What Are Galactagogues?
What Are Galactagogues?
What are galactagogues? Other than being a really fun word to say once you learn how to properly pronounce it, according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, a galactagogue is defined as “medications or substances used to initiate, maintain or increase milk supply”.1 The word is derived from the Greek “galacta” which means milk, and “ogogue” which means leading to or promoting. Galactagogue - promoting the production of breastmilk. Throughout history, herbs and foods have been used as galactagogues by breastfeeding moms. Since galactagogues are supplements, they are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and very little funding is provided for research. Due to this, the functionality of galactagogues isn’t scientifically proven so there are no conclusive results that galactagogues actually work in increasing breast milk supply. That said, for thousands of years, breastfeeding moms, professionals in their own right, have been sharing their anecdotes for centuries to help support moms in optimizing their milk supply when other measures have been ineffective.
Do I Need a Galactagogue?
Since galactagogues are not regulated by the FDA, it is recommended to first consult with your doctor or a lactation consultant to receive individualized recommendations. One of the most common occurrences when mothers believe they have low milk supply is thinking that simply adding in a galactagogue will support increasing milk supply. There are several things to keep in mind first if you are considering discussing a galactagogue with your healthcare team. First, determine if your milk supply is actually low or if it is perceived to be low? The most common culprits of low supply are:
- Not enough feedings. Since supply is naturally regulated by demand, if there are not enough feedings the body doesn’t get the memo to make more milk.
- Inadequate breast drainage (remember, full breasts don’t make milk!). Breasts need to be completely emptied after feeding. If you are finding that your breasts do not feel fully drained after a feeding, you can consider pumping or hand expressing to support your milk supply. A lactation consultant can assist you in working on your babies latch technique if they are not draining the breast well. If you are pumping
- Mom and baby separation. Whether this is due to work, school or illness, mom and baby being apart can result in a drop in supply both due to a potential decrease in feedings and often suboptimal milk removal from a breast pump (babies will always get more when at the breast vs the pump)
Some additional causes of low milk supply can include: a history of breast/chest surgeries, glandular insufficiency, endocrine concerns such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or hypothyroidism, medications or even retained placenta from the delivery of the baby. These potential causes of low milk supply should be carefully evaluated prior to the use of a galactagogue.
All in all, galactagogues on their own aren’t a magic pill and need to be used in conjunction with understanding the cause of low milk supply and addressing these concerns first.
Types of Galactagogues
If you have carefully weighed the risks and benefits of using a galactagogue to support your milk supply and decided it can be supportive for your breastfeeding journey, here’s some tips to keep in mind about the different types of galactagogues.
With all 3 types of galactagogues the goal is to increase the production of the hormone prolactin to trigger milk production in conjunction with the adjustments to strategies above. Galactagogues can be synthetic, plant-based or endogenous. Here’s a breakdown below:
- Synthetic galactagogues are prescription drugs provided by your doctor. The most popular are Domperidone (Motilium), Metoclopramide (Reglan), and chlorpromazine (Thorazine). These medications may carry side effects for both mother and baby and need to be evaluated carefully for use in breastfeeding difficulties.
- Plant-based galactagogues come in the form of herbs, foods and teas.
- Endogenous galactagogues are self-generated and come from within your own body. By increasing nursing or pumping frequency, endogenous galactagogues kick in and start ramping up breast milk supply. Working on targeting the primary cause of low milk supply will activate these endogenous galactogogues available to you by releasing prolactin.
Common Galactagogues & Uses
Popular galactagogue herbs and spices include:
- Moringa - moringa leaves are a natural galactagogue with a slightly bitter, grass-like flavor and is frequently used as a galactagogue in Asia.2
- Cinnamon - just a dash of cinnamon to sweeten your milk and give it a little extra production nudge.
- Turmeric - considered a powerhouse to stimulate milk production and blood circulation.
- Shatavari- originates from India and is known to support hormones and increase prolactin.3
- Fenugreek - this herb is similar to clover and its leaves are commonly used in cooking. The seeds smell and taste similar to maple syrup. Fenugreek is a very widely used herbal supplement for increasing milk supply however should be evaluated carefully for use as it is contraindicated if you have a history of asthma, chickpea/peanut allergy, diabetes, use blood thinners or are pregnant.3
There are lots of popular plant-based galactagogues available so ensuring you are purchasing from a reputable source is essential. Every brand has different dosing quantities and different indications so it’s important to follow the instructions carefully for each supplement in guidance with your healthcare team.
Popular galactagogue foods include:
- Whole Grains - oats, barley, brown rice, quinoa, millet. Grains contain high amounts of beta glucan which supports prolactin secretion
- Nuts and Seeds - especially almonds, chia seeds, sesame, sunflower seeds and flax seeds, these contain healthy fats
- Dark Leafy Greens - spinach, kale, collard greens provide a source of plant based iron, calcium and phytoestrogens
- Root Veggies - orange root vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and beets are rich in beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A which increases in need during lactation
- Legumes and beans - chickpeas, kidney, black, pinto beans offer a wonderful dose of plant based protein + fiber
- Herbs & Spices: dill, caraway, anise, garlic, pepper, basil, marjoram all can be wonderful additions to your dishes
Since galactagogues happen to be staple ingredients for any healthy diet they can be a safe + delicious way to help you reach you boost your milk supply. While it is always best to focus on maximizing your nutrition from whole, clean foods, busy mom life means that alternative options can be a great addition to your pantry. Boobie Brands Superfoods offers a variety of quick and nutrient dense options packed with super ingredients for every stage of motherhood. Boobie Brands bars, protein powders and superfood snacks are the perfect addition that you can eat one handed and incorporate a blend of lactogenic foods + herbs:
Boobie Bars are powered by 6 premium milk-boosting superfoods making them a comprehensive lactation supplement.
Ingredients - 1480 mg of these super foods:
- Organic Moringa - natural milk producing substance
- Shatavari Root - provides calming properties, enhances reproductive and digestive health and nutrition
- Cinnamon - helps milk flow smoothly and consistently, adds sweetness
- Turmeric - stimulates milk production and blood circulation
- Flaxseed - has estrogenic properties that help you make more milk
- Whole Grain Oats - provides iron needed for breastfeeding
Find your favorite and see all of our Boobie* Superfoods here!
- Breastfeeding Medicine Volume 13, Number 5, 2018 ª Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/bfm.2018.29092.wjb
- Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Moringa. [Updated 2021 Feb 15]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501899/
- Bazzano, A. N., Hofer, R., Thibeau, S., Gillispie, V., Jacobs, M., & Theall, K. P. (2016). A Review of Herbal and Pharmaceutical Galactagogues for Breast-Feeding. The Ochsner journal, 16(4), 511–524.
- "Boobie*." https://www.boobiesuperfoods.com/. Accessed 9 Feb. 2021.