Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a healthy, nutritious plant root. It’s a traditional home remedy for nausea or motion sickness. But, can it also help to increase the breast milk supply, and is it safe for breastfeeding mothers and babies?
What Is Ginger?
Ginger is considered an herb or spice, and it’s both a food seasoning and natural medication. Due to the distinct taste, it is a common ingredient in many main dishes, baked goods, and teas.
It’s also a favorite soft drink flavor. As a medication, many Asian and Middle Eastern cultures have considered ginger to be a cure-all for thousands of years. Ginger is believed to support the immune system, reduce inflammation in the body, and increase breast milk production.
Ginger and Breastfeeding
In some areas of the world, women are given ginger right after the delivery of a child. Ginger is believed to help a mother heal from childbirth. It’s also thought to be a galactagogue which stimulates milk production.
While there’s evidence of the use of ginger by breastfeeding mothers, there isn’t much reliable research on the effectiveness of ginger to bring about a healthy breast milk supply. One study published in 2016 concluded that the use of ginger as a natural method to increase breast milk in the early postpartum period appears promising. Of course, more research is needed to determine if and how ginger can naturally boost breast milk production.
Ginger and the Flavor of Breast Milk
The flavors of the foods you eat do enter your breast milk and can change the flavor of your milk. Research shows that when mothers eat a particular type of diet or certain cultural foods with strong flavors or spices, their children may accept those foods more readily after having been exposed to them through the breast milk.
However, like garlic, ginger has a strong flavor and odor. While most babies won’t mind the variations in the taste of breast milk, some children are more sensitive to the changes and may refuse to breastfeed. If your child is fussy and not breastfeeding well after you introduce ginger to your diet, you may want to stop the ginger to see if that could be the cause.
Safety in Breastfeeding
There is very little research on the safety of ginger for breastfeeding mothers. It is generally considered safe, and it’s not likely to cause any side effects or harm to the infant when used in the fresh form or taken in small doses. Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before starting any new medications, including herbal supplements.
Safety in Pregnancy
If you’re breastfeeding and you become pregnant, you may be able to continue to use ginger. Ginger root is known to help with nausea, and it’s been safely used by pregnant women for morning sickness. In moderation, fresh ginger is not known to be harmful to mothers or babies. However, during pregnancy, the supplement form of ginger should only be used under direct supervision of a doctor. In very large amounts ginger can be dangerous. Since it can increase the risk of bleeding and stimulate menstruation, you should not use ginger if you have vaginal bleeding or you’ve had a previous miscarriage.
How to Take Ginger
Ginger Root: You can add fresh or raw ginger root to many main dishes. It can be grated on top of foods or in drinks, sautéed with vegetables, made into a tasty a salad dressing, or baked into cookies or bread. The recipe ideas are endless.
Ginger Ale: Ginger ale is a caffeine free soft drink flavored with ginger. You can safely drink ginger ale when you’re breastfeeding as long as you don’t overdo it. But, read the product label carefully. Not all ginger ale contains real ginger; some brands only contain artificial ginger flavoring.
Powdered or Dried Ginger Supplement: Discuss the use of ginger supplements with a health professional.
Your doctor or a lactation consultant can work with you to determine the correct product and safest dose that will have the best results for you.
Ginger Tea: Herbal tea is a soothing way to consume ginger. Of course, as with everything else, moderation is necessary because even too much tea can be dangerous. You don’t want to drink more than 32 ounces a day.
How to Make Ginger Tea
- Boil water in a small pot on the stove.
- Cut a few slices of ginger from the fresh ginger root.
- Once your water is boiling, remove it from the heat.
- Place the ginger into the water and let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Remove the ginger and enjoy.
- To sweeten the strong ginger flavor, you can add a teaspoon or two of sugar or honey.
Where to Get Ginger
If you live in a warm, humid, tropical area, you can grow your own ginger. If not, fresh ginger is available in supermarkets throughout the world. Capsules can be purchased in health stores, pharmacies, online, or wherever supplements are sold.
The Health Benefits of Ginger
In many cultures, ginger is considered a cure-all. It’s healing properties extend well beyond breastfeeding to include:
- Nausea: The most well-known health use of ginger is to relieve nausea. Ginger is helpful for nausea and dizziness associated with motion sickness. It has been used to relieve morning sickness during pregnancy, and it’s also believed to reduce nausea and vomiting in cancer patients after chemotherapy.
- Digestive issues: Ginger can calm a variety of stomach ailments including gas, bloating, cramps, and constipation.
- Illness: Ginger promotes sweating to bring down a fever. Many believe that it’s antiviral properties help to fight off colds, respiratory infections, sore throat, and the flu.
- Pain reliever: The anti-inflammatory action of ginger is believed to relieve headaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle aches and pains.
- Arthritis: Ginger is thought to reduce swelling and ease pain related to arthritisdue to the anti-inflammatory properties of a substance called gingerol in the ginger.
- Cancer: Since gingerol is an antioxidant as well as an anti-inflammatory, there is ongoing research to find out if it may help to kill certain types of cancer cellssuch as those found in breast, ovarian, lung, and colorectal cancer.
- Chronic illness: Studies show that ginger may lower blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes. It may also reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.
- Circulation: Because ginger thins the blood and lowers cholesterol, it is said to improve blood flow throughout the body.
Warnings, Side Effects, and Contraindications
When it’s used as a flavoring or in its fresh root form, ginger is not known to be harmful. But, in large amounts, anything can be dangerous, especially if you’re pregnant or you have certain health conditions. Ginger, just like any other herb or medication can interfere with certain health issues you may have or medication you may be taking. Here are some of the things to keep in mind before using ginger:
- Mild side effects such as an upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea are possible.
- In large amounts, ginger can increase your risk of bleeding. If you have a bleeding issue or you lost a lot of blood during childbirth, you shouldn’t use ginger unless you speak to your doctor about it first.
- Talk to your doctor before using ginger if you take certain medications such as prescription blood thinners, heart and blood pressure medication, or aspirin. Ginger can interfere with these treatments.
- Do not take ginger without consulting your doctor if you are taking medication for diabetes. Ginger could lower your blood sugar to dangerous levels.
- Don’t use ginger if you have an allergy. And, if your baby develops a reaction such as a rash or diarrhea after you use ginger, then stop taking it right away.
Other Herbs to Increase Breast Milk Supply
If you aren’t a fan of ginger’s flavor, or you want to try something else, there are many different herbs that women use to increase milk production such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel. They are often combined and made into commercially prepared breastfeeding teas or lactation supplements.
The results of galactagogues are as different as the women who use them. While some women report great results from small doses of herbs, other women won’t see any results from much larger amounts. Plus, it’s important to note that herbs alone will not often make a big difference in your breast milk supply. To get the best results, you will need to increase the stimulation of the breasts while taking ginger or any other herb. You can increase breast stimulation by breastfeeding more often, breastfeeding for longer periods at each breastfeeding session, or using a breast pump after or in between each feeding.
A Word From Verywell
Ginger is a safe, healthy herb. In addition to the long list of health benefits it provides, ginger can promote healing after childbirth, and it’s thought to be a promising galactagogue to help stimulate the production of breast milk for breastfeeding mothers in the first few days postpartum. As long as you don’t overdo it, ginger should not be harmful to you or your child. But, if you’re pregnant or have a health condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes, talk to your doctor before using ginger.
It’s also important to speak to your doctor and your baby’s doctor if you’re concerned about a low breast milk supply or your baby’s weight. Your doctor and the pediatrician can examine and monitor you and your child. They will provide you with the information and solutions you need to be sure you’re making enough breast milk and your child is getting what she needs.
Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM clinical protocol# 9: use of galactogogues in initiating or augmenting the rate of maternal milk secretion (First revision January 2011). Breastfeeding Medicine. 2011 Feb 1;6(1):41-9.
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Hale TW., and Rowe HE. Medications and Mothers’ Milk: A Manual of Lactational Pharmacology Sixteenth Edition. Hale Publishing. 2014.
Paritakul P., Ruangrongmorakot K., Laosooksathit W., Suksamarnwong M., Puapornpong, P. Breastfeeding Medicine: The Official Journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. 2016, 11: 361-5.
Viljoen E, Visser J, Koen N, Musekiwa A. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting. Nutrition journal. 2014 Mar 19;13(1):20.