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Vitex and Breastfeeding

Due to the unknown risks of vitex (chasteberry), breastfeeding women should talk to their healthcare provider before using this herbal supplement. Vitex is claimed to help increase breast milk supply; however, there is not enough evidence to support this claim. Although it is not known if vitex passes through breast milk, it is known that this herb can affect hormone levels, which may potentially cause problems in a nursing infant.

An Overview of Breastfeeding and Vitex

Vitex (chasteberry) is an herbal supplement traditionally used to increase breast milk supply or to speed the return of fertility in breastfeeding women. However, there is little scientific evidence to support such use, and it is unknown if the herb is safe for use while breastfeeding. It is a good idea to check with your healthcare provider (or your child's healthcare provider) before taking this supplement.

Does Vitex Increase Milk Supply?

Despite its longstanding use as an herb to increase breast milk supply, there is no real evidence that vitex actually is useful for this purpose. Low doses can increase levels of the hormone prolactin (which, theoretically, might increase breast milk supply), but high doses have the opposite effect and can actually decrease the supply. Changes in supply (in either direction) are probably most likely in the early phases of breastfeeding just after childbirth, when hormones play a larger role in breast milk production.

Is Vitex Safe While Breastfeeding?

There is no evidence that vitex is safe (or unsafe) for women who are breastfeeding. Although many women have taken it while breastfeeding with no apparent negative consequences, this does not "prove" that the herb is safe. It is not known if vitex passes through breast milk. However, vitex does affect hormone levels and could potentially cause problems for a developing infant.
Breastfeeding often limits the prescription and non-prescription drugs that are available for a woman to take. As a result, women often seek safe alternatives, sometimes assuming that herbal supplements are always safe. This is simply not the case. Herbal supplements can be marketed in the United States without any evidence that they are safe (or even effective) for anyone, including breastfeeding women. It should never be assumed that natural products are automatically safe for women who are breastfeeding.
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD
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