Galactagogues are simply foods, herbs or pharmaceutical drugs that promote the flow of a mother’s milk.
The day after my son was born, the hospital lactation consultant dropped by to tell me that I needed to top up with formula because I wouldn’t be able to make enough milk for him. It sounds brutal and blunt because it was. At the time I didn’t know that all the reasons her “diagnosis” was misguided and unhelpful so I delved into the world of galactagogues to help with low supply. Five months on, and Baba continues to be exclusively breastfed with comfortable weight gain. As an aside, I think it’s wrong to encourage pregnant women to breastfeed and tell them all the benefits but then provide no helpful support when we hit a roadbump (as most people would with any new skill).
Galactagogues are only part of the solution for boosting supply and should always be used alongside the support of a good, experienced lactation professional who can help with latch, technique etc. There’s also great information available from Breastfeeding Inc that can help with a range of breastfeeding issues.
Here is my experience with some of the common galactagogues:
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) seed is probably the most common and oldest documented medicinal herbs and is used for humans and cows throughout the world. Kellymom has summarised the dosage recommendations here. It is usually taken with blessed thistle and the two work well together. My own experience is that it worked well at 7g per day to improve supply but the gastric upset was so severe for both baby and me that we did not continue.
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is often quoted as a galactagogue but in face it will not boost supply but will improve the milk ejection (let down). It’s a sweet tasting tea that helps with gas and digestion and tummy upsets so I’ve continued using it for these purposes rather than to boost supply
- Similar to fennel, caraway is another anti-colic and anti-flatulent herb. It is often combined with other herbs when used as a galactagogue. I’ve enjoyed it with fennel as a tea.
- Moringa (Moringa oleifera)– when I stopped fenugreek, I started taking moringa powder. It’s a good source of vitamins and minerals but more importantly it is well proven to boost milk supply. In my experience, it has been very effective.
- Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum) is usually associated with liver cleansing and gall bladder but it can also be used as a galactagogue. I’ve took this in the initial three weeks as a tincture in combination with Shatavari (Asparagus Racemosus), another popular galagtagogue
- Nettle (Urtica dioica) – I’ve been taking dried nettle throughout pregnancy for its high iron content (and helps improve the body’s ability to use iron) and continued after birth. It is often used in combination with other herbs as a galactagogue. I’m a big fan of nettles and find that there are very few problems that can’t be helped with some nettles. It really is a wonder herb.
- Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is another favourite of mine and was something I was taking when there was new growth on our raspberry stems but as they’ve aged, I haven’t continued. It in itself is not a galactagogue but makes a nutritious and tasty tea and helps with let down.
- Oats can be used as a food for lactating mothers. I’m not convinced of its galactagogue properties but porridge, breads, cookies etc are all good sources of healthy energy. I use oat groats soaked overnight rather than oat flakes to get the nutrition of the whole grain
- And finally I tried taking Brewers Yeast as a powder and in cookies but again, the gastric upset was severe and not worth it.
So to summarise, I initially took milk thistle and shatavari as a tincture for three weeks to get things started. I tried both fenugreek and brewers yeast but found them difficult to digest. Now am taking dried nettle leaf, dried nettle seeds, oats, moringa powder and fennel/caraway as my milk boosting programme. I also take an Omega3 to help with the fat content of the milk and for general health.
On the anti-galactagogues, I’ve avoided ingesting mint and sage as well as using cabbage leaves topically (which is recommended by an astounding number of people).
There can be many reasons for low supply. A good latch and proper drainage are the basis for improving supply. There’s no substitute for proper support from knowledgeable and caring lactation professionals but the herbs can definitely help.