Thursday's Tip: What is a galactogogue & why might a breastfeeding mother use one?

By LLLC Blog, 10 March, 2016

A galactogogue is not a character from a science fiction movie but what we know about them comes from scientific research. Galactogogues are substances which promote lactation; they can be plant-based or man-made. A galactogogue may be considered by breastfeeding mother or her health care professional when there is a low milk supply issue that has not been resolved by ensuring that mum is breastfeeding frequently and baby has an effective latch. It would be a waste to try increasing milk supply with a galactogogue if any issues on the physical side of the breastfeeding relationship haven’t been addressed first. There is more information from LLLC about increasing your milk supply HERE and an interesting article by Tipper Gallagher, IBCLC about why she doesn’t recommend galactogogues HERE.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s protocol on the clinical use of galactogogues states: “Prior to the use of a galactogogue, thorough evaluation should be performed of the entire feeding process by a lactation expert. Reassurance may be offered, if appropriate. When intervention is indicated for the dyad, modifiable factors should be addressed: comfort and relaxation for the mother, frequency and thoroughness of milk removal, and underlying medical conditions. Medication should never replace evaluation and counseling on modifiable factors.”

Pharmaceutical Galactogogues

Domperidone (Motilium™) is generally used for disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and has, as a side effect, the increase of milk production, probably by increasing prolactin production by the pituitary gland. Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates the cells in the mother's breast to produce milk. More information about the Canadian regulations regarding Domperidone can be found HERE. There are drugs in the anti-psychotic family which may increase lactation through their effects on the production of prolactin but they are unlikely to be used for the average breastfeeding mother due to their other effects on the body.

Metoclopramide (Maxeran™, Reglan™), is also known to increase milk production, but it also has frequent side effects which have made its use for breastfeeding mothers unacceptable (fatigue, irritability, depression).

Herbal Galactogogues

There has been little scientific research into plant based galactogogues however many have long histories of use in different cultures. Often herbal galactogogues are consumed as teas. The doses are not standardized and there is little scientific evidence to show if or how they work. Herbs can be as powerful and have as many side effects as manufactured drugs. Discuss any new medication or herb with your health care professional before starting it. La Leche League Canada Leaders or the Motherrisk program at the SickKids Hospital can look up herbal or manufactured medications and share with you information about the potential side effects prior to a discussion with your health care provider.

Fenugreek is the most commonly used herbal galactogogue. Its reputation is widespread however its efficacy has not yet been confirmed through scientific studies.

Foods considered to be Galactogogues

Every culture has foods that are promoted as galactogogues. There is no strong scientific evidence for any of them however good nutrition will make mum feel better and support milk production. Some of the common foods which are considered galactogogues are:

  • • Whole grains, especially oatmeal
  • • Dark, leafy greens (alfalfa, kale, spinach, broccoli)
  • • Fennel
  • • Garlic
  • • Chickpeas
  • • Nuts and seeds, especially almonds
  • • Ginger
  • • Papaya
  • • Spices like cumin seeds, anise seeds, fennel seeds, turmeric

Pharmacist Frank Nice and his wife, Myung Hee, have put together more than 200 recipes featuring foods considered as galactogogues in “The Galactogogue Recipe Book”. Dr. Nice includes dosage, uses, and cautions about each of the galactogogues.

If you have questions about your milk supply, or other breastfeeding challenges, and before you try a galactogogue please contact your local La Leche League Canada Leader.

With the exception of links to LLLC and LLLI information, the provision of links within our blog posts does not indicate La Leche League Canada's endorsement of the linked content or any other information that may be found on these sites.

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