Galactogogues. As a breastfeeding parent, you probably have heard of the word before and how they can increase your supply, but you may be wondering- what exactly are they? How do they work? Are they safe to use? Which ones should I take? Let’s break it down.
Galactogogues are substances that may help stimulate milk production (Fun fact: the word traces back to Greek, with “galacta” meaning milk, and “agogue” meaning stimulating substance). They are often referred to as “lactation supplements” or “milk boosters.” While many mothers panic and buy expensive supplements at the first sign of low supply, galactogogues should be considered as a last resort, and under the guidance of a lactation consultant who knows your medical history, when other interventions do not help.
**Important Note: herbal/natural does not equal risk-free! There may be side effects or contraindications with other health conditions.**
Most galactogogues are herbal preparations that have been used for centuries, all around the world in many cultures. Fenugreek is the most widely known and most commonly used, but other commonly used herbs include goat’s rue, blessed thistle, moringa and star anise, to name a few.
So, what does the research say? Well, most of the evidence for herbs’ effectiveness in increasing milk supply is anecdotal, meaning that the results are self-reported and not empirically tested (making them less verifiable). Scientific evidence is extremely limited, which is at least in part due to the fact that breastfeeding people and infants are typically ineligible to take part in clinical studies or experiments.
Food & Drink
Like with herbs, for centuries, people have used certain foods to boost or stimulate breast milk production. Traditional galactogogue foods vary among cultures, and are typically both nutrient and calorie-dense. More studies need to be done to determine if, why, and how well they work, but it is generally not harmful to incorporate these foods into your diet, as long as you don’t have an allergy history. Best practice, especially while breastfeeding, is to eat a widely varied, well balanced diet of mostly whole, unprocessed foods (meaning vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats) in order to adequately meet your nutritional needs and maintain a healthy milk supply. Some foods thought to increase supply include:
Please make sure to check with your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet!
There are also a few types of synthetic galactogogues on the market. These are specially manufactured medicines by chemists, and require a prescription from your doctor. They work by altering the hormones that control milk production; however, they are not FDA-approved as galactogogues, and are not often prescribed as such in the United States. Some examples include Domperidone, Metformin, and Reglan. FDA approval status may change in the future as more studies are conducted.
Before taking any type of synthetic galactogogues, please consult an IBCLC. You can book an in-person or virtual appointment with us here (100% covered by most insurance!).
Let’s Discuss Milk Supply
“Help! I don’t have enough milk!” This is probably the #1 concern among breastfeeding parents. Perhaps when you look at social media, you see deep freezers filled with milk, or mothers who make it look easy and natural to produce plenty of milk, and wonder why you are struggling. On a very basic level, milk production works on a supply and demand basis, meaning that the more milk is removed from the breast, the more will be made. While that is a simplified statement and individual situations can be far more complex, most breastfeeding parents are physically capable of meeting all of their baby’s caloric needs when feeding in response to their hunger cues and regularly emptying both breasts. If your baby is not satisfied after feedings, or if you are experiencing pain or have nipple damage, meeting with a lactation consultant can be a game changer. All the supplements in the world will not make a difference without discovering and eliminating underlying issues that may be in play. See our video: What To Expect In A Lactation Visit
“Help! My milk supply dropped suddenly!” A sudden reduction in milk supply can often be attributed to a few key factors:
In these cases, the dip in supply is usually temporary and reversible once the contributing factor is identified and resolved.
“Help! Nothing I do will increase my supply!” There are certain maternal factors that can affect a mother’s ability to produce milk and may require additional guidance from a lactation consultant. These include, but are not limited to:
If you’re experiencing low supply, click here to book an in-person or HIPAA secure virtual appointment with us.
Deciding To Use An Herbal galactogogue
Please remember that herbal does not equal risk-free! Herbs are medicine, and not only can have side effects, but some herbs may actually increase the risks associated with certain health issues! There are multiple factors that need to be considered prior to starting any breastfeeding supplement, including you and your baby’s medical history, and current medication use. Speaking with both your healthcare provider and a lactation consultant before starting a galactogogue is highly recommended, in order to get individualized advice for your unique circumstances.
Herbal galactogogues usually are found in the form of capsules or teas that are meant to be consumed daily, or even multiple times a day. However, you cannot expect to see immediate results. It can take days to weeks of consistent use to have any effect on your supply. **Important Note- be cautious when using any type of herbal supplement as they are unregulated, which can result in high variability of ingredients between brands, and even batches!
A word about side effects- Some galactogogues may cause gastrointestinal distress for you and/or your baby, such as gas or an upset stomach. This can go away over time, but may not always resolve completely. If you start taking a galactogogue, pay close attention to your baby’s behavior and diaper output. Some things to watch out for that may indicate GI discomfort in baby include:
If you are taking galactogogues and decide to stop for any reason, we advise you to taper off slowly to reduce the potential for decreasing milk supply.
Think you may need to start taking galactogogues? Book a consultation with one of our International Board Certified Lactation Consultants today!
Common Herbs and Foods Used as Galactogogues. Frank J. Nice, MS, MPA, DPA.
***The information provided on our website is intended solely for general educational and informational purposes only. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician for any questions you may have regarding your or your child’s medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have received in this information.***