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Vitex and Breastfeeding

By James Madhok | Womens Health | Rating:

If you have been considering the use of Vitex while you are breastfeeding, you will first need to understand what it is and how it works. In addition, you will need to understand whether or not it is safe to use in women who are breastfeeding. Chances are you have heard many things both good and bad about this herbal supplement. However, you may have trouble differentiating between these facts and which of them are true or false. Following is some useful information that may help provide you with more knowledge in order to make an educated decision.

Vitex Chasteberry What Is It?

Chasteberry, also referred to as Vitex Agnus Castus is an infamous herb that has been around for thousands of years. It is said to help women who are suffering from a variety of hormonal imbalances. For example, physicians in ancient Greece used it often in an effort to suppress the libido in men and women. In addition, this herbal remedy was also used for issues of the spleen, in childbirth and for the healing of external wounds. The Catholic Church commonly used chasteberry to suppress libido in an effort to assist monks in upholding their vow of celibacy. Contrary to this believe, there is actually no scientific evidence to support claims that this herb actually does work in suppressing the libido. Years later in early America, doctors began using this herbal remedy to help stimulate lactation in women who seemed to be having trouble producing enough milk.

Does Vitex Increase Fertility?

The most important factors in becoming pregnant are regular menstrual cycles and healthy ovulation. Chasteberry happens to have a very good track record when it comes to helping women who are suffering from hormonal imbalances such as PMS and PCOS. Because of this many people swear by its ability to help regulate or even bring on menstrual periods. If a woman is not menstruating regularly, there is very little chance she will become pregnant. In addition, there is a condition which is known as amenorrhea in which there is a complete absence of menstrual periods that has nothing to do with menopause. Many people use Vitex (chasteberry) in an effort to even out the hormones which are needed in order for ovulation and menstruation to occur. Despite the common belief that chasteberry will increase fertility, there is very little scientific data to support this claim.

How Does Vitex Work?

Chasteberry or Vitex works on the pituitary gland and hypothalamus by helping to increase the production of a hormone called lutene. In addition, it also aids in the inhibition of the release of FSH, a follicle-stimulating hormone. This helps balance out the ratio of progesterone to estrogen, slightly raising the levels of progesterone. It is important to keep in mind that chasteberry is not actually a hormone but rather an herb which helps the body raise its own levels of progesterone. Many women who are uncomfortable with receiving hormone therapy choose this natural remedy as a safe alternative. However, just because something is herbal does not always mean it is safe. In fact, the FDA does not regulate herbal remedies, making it that much more important to do your own research when using any herb.

Using Vitex to Help Stimulate Milk Production

Because Vitex is believed to help in the production and balancing of specific hormones that are vital to breast milk production, it is often recommended that women who are having trouble producing enough milk use this herbal supplement in an effort to stimulate lactation. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of hard evidence which suggests that the use of chasteberry will actually make much of a difference in terms of how much milk a woman produces. However, many women are more comfortable using this herbal remedy than trying a prescription alternative that may be unhealthy for their baby. It is important to realize that just because something is marked herbal and natural; it does not always mean there will be no side effects as a result of using it.

How Safe Is Vitex for Women Who Are Breastfeeding?

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a lot of evidence to support chasteberry being safe or unsafe for women who are actively breastfeeding their babies. While there have been a lot of women who have used this herbal remedy with absolutely no ill effects, this is not necessarily proof that none could occur. In addition, it is unknown whether or not any of this herb will actually pass through to the breast milk. However, because Vitex does affect hormone levels, there is always the possibility that a developing baby could be adversely affected. No woman who is breastfeeding a baby should ever take any medication or herbal supplement without first clearing this with her doctor and pediatrician.

Natural Production of Breast Milk

Contrary to popular belief, it is very rare for a woman who is breastfeeding a baby not to have the ability to supply enough milk. Women have been breastfeeding infants since the beginning of time and it is extremely rare for complications of this nature to arise. Unfortunately, some women are hasty in deciding that they are not supplying enough milk. In truth there may be many factors involved. One very important factor to take into consideration is stress levels and proper rest. A lactating mother will need to remain as relaxed and stress-free as possible in order for natural lactation to occur. She will need to provide her and her baby with a quiet and peaceful setting in which her natural letdown reflex will work at its maximum potential. Before jumping the gun and deciding that breastfeeding is not for you or that you cannot supply enough milk, it is important to let nature take its course as you will almost surely have no trouble breastfeeding your new baby.

Breastfeeding is the absolute best source of nutrition for a baby during the first year of his/her life. Unless there is some underlying medical condition or the need for some medication that is not safe to use during breastfeeding, it is best that a new mother breastfeed her baby for as long as she possibly can. If you feel that you have been struggling with milk production, you may ask your doctor if it is safe for you to try Vitex in an effort to increase milk supply. As long as your doctor feels there will be no harmful effects there is no reason why you should not use chasteberry.





James Madhok

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  • Comment #1 (Posted by SARAH)
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    I disagree with your statement that it is very rare to not produce enough milk for your baby. Have you heard of the condition IGT, or insufficient glandular tissue? It is a very real, and more prominent than most people know. I have this condition. Sometime during development, something goes wrong with breast tissue creation. This is apparent upon ultrasound of breast tissue. For those of us with IGT, we simply do not have enough glandular tissue to make milk, and therefore we CANNOT supply enough milk for our babies, no matter what we try, and believe me, we try everything. There is no clear cut answer to why or how IGT happens, but the lactation support community is becoming more aware of this diagnosis as more and more women realize that there is an actual reason as to why there is not enough milk. This is not an issue of breastfeeding mismanagement, because women with IGT are often the most diligent nursers, pumpers, and supplemental feeders at the breast, often pumping 8-12 times a day on top of nursing and supplementing. Many of us rely on donor milk or formula for supplementation and produce only a small fraction of what our child requires. Some are lucky enough to produce most. IGT really has a range, again depending on the amount of breast glandular tissue. I urge you to update your paragraphs on breastfeeding to reflect the actual possibility of low supply and how vitex can be just one of the many routes of management for us. Thank you!
     
  • Comment #2 (Posted by krys)
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    Thank you for the very informative article. This is exactly what I was looking for.
     
  • Comment #3 (Posted by Kristin)
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    I'm ttc with pcos and I'm still breastfeeding my 18 month old. I took 1 capsule of Vitex (500mg) and I experienced headaches, dizziness, and nausea. My 18 month old started to vomit after every time she nursed. It has been over 24 hrs so I'm discontinuing breastfeeding until it is out of my system. I actually took Vitex to conceive her and had no side effects. It was a different brand and I can't remember the dosage. I advise NOT to take Vitex while breastfeeding. Poison control told me there wasn't enough data so they consider it unsafe.
     


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