Our Members Asked:
Is it dangerous to use certain herbals, vitamins, or other dietary supplements when breastfeeding?
Certain herbals, high dose vitamins, and other dietary supplements can be dangerous to breastfed babies through breast milk. Below is a list of some of the herbs and supplements that should be avoided during breastfeeding (use the links for more information). As there may be other supplements that are contraindicated during breastfeeding, always consult with your physician before taking any supplement. Of course, certain prescription medications taken by mothers may also be dangerous to breastfed babies.
Supplements and herbs to avoid when breastfeeding:
Berberine/goldenseal (berberine is a compound found in goldenseal)
Butterbur — Contains compounds that may cause liver damage (Chojkier, J Hepatol 2003)
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) (National Library of Medicine 2018)
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) (Amir, Aust Fam Physician 2011)
Kava kava — Possible central nervous depression and/or skin discoloration in the breastfed baby; rarely, it may cause allergic reactions and sedation with high doses (Romm, 2010; NIH, 2020)
Licorice (National Library of Medicine 2018)
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
In addition, some experts advise avoiding the following herbs due to a lack of evidence of safety and efficacy:
Devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha)
Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Marigold (Calendula officinalis).
Supplements and herbs to use with caution:
Aloe — If used topically, wash off before breastfeeding as it may cause diarrhea in infants
Fenugreek — Although traditionally used to promote milk production, side effects such as maple syrup smell emitted from the mother's body, gassiness in the baby, or breast milk oversupply have been reported (National Library of Medicine 2020)
Probiotics — Certain probiotic strains may be helpful for women with mastitis
In addition to the resources on ConsumerLab.com, an excellent article on the subject of medications (including supplements) and breastfeeding is found at https://www.japha.org/article/S1544-3191(15)30430-1/fulltext.
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