Using Fennel While Breastfeeding

Information, Uses, Warnings, and Side Effects


Photo: Alexandra Shytsman 

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a common herb that many people use for cooking and healing. You can trace this sweet, anise, or licorice-flavored spice all the way back to ancient Egypt. For over 2000 years, fennel has been a treatment for digestive problems and menstrual issues. It is also used by breastfeeding women to stimulate and increase the production of breast milk.

But, like any herb or medication, fennel has both benefits and side effects. Here we will explore the safety of this breastfeeding herb and how it works to increase the supply of breast milk

Fennel to Boost Breast Milk Supply

Fennel is believed to be a galactagogue which is something that brings about more breast milk. It's taken as an herbal treatment to help mothers who breastfeed increase their breast milk supply. One of the reasons it may work for some women is that the fennel plant has estrogen-like properties.

You can add fennel to your diet by drinking fennel tea, eating it as a vegetable, or using it as a spice to flavor foods. Here are some of the ways fennel is used.  

  • Capsules: Fennel supplements are available in supermarkets, pharmacies, vitamin stores, and online.
  • Herb/spice: Fennel seeds can add flavor to many recipes, including fish, salads, and sauces.
  • Seeds: You can chew whole raw seeds. You can also fry or roast them for more flavor.
  • Tea: Place 8 ounces (1 cup) of boiling water in a mug with 1 to 3 teaspoons of fennel seed. Let it sit for approximately 10 minutes then strain the seeds from the tea and enjoy. If you have them, freshly crushed fennel seeds are preferred. You can drink fennel tea three times a day.
  • Vegetable: The vegetable part of the fennel plant can be eaten raw or cooked. You can easily add it to soups or other dishes.

You can also take fennel in combination with other breastfeeding herbs, such as fenugreek, alfalfa, stinging nettle, and blessed thistle. Some of the commercially prepared lactation supplements and nursing teas contain fennel, too. 

Fennel Safety Considerations

While it does go into your breast milk, fennel is generally considered safe to use while you are breastfeeding. The safest way to take fennel is through food. It is typically well-tolerated as an herbal tea, as well. Of course, moderation is the key. If you overdo it, fennel can decrease the milk supply or have other unintended side effects.

Fennel may be considered safe while breastfeeding, but it can be dangerous during pregnancy. The small amount in foods such as Italian sausage or bread is not harmful, but fennel consumption should be limited to the foods you eat. You should avoid taking any extra fennel through supplements or herbal teas if you're pregnant.

Other Benefits and Uses

Besides promoting milk production and stimulating the flow of breast milk for breastfeeding moms, other benefits and uses of fennel include:

  • Flavor foods and medications
  • Freshen breath
  • Increase libido
  • Increase metabolism, suppressing hunger, and aiding in weight loss
  • Lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes
  • Pass through breast milk to help a baby’s digestion and relieve the symptoms of colic
  • Promote healthy digestion
  • Relieve menstrual problems and balancing the menstrual cycle
  • Soothe coughs and sore throats
  • Thin mucus and loosening chest congestion
  • Treat stomach upset and gas

Warnings and Side Effects

Herbal remedies have been used as medical treatments for thousands of years. And, many of the medications available today are made from herbs. Herbs can be very potent and dangerous.

They often have side effects and can even be toxic. For this reason, you should always discuss the use of herbal treatments and essential oils with your doctor, lactation consultant, or another herbal specialist, and be sure to purchase your products from a reputable source. Precautions to note regarding fennel consumption include:

  • Be careful and talk to your doctor if you have diabetes or hypoglycemia. Fennel can lower blood sugar levels.
  • Do not use fennel supplements during pregnancy.
  • Fennel is available as an essential oil. Using essential oil during pregnancy can be very dangerous. You should also be aware that you should not put it on it on small children.
  • Fennel may increase the risk of seizure. Therefore, you should not use fennel if you have epilepsy or any other type of seizure disorder. You should also avoid fennel if you take medication for seizures.
  • If you put fennel on the skin, it can cause skin allergies or reactions.
  • Use this herb in moderation. Taking too much fennel is believed to do
    the opposite of what you are using it for, and it may instead cause a decrease in your breast milk supply.
  • Your child may become sleepy after drinking breast milk containing fennel.

Does Fennel Really Increase Milk Supply?

Women have been using fennel to make more breast milk for centuries. There isn't real scientific evidence to prove that it works, but there isn't evidence that says it doesn't work, either. Some women do report an increase in breast milk production with the use of fennel. However, it doesn't seem to work for everyone. Since you can easily incorporate it into your everyday diet, it may be worth a try. 

A Word From Verywell

If you'd like to try fennel, the best way to receive its benefits is to add it to your diet in the foods that you eat. Preparing and drinking breastfeeding teas is another safe way to take herbs. You just want to be sure to buy your fennel seeds from a trusted source. And, keep in mind that you do not want to use fennel is excess because too much fennel is believed to dry up the body and decrease the breast milk supply.

If you have any questions or health concerns, discuss the use of fennel and any other herbal treatments with your doctor, a lactation consultant or an herbal specialist.

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Article Sources
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  2. 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.

  3. Samavati R, Ducza E, Hajagos-tóth J, Gaspar R. Herbal laxatives and antiemetics in pregnancy. Reprod Toxicol. 2017;72:153-158. doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2017.06.041

  4. Perry R, Hunt K, Ernst E. Nutritional supplements and other complementary medicines for infantile colic: a systematic review. Pediatrics. 2011 Mar 22:peds-2010. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-2098

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