, The American Botanical Council
- Botanical Safety Handbook, Ed. Michael McGuffin, et. al. American Herbal Products Association, CRC Press, 1997
- Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, Third Edition, Francis Brinker, N.D., Eclectic Medical Publications, 2001
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, Jellin JM, ed., Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty; 2002.
- Di Pierro F, Callegari A, Carotenuto D, Tapia MM. Clinical efficacy, safety and tolerability of BIO-C (micronized silymarin) as a galactagogue. Acta Biomed. Dec 2008;79(3): 205-210.
- The Nursing Mother’s Herbal, Sheila Humphrey, BSc, RN, IBCLC, 1st ed, Nov 2003 Fairview Press
- Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, David Hoffmann, FNIMH, AHG, Copyright 2003 Healing Arts Press
- Clinical Applications of Herbal Medicine, Paul D. Barney, M.D., 1996, Woodland Publishing
- The Essential Guide To Herbal Safety, Simon Mills and Kerry Bone, Copyright 2005, Elsevier Churchill Livingstone, Inc.
- The Way of Chinese Herbs, Michael Tierra, L.Ac., O.M.D., Copyright 1998, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
- A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health, Dean Raffelock, D.C., Dipl.Ac., CCN, Robert Roundtree, M.D., et. Al., Copyright 2002, Penguin Putnam, Inc.
- KellyMom Breastfeeding and Parenting website,http://www.kellymom.com
- Ask Dr. Sears.com, http://www.askdrsears.com/html/2/T022800.asp
- First Candle, Helping Babies Survive and Thrive website: http://www.firstcandle.org/?s=sleep+and+pacifier
- Medline Plus webwite, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/medlineplus.html
*The information about the use of herbs and essential oils contained in this article is not meant to be a substitute for seeking the advice of a qualified health care provider. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your health care provider about the use of herbs and essential oils, especially during pregnancy, when nursing a baby or with children. To request permission to reprint the information in this article, please email firstname.lastname@example.org