Galactagogue: How To Make More Breast Milk

What is it, when do you need it, and how does it work?

Breast pump shield with plastic bottles containing breast milk and a baby in the background.
A galactagogue may help you to make more breast milk. Jamie Grill/Getty Images

What Is a Galactagogue?

A galactagogue (pronounced gah-lak´tah-gog) is an action, herb, food, or medication that can jump start your production of breast milk or increase the amount of breast milk that you make. The word itself is a combination of the Greek terms "galact-" meaning milk, and "-ogogue" meaning leading to or promoting.

A galactagogue is also known as a galactogogue, lactagogue, or lactogenic.

Do You Need a Galactagogue?

Although many women worry about making enough breast milk, most women will not need to use a galactagogue.  If your baby has a good latch, and you're breastfeeding on demand at least every 2 to 3 hours, you should make enough breast milk for your baby. However, there are some situations when a galactagogue is helpful.

When Is a Galactagogue Helpful? 

You may want to use a galactagogue to try to increase your production of breast milk if: 

Which Actions Can Increase Breast Milk Production?

Your body makes breast milk in response to the stimulation of your breasts by your baby as he nurses, or by a breast pump as you pump your breast milk.

The best galactagogue actions that you can take to increase your supply of breast milk naturally are to make sure that your baby is latching on correctly and to stimulate your breasts more frequently. You can stimulate your breasts more often by breastfeeding your baby at least every 2 to 3 hours around the clock.

You can also use a high-quality electric breast pump to pump your breast milk after or in-between breastfeeding sessions.  If you are exclusively pumping, be sure to pump at least every 2 to 3 hours until your supply of breast milk builds up. 

Which Foods Can Boost the Supply of Breast Milk?

Around the world, there are particular foods that nursing women eat. Some of the foods breastfeeding moms use as galactagogues include oatmeal, barley, green leafy vegetables, garlic, brewer's yeast, and brown rice. When added to a healthy well-balanced breastfeeding diet, these milk-making foods are believed to promote a healthy amount of breast milk. 

Which Herbs Can Increase Breast Milk Supply?

Breastfeeding herbs, such as fenugreek, alfalfa, blessed thistle, milk thistlenettles, fennel and goat's rue, are all used as galactagogues. Whether seeped together into a nursing tea or added to everyday recipes, herbs have been used throughout history to support lactation. 

Which Medications Can Act as Galactagogue?

When necessary, a doctor can prescribe medications to create, or build up a breast milk supply.

Medications are often the last resort after the other options have failed. Prescriptions are most helpful if you'd like to nurse an adopted child, or if you want to start breastfeeding again after you have stopped for a while. They are also useful when you're pumping for a premature or hospitalized infant, and you have a low breast milk supply.  

Reglan (metoclopramide) and Motilium (domperidone) are two common prescription medications given for lactation induction, relactation, and a true low milk supply.  Other medications such as Oxytocin nasal spray, Sulpiride, Thorazine, TRH, and Human Growth Hormone may also have a positive effect on breast milk supply, but they are not as commonly used.  

Important Information About Galactagogues

It's important to point out that galactagogues, on their own, do not work. A galactagogue can help to improve the amount and the flow of the breast milk from your breasts, but if you are not also removing that milk, your body will not respond in the way you expect. To see real results from a galactagogue, you must use it along with frequent breastfeeding or pumping. 

When to Talk to Your Doctor

If you have tried the actions and foods listed above, but you are not able to increase the amount of breast milk that you're making, talk to your doctor.  If you have a true low milk supply, you need to find out the cause and try to correct it.  You also want to be sure that your baby is getting enough breast milk, so take your child to her doctor for regular examinations and weight checks.

It's also important to talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant before trying any medications or herbs. When not used correctly and under the proper supervision, herbs, and prescription drugs can be very dangerous to you and your child.   

 

Sources:

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

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