Peppermint & Breastfeeding

The first place I remember reading that peppermint (Mentha x piperita) oil may be contraindicated for nursing mothers was in Sheila Humphrey’s The Nursing Mother’s Herbal (a favorite of mine, by the way). In this text, Humphrey mentions a case study involving a mother who eats large amounts of Altoids and experiences a decline in milk supply. Other resources & websites also refer to vague anecdotal evidence suggesting that too much peppermint will decrease supply in breastfeeding women. So far, I haven’t been able to find any actual case studies related to peppermint and breastfeeding, so I’m wondering if all of this stems from one instance.

I also ran across vague suggestions that peppermint has traditionally been used to decrease milk supply. A (very) preliminary search did not turn up much – I looked through many of the Eclectic & Physiomedicalist texts on Henriette’s Herbal homepage, in Mrs. Grieve’s Modern Herbal and so forth – none mention this use. In Nature’s Children Juliette de Bairacli Levi mentions using “mints” during weaning, but that’s all I could find. If anyone has come accross any other historical references to peppermint or other mints being used to lower milk supply or during weaning, please pass them along!

I haven’t been able to come up with a good reason to explain why peppermint oil might inhibit milk supply, so I decided to turn to PubMed to see if I could find any additional info. I found absolutely nothing relating to peppermint and milk supply – no case studies, nothing whatsoever – but I did run across some very interesting info on peppermint water and peppermint gel being applied topically for prevention of nipple cracking & pain in early breastfeeding.  One study found that the gel was significantly more effective than lanolin or placebo at preventing nipple cracking in first time moms over the first 14 days (Melli, Rashidi, Nokhoodchi et al, 2007). Another study found breastfeeding women who applied peppermint water (tea?) topically were less likely to experience cracked nipples and pain than women who applied expressed breast milk topically (Melli, Rashidi, Delazar et al, 2007).   So what do I make of all this?

Take-Away Points about Peppermint & Breastfeeding:

  1. It’ s unclear if and how peppermint affects milk supply. There are no published case studies and there is no obvious mechanism of action. The anecdotal data suggests that the essential oil is problematic. Should nursing moms avoid the plant? To be on the safe side, I would avoid using higher doses of peppermint essential oil internally. This is particularly relevant for people with IBS who might be using peppermint oil or those with very high intake of strong peppermint candies.  Preparations such as teas and tinctures made from the leaves seem much less likely to be detrimental. The essential oil doesn’t extract well in tea anyway, depending on how you prepare it (decoction, infusion, lid on or off, time steeping, etc), so I’m particularly comfortable with mint teas during lactation.
  1. It is worth considering peppermint gel or infusion topically the first few days of breastfeeding to prevent nipple cracking & pain. Anything is worth a try as those days are very hard and anything you can do to make them easier will be welcomed. I wish I had come across this information 5 weeks ago when baby June was born…
  1. We need to publish more case studies! If anyone has direct knowledge of a case of a nursing mother’s supply decreasing in response to peppermint oil – or any other peppermint or mint preparation – please consider writing up your findings. It’s important to have this information in the scientific literature so that it’s available more widely in the community; additionally, such information can provide a basis for more in-depth research in the future.

I’d love to hear your thoughts below, especially if you have experience with peppermint and breastfeeding!

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Thoughts? Add your comments here. 

  • Id be more concerned about the effects of peppermint oil on the baby’s breathing/CNS. Pepperint, Eucalyptus and Rosemary are not considered safe for this reason and I would be concerned that their faces would be close to that scent.

  • Does applying peppermint oil to the breasts while trying to wean from exclusively pumping effect my LO if Breast milk is still being consumed ?!
    I’m in excruciating pain as I’ve reduced pumping time from 15 min to 13 min each session and will continue to decrease by 2 min at a time (over the course of 2-3 days ) till I no longer produce milk . I’m hoping it will take a good 10-15 days to finally stop all together .
    I figured slowly cutting down on pumping time would be more tolerable than cutting out entire pumping sessions .
    Please help !

    • I’m sorry! The first thing to do is contact an IBCLC or your local La Leche League chapter to get some advice specific to your situation. You can find a LLL group near you here: http://www.llli.org/webindex.html Most have phone numbers that you can call for support. I wouldn’t expect peppermint oil applied topically to do much in your case, and if you do try it I’d wipe it off with a soapy rag & water before nursing your baby so that baby doesn’t ingest the oil. Hope things get better soon!

  • Camille,

    Fantastic to see breast feeding and baby related information being presented with a scientific perspective in mind. Keep up the good work.

    Harry

  • You are so right about the information on peppermint and breastfeeding being very vague and hard to find. But like Jessica & Joyce, I’ve experienced, first hand, that there IS a connection to low milk supply and peppermint. My story isn’t as simple as theirs, though.
    I have 5 children and had plenty of milk with the first 3. When I was prego with #4 (in 1998), I drank a herbal tea throughout the last few months, very steadily the last month. The tea was primarily red raspberry leaves with other high vitamin & mineral herbs … but I couldn’t stand it unless I had a decent amount of peppermint in it also. After baby’s birth, I continued to drink peppermint tea … it’s a family favorite and we drink it often. Baby 4 was always cranky and crying and I didn’t seem to have the abundance of milk like I did with the others. When solids were introduced, he took to them like a duck to water and weaned himself by 8 months.
    Baby #5 (in 2003) … same herbal tea (I LOVED the results of the tea – postpartum healing was so much faster and babies NEVER got jaundice!) and family still drinking peppermint tea … and this time my milk supply was even worse. It was obvious I didn’t have enough milk, and I had to start supplementing goat’s milk.
    By then we had internet access (not so in ’98), and I searched high and low for which herbs to use to increase milk supply. Even after adding those, there wasn’t much change. BUT … somehow in my endless searching, I found a statement somewhere linking low milk supply to peppermint. LIGHT BULB!!! It was obscure and I couldn’t find more info no matter how hard I looked, but I figured I’d give it a try. No more peppermint tea! Sure enough … my supply went up and I was able to stop supplementing and successfully breast feed #5 to the end!
    Moral of the story … if you’re breastfeeding … don’t drink or eat peppermint on a regular basis!!! (I’m sure a peppermint candy here or there won’t hurt.) I’m no scientist to be able to figure out the WHY of this, but there really IS a connection.
    If this can help anyone else out there, I’d be so happy!

  • I came across your page while researching the different foods/medications I have been taking in. My milk supply has decreased in the past week to the point my baby screams from hunger and gets frustrated while feeding. I pumped to check my output and it is a third of what it was just 1.5 weeks ago. So far the only thing in my diet that has come up with any red flags is peppermint. While pregnant I developed cravings for Junior Mint candies, and the craving has carried over postpartum. The peppermint flavor in those is from peppermint oil. So far nothing else in my diet has shown to decrease milk supply, so I think there may be some truth to this.

  • Thank you I was wondering if there had been an scientific studies proving breast milk production is reduced by peppermint. My wife loves peppermint tea and I didn’t want to cause her any problems by serving it to her.

  • Hello There!
    So I’m in no way, shape, or form, a medical professional. However, the day before yesterday I ingested an entire sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, without even second guessing it. I pump (within an ounce) the exact same amount everyday and have for well over 3 months time. Two hours before I pumped I had consumed 8/12 or so cookies. I hooked up like normal, same flanges, same pump, same parts as always and output 5 less ounces than normal. This marked the lowest amount I’ve pumped in a day since the week after birth. I’m at 8 months postpartum and track daily so I know my exact output. IF it wasn’t the deliciousness of the cookies I don’t know what else it might have been. I drank my fluids, ate, pumped (as usual) with no change other than the cookies.

    With that being said, my ounces are back to their exact amounts today. I haven’t ingested any other mint things as I know it’s a rule of thumb to avoid… these cookies never crossed my mind as a culprit until I read that it actually contains peppermint oil not just a flavoring. It then dawned on me (dun dun dunnnn) the cookies had done me in.

    I’m no case study nor a scientist, but I plan to steer clear of peppermint in any form until I reach my goal of 1 year.

    Hope this helps any other pumping/direct nursing mothers munching along, though I understand we are all very different. It’s worth staying away from in my opinion.

    • Joyce, hi there! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I never would have imagined that Thin Mints would have this effect. (In case anyone else is interested, here is a list of the official ingredients – including peppermint oil http://www.abcsmartcookies.com/thin-mints). I wish there was a way to find out exactly how much oil is in them and what type of oil it is (essential oil?). If it’s okay with you, I may send you a private email to see if we could write your case up for publication. I really do think it’s important for these situations to be available in the medical literature.

  • I used peppermint essential oil to wean my baby quickly when we went on a vacation to southern Utah. I had previously used it in some lotions and felt like it was decreasing my milk supply. It did help me wean quickly for my vacation and seemed to dry up my milk. My previous baby was very active and curious, and basically weaned himself, so I don’t know much about weaning and what my body would normally do if I weaned so quickly. But it really does seem to dry up my milk.

  • I keep searching for any info as to exactly how peppermint decreases supply. Peppermint is a vasodilator….and any use of vasodilators increase output by widening the milk ducts….so yes still don’t understand how it decreases supply.

  • Using the Infant Risk Center link, I found that Dr Hale references peppermint oil as one substance that can relax the esophagus in pregnant women, worsening reflux. It seems reasonable to me that peppermint could have a similar result in a newborn.

  • Hi Camille!
    I’m a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and La Leche League Leader. I’ve been searching for more information on the use of essential oils in lactation and I agree! we need more studies. As a lactation consultant I have to question the study about the peppermint gel or water applied topically to prevent nipple cracking and pain. Nipples are meant to be used for breastfeeding. They are elastic, more than any other tissue in the body. Nipple cracking comes from repeated poor latch. This is a common problem in the early weeks because babies don’t open their mouths wide enough, or maybe mom doesn’t wait for the widest gape, or baby has some restriction, like tongue tie which keeps them from opening their mouth wide, like a yawn. Since there is at least a hint that peppermint can decrease milk supply I would never suggest it’s use in the early postpartum when milk supply is being established. Instead I would focus on consistently getting the best possible latch every time and getting qualified help and evaluation for tongue tie if even the best latch is painful.
    An additional concern whenever a substance is applied to the nipple is if it will cause the infant to react differently to the nipple. Newborns rely on their senses to find the breast and latch. The sense of smell is primary. Mom’s milk smells like her amniotic fluid. Amazing, isn’t it! The only scent the baby knows at birth is right there at the breast. It’s the result of a unique protein that each mother makes. IMO it’s better not to interfere with the baby’s sense of smell.

    • Yes, great points! I agree that herbs are rarely if ever an appropriate solution for breastfeeding problems. However, in the event that nipple damage does occur it can be nice to help the tissue heal up a bit and provide some “first aid” (while also getting appropriate help for latch, etc. I always recommend that herbalists develop a close relationship with a local IBCLC). It would absolutely be necessary to remove the gel from the nipple before the infant breastfed again, because as you mentioned the scent is a factor and the essential oil (if present in the extraction, which is difficult to tell from the abstract) and may relax either the musculature or the vasculature in the infant GI.

  • Camille, so funny this question came to me through teaching at CSHS! So I searched and found you! I hope all is well…sounds like you have been busy : )

  • Camille,
    Thank you for this article. This was a topic I had the same concerns about and I found your article very informative. I had thought that peppermint tea wash or tea bag compress would be good for cracked nipples to help prevent bacteria from getting into the breast tissue and causing problems but wasn’t sure about the impact on milk supply. Thank you for taking the time to research this topic and share the information with breastfeeding community.
    Cheers~
    Pam Paris

    • I’m so glad you found it helpful, Pam. I also like calendula applied topically just after a feeding for similar reasons. Thanks for stopping by!

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    Camille Freeman, LDN

    Hi there! I'm a clinical herbalist and licensed nutritionist specializing in fertility and reproductive health. I mentor other practitioners who need help building and growing their practices, working with complicated clients and getting clinical hours. I'm also a professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where I teach physiology, pathophysiology, and mindful eating. My pronouns are she/hers. 

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