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Plant-Based and Herbal Milk Suppressants: What’s the Low Down?

Herbal milk suppressants in a planter box.

The other day, I talked about pharmaceutical products that can potentially affect milk supply. Today, I want to talk about plant-based and herbal milk suppressants. (Stay tuned for part 3 where I’ll talk about the effects of social drugs on decreased milk supply.)

Cabbage

It’s not an herb, but cabbage is certainly an herbaceous plant. (That means it has leaves and veins that transport water.)  Brassica oleracea has an edible head, either white or red.

To my knowledge, eating cabbage has no effect on milk supply. However, placing cabbage leaves on the breasts can dry up the milk.

I can almost hear you saying, “Wait, Marie! There’s no evidence for this!” Well, before you say that consider a few things.

We may not have strong evidence to support or refute the effects of all plant-based or herbal milk suppressants, but we do need to keep an open mind. 

If you don’t believe that cabbage leaves work, consider:

  • Cabbage has been used for centuries to decrease joint pain and inflammation.  
  • I’ve heard (and read on the internet) multiple anecdotal reports about the wonders of cabbage compresses.
  • Sometimes, the cabbage compress works so well that it completely dried up the mother’s milk. You might want to consider this for mothers who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or an infant.

There are a few practical implications to keep in mind:

  • Wash the leaves thoroughly. Despite my best attempts, I cannot find anything in the medical or healthcare literature to show that Listeria monocytogenes is a possible problem. However, a former chef who attended my Lactation Exam Review recommended always washing the leaves.
  • Break the leaves. The conventional wisdom is that this helps to release and distribute the natural juices. (Use a rolling pin.) Also, it helps the leaves to become floppy enough to fit around the breast.
  • Avoid the nipples. I’ve always been taught to do that, but I don’t know if there is any evidence for or against it. But if Listeria is a potential problem, then yeah, avoiding the nipples would make sense.
  • Chill the leaves. The evidence for this “working better” is a little slim, but it certainly feels better. It also serves as a “timer.” Remove the leaves when they no longer feel cold (about 20 minutes). Otherwise, the milk may dry up more than was intended.

Sage

Sage and other herbals in the Lamiaceae family are well-known herbal milk suppressants. Why so? Because they contain a natural form of estrogen.

As you know, estrogen is the enemy of milk production. Hence, there’s little or no question about whether or not sage works as a milk suppressant.

The more practical question, how do you use the sage?

  1. Use pre-packaged tea, or…
  2. Consider this recipe for making your own tea using the leaves you cook with; drink it hot or cold.
  3. Add something to mask the bitter flavor. Milk or honey would work, but I think the best addition is cranberry juice.
  4. Consider combining this with cabbage compresses.

Mint, peppermint, spearmint

Mint is a member of the Lamiaceae family. So be careful with mint

Now here’s the question I always get. What about eating chocolate peppermint patties? Honestly, I don’t know, but I would presume that the amount of mint in a few candies would not be enough to cause effects as an herbal milk suppressant.

However, be careful with mint tea. A glass or two during the day probably isn’t a big deal. But don’t sit there and pour one glass after another for yourself all day.

Other

Parsley and menthol have been rumored to decrease milk supply, but I cannot find any study to substantiate or refute that claim. Mohr’s 1954 study suggested that Chasteberry may reduce milk supply, but that study does not reflect anything close to current standards for research.

In short, here’s the deal: Just make sure you’re aware the herbs and herbaceous plants can have some intended or unintended consequences.

Don’t miss out on part 3 where I address social aspects of milk suppressants.

What has been your experience with plant-based or herbal milk suppressants? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Social Aspects of Milk Suppression: What’s the Low Down?
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