Alfalfa, Breastfeeding, and Increasing Breast Milk Supply

Benefits, Tips, and Side Effects

Alfalfa sprouts in woman's hands (close-up)
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If you suspect your milk supply might be low, please speak with a lactation consultant before making any adjustments to your routine. They can help you understand what is normal for you and your baby and determine if you do indeed need to increase your breast milk supply.

One method is the use of breastfeeding herbs in conjunction with increased nursing and/or pumping. An herb that some women have success with is alfalfa. How should you take it, and is it safe? Here's what you need to know about alfalfa and breastfeeding.

What Is Alfalfa?

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a common plant from the pea family, and it's one of the oldest and most cultivated crops in history. References to alfalfa date back to early Roman, Greek, and Chinese cultures. It is believed to have played an important role in these and other early civilizations.

Alfalfa has been used as food and medicine for centuries. Historically, its medical uses included the treatment digestive disorders, arthritis, and kidney problems. It is one of the main sources of food for livestock including horses, goats, and dairy cows. Anecdotally, alfalfa is also considered a galactagogue, helping to increase breast milk supply in nursing mothers. However, according to the Drugs and Lactation database, there are no scientifically valid clinical trials to support its use during breastfeeding. There is limited data regarding how much and which components of alfalfa transfer into the breast milk.

Alfalfa and Breastfeeding

Alfalfa has a long history in women's health. Breastfeeding mothers have been using alfalfa to support lactation for ages. It contains phytoestrogens or plant-components that resemble estrogens and can attach to their receptors, and is anecdotally thought to increase milk supply.

Alfalfa does enter the breast milk and can cause diarrhea for both mom and baby. It also contains vitamin K and can interfere with anticoagulant medications, so it should not be used if there is a history of bleeding/clotting issues. In addition, worsening of systemic lupus has been reported with the use of alfalfa potentially because of immune system stimulation. Because of these things, it's important to speak with a certified lactation consultant and your doctor before introducing alfalfa into your diet.

How to Take Alfalfa

Alfalfa is available as food, a tea, and in tablet or capsule form. Talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant about adding alfalfa to your diet.

As Food: The best way to benefit from alfalfa is by adding it to your diet naturally. Alfalfa sprouts and seeds taste similar to peas, and you can add them to salads, soups, and other foods. Because sprouts are grown in the same warm, moist conditions that dangerous bacteria can thrive in, sprouts can carry E. coli and salmonella, so it's best to use them in cooked foods rather than consuming them raw.

As a Tea: Unlike the sprouts, the alfalfa leaf is bitter, so it is usually dried and prepared as a tea. To make alfalfa tea, use one or two teaspoons of dried alfalfa leaves per cup (8 oz) of boiling water. How often you drink the tea will depend on the advice of a certified lactation consultant or doctor.

Tablets or Capsules: Your doctor or lactation consultant will instruct you on the dose that is best for you.

Some people use alfalfa along with other galactagogues such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, nettles, fennel, or goat's rue to help further increase the supply of breast milk. Again, speak with a certified lactation consultant if you think you might have a low milk supply and before taking any medications or herbs related to milk supply.

Other Health Benefits and Uses 

  • Alfalfa contains many vitamins and minerals, and is rich in antioxidants.
  • It is a primary source of food for dairy animals, so it is an important part of the production of milk, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products.
  • Animal studies suggest extracts of alfalfa may affect blood sugar levels.
  • Animal studies suggest it may lower cholesterol.

Warnings and Side Effects

Even though alfalfa is an herb that has been used as a medicine for many years, it's important to remember that herbs can have side effects and interactions and are not right or safe for everyone. Always discuss the use of herbal medicines with your doctor before taking.

  • Alfalfa can cause diarrhea in both the nursing parent and the baby.
  • If you have an overabundant breast milk supply, or do not need to increase your milk supply, alfalfa could increase your supply too much, leading to painful breast issues such as breast engorgement and mastitis
  • Alfalfa, like other green leafy vegetables, contains vitamin K which can interfere with anticoagulant medication. Talk to your doctor if you're taking a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin). 
  • Alfalfa can trigger auto-immune disorders or make them worse. Do not use this herb if you suffer from systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or other auto-immune conditions without discussing it with your doctor. In addition, do not use alfalfa if you are immune compromised.
  • Supplement forms of herbs such as teas, capsules and tablets are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, the quality of the product and it's other additives may not be known. It's important to purchase herbal supplements from a reputable source and get dosing advice from a doctor, certified lactation consultant or other healthcare professional.

A Word From Verywell

Because of the limited number of studies on herb use during lactation, there are no definitive recommendations, and this can be confusing to both people who are lactating and their health providers. It's worth reiterating that if you think you might need assistance with your milk supply that you speak with a certified lactation consultant before taking any herbs or increasing pumping.

It's also recommended that any herbs you take are from a company who provides safe products, in doses recommended by your healthcare professional. While some anectdotal recommendations can still be safe, they are not all safe for everyone and it's important to work with someone who takes your personal needs and health history into account.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Alfalfa. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US). Updated December 3, 2018. 

Additional Reading
  • Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM clinical protocol# 9: use of galactogogues in initiating or augmenting the rate of maternal milk secretion (First revision January 2011). Breastfeeding Medicine. 2011 Feb 1;6(1):41-9.

  • Putnam, D.H., Summers, C.G., Orloff S.B. Alfalfa Production Systems in California. IN (C.G. Summers and D.H. Putnam, eds.), Irrigated alfalfa management for Mediterranean and Desert Zones. Chapter 1. Oakland: University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 8287. 2007.

  • Hong YH, Wang SC, Hsu C, Lin BF, Kuo YH, Huang CJ. Phytoestrogenic compounds in alfalfa sprout (Medicago sativa) beyond coumestrol. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2010 Dec 15;59(1):131-7.
  • MedlinePlus. Alfalfa. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Medicines Comprehensive Database. 2012.
  • Mills E, Dugoua JJ, Perri D, Koren G. Herbal medicines in pregnancy and lactation: an evidence-based approach. CRC Press. 2013.
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