Herbs To Avoid During Breastfeeding

Like the foods we eat and the medicines we take, some of the constituents in herbs are excreted in breast milk and are, therefore, ingested by a nursing baby. Some of the herbs on this list are included because they contain constituents that may be harmful to the mother or baby. Other herbs should be avoided because they are traditional antilactagogues used during weaning and can reduce breast milk production.

Alder Buckthorn berry and bark (Rhamnus Frangula); closely related to cascara sagrada –  purative, laxative intestinal irritant, anthroquinones glycosides excreted in breast milk
Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria); hepatotoxic phyrrolizidine alkaloilds secreted in breast milk
Aloe (Aloe barbadensis); purgative/cathartic, anthroquinones glycosides excreted in breast milk
Basil (Ocimum basilicum); possible mutogenic effect of the essential oil
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva ursi), potential hepatotoxic hydroquinones secreted in breast milk
Black Cohosh (Cimifugia racemosa); digestive tract irritant, may cause digestive irritation for the baby
Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus); high levels of iodine and possible heavy metal contamination
Borage (Borago officinalis); hepatotoxic pyrrolozidine alkaloids excreted in breast milk
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus); hepatotoxic pyrrolozidine alkaloids excreted in breast milk
Cascara Sagrada bark  (Rhamnus purshiana); purative, laxative intestinal irritant, anthroquinones excreted in breast milk
Chaparral (Larrea tridentate), potential toxicity to the infant
Cinchona bark (Cinchona spp.); potential toxicity to the infant
Coltsfoot leaf (Tussilago farfara); hepatoxic pyrrolizidine alkoloids excreted in breast milk
Comfrey leaf and root (Symphytum officinale); hepatoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids excreted in breast milk
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis), contains estrogenic compounds
Elecampane (Imula helenium), potential toxicity to the infant
Ephedra/Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica); stimulants excreted in breast milk
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), may increase infant bilirubin levels
Guarana seeds (Paullinia cupana); stimulants secreted in breast milk
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum); hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids secreted in breast milk
Kava Kava (Piper methysticum); possible passage of pyrones into breast milk, central nervous system depressant
Indian Snakeroot (Rauwolfia serpentine), reserpine alkaloids, potential toxicity to the infant
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra); potential toxicity to the infant
Madder root (Rubia tinctorum); potential toxicity to the infant
Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas); potential toxicity to the infant
Mate leaves (Ilex paraguayensis), stimulants excreted in breast milk
Prickly Ash bark (Zanthoxylum americanum), digestive tract irritant, may cause digestive irritation for the baby
Pulsatilla plant (Anemone pulsatilla), digestive tract irritant, may cause digestive irritation for the baby
Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum); potential toxicity to the infant, may cause digestive irritation for the baby
Senna leaf (Cassia spp.); genotoxic anthraquinones excreted in breast milk
Tobacco (Nicotine tabacum); diminished milk production, excreted in breast milk
Wintergreen leaves (Gaultheria procumbens); potential toxicity to the infant
Wormwood (Artemis absinthium); potential neurotoxins excreted in breast milk

Herbs that Decrease Breast Milk:
Avoid During Breastfeeding

Herbs that can reduce breast milk are called antilactagogues. Several of these are members of the mint family of plants and are recommended to be avoided in larger than culinary amounts during breastfeeding. Many women even experience a reduction of breast milk when they eat peppermint candies or menthol cough drops.
Bugelweed leaves (Lycopus europaeus/Lycopus virginicus)
Jasmin flowers (Jasminum pubescens)
Parsley leaf (Petroselinum crispum) This is a case where “culinary amounts” really means a sprig or
a sprinkle. The Eastern dish tabouli has a large amount of parsley and many women find that it reduces their breast milk supply.
Peppermint leaves (Mentha piperita): Not recommended
in larger than culinary amounts, including of peppermint candies
or breath mints.
Spearmint leaves (Mentha spicata)
Sage (Salvia officinalis): a powerful abortifacient that also reduces breast milk production. This herb contains thujone and is not recommended for nursing women or for women who are epileptic or prone to seizure, or during pregnancy

Of course this isn’t a complete list of plants to be avoided during breastfeeding. Some plants are generally toxic and should not be ingested at all. But you’re not likely to ingest random unknown plants, or chomp on the highly toxic Castor Bean in your every day herb excursions. This list includes common herbs that you might see in herbal preparations, supplements or foods.
As always, for your safety and your child’s safety, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding check with your healthcare provider before taking herbs, prescription or over-the-counter medications.



  1. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines, Ed. Mark Blumenthal, et. al.,The American Botanical Council, Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998.
  2. European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy Monographs, The Scientific Foundation for Herbal Medicinal Products, Argyle House, 2nd ed. 2003
  3. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs, Mark Blumenthal, 1st ed. 2003, The American Botanical Council
  4. Botanical Safety Handbook, Ed. Michael McGuffin, et. al. American Herbal Products Association, CRC Press, 1997
  5. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, Third Edition, Francis Brinker, N.D., Eclectic Medical Publications, 2001
  6. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, Jellin JM, ed., Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty; 2002.
  7. Di Pierro F, Callegari A, Carotenuto D, Tapia MM. Clinical efficacy, safety and tolerability of BIO-C
    (micronized silymarin) as a galactagogue.
    Acta Biomed. Dec 2008;79(3): 205-210.
  8. The Nursing Mother’s Herbal, Sheila Humphrey, BSc, RN, IBCLC, 1st ed, Nov 2003 Fairview Press
  9. Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, David Hoffmann, FNIMH, AHG, Copyright
    2003 Healing Arts Press
  10. Clinical Applications of Herbal Medicine, Paul D. Barney, M.D., 1996, Woodland Publishing
  11. The Essential Guide To Herbal Safety, Simon Mills and Kerry Bone, Copyright 2005, Elsevier Churchill Livingstone, Inc.
  12. The Way of Chinese Herbs, Michael Tierra, L.Ac., O.M.D., Copyright 1998, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
  13. A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health, Dean Raffelock, D.C., Dipl.Ac., CCN, Robert Roundtree, M.D., et. Al., Copyright 2002, Penguin Putnam, Inc.
  14. KellyMom Breastfeeding and Parenting website, http://www.kellymom.com/herbal/index.html
  15. Ask Dr. Sears.com, http://www.askdrsears.com/html/2/T022800.asp
  16. First Candle, Helping Babies Survive and Thrive website: http://www.firstcandle.org/?s=sleep+and+pacifier
  17. Medline Plus webwite, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/medlineplus.html

The information about the use of herbs and essential oils contained in this article is not meant to be a substitute for seeking the advice of a qualified health care provider. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your health care provider about the use of herbs and essential oils, especially during pregnancy, when nursing a baby or with children. To request permission to reprint the information in this article, please email mama@earthmamaangelbaby.com

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