Main concerns for lactating women about medications include the safety of their breastfed infants and the potential effects of medication on quantity and quality of breast milk. While medicine treatments include conventional and complementary medicines, most studies to date have focused on evaluating the safety aspect of conventional medicines. Despite increasing popularity of herbal medicines, there are currently limited data available on the pattern of use and safety of these medicines during breastfeeding. This study aimed to identify the pattern of use of herbal medicines during breastfeeding in Perth, Western Australia, and to identify aspects which require further clinical research.
This study was conducted using a self-administered questionnaire validated through two pilot studies. Participants were 18 years or older, breastfeeding or had breastfed in the past 12 months. Participants were recruited from various community and health centres, and through advertising in newspapers. Simple descriptive statistics were used to summarise the demographic profile and attitudes of respondents, using the SPSS statistical software.
A total of 304 questionnaires from eligible participants were returned (27.2% response rate) and analysed. Amongst the respondents, 59.9% took at least one herb for medicinal purposes during breastfeeding, whilst 24.3% reported the use of at least one herb to increase breast milk supply. Most commonly used herbs were fenugreek (18.4%), ginger (11.8%), dong quai (7.9%), chamomile (7.2%), garlic (6.6%) and blessed thistle (5.9%). The majority of participants (70.1%) believed that there was a lack of information resources, whilst 43.4% perceived herbal medicines to be safer than conventional medicines. Only 28.6% of users notified their doctor of their decision to use herbal medicine(s) during breastfeeding; 71.6% had previously refused or avoided conventional medicine treatments due to concerns regarding safety of their breastfed infants.
The use of herbal medicines is common amongst breastfeeding women, while information supporting their safety and efficacy is lacking. This study has demonstrated the need for further research into commonly used herbal medicines. Evidence-based information should be available to breastfeeding women who wish to consider use of all medicines, including complementary medicines, to avoid unnecessary cessation of breastfeeding or compromising of pharmacotherapy.