If you're having trouble keeping up your milk supply while nursing, you might turn to alternative methods of increasing milk production, such as the use of herbs. While other herbs such as fenugreek are better known as galactogogues -- substances that increase milk supply -- alfalfa also has a reputation of being beneficial for nursing moms. Alfalfa sprouts do pose some potential risks for nursing mothers, so obtain your doctor's approval before taking alfalfa.
Alfalfa is a plant that originated in Asia but now grows throughout Europe, the United States and Canada. The evidence for alfalfa and other herbal galactogogues increasing milk supply is slim and mostly anecdotal. The leaves, sprouts and seeds are all used in alternative medicine.
You can take alfalfa in several forms, including brewing the leaves into tea or taking capsules or tinctures. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons of tea leaves two to four times per day if you are using tea. For tincture, take 1 to 4 milliliters four times per day. If you prefer to take capsules, take one to two capsules four times per day. You can also consume alfalfa seeds or sprouts. Breastfeeding moms should not take alfalfa in amounts larger than food doses, MedlinePlus warns.
Alfalfa may have estrogenic properties, meaning that it acts like the dominant female hormone estrogen in the body. Because of this potential effect, pregnant women and breastfeeding moms should not take alfalfa supplements, which generally contain higher amounts of alfalfa than you would get from food. Alfalfa supplements can also interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills. Alfalfa seeds can increase immune system functioning, which can worsen autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis, MedlinePlus warns. Alfalfa is also high in vitamin K and can cause bleeding problems if you take blood thinners. Loose stools and increased sun sensitivity are also potential side effects of alfalfa.
Sprouts can become contaminated with bacteria such as E coli and salmonella during the growing process. The contamination often occurs in the seeds. Alfalfa sprouts are one of the sprout types most likely to cause sickness, according to the Canadian government health website Health Canada. While your baby won't get sick from you eating sprouts, you could develop severe gastrointestinal illness, which could further decrease your milk supply. If you do buy sprouts, keep them refrigerated at temperatures below 40 F, and don't keep them more than a few days.
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.