Updated: Mar 10, 2020
With all the advice and information that supports breastfeeding, there is one thing that's not talked about often enough...the reality of how stressful breastfeeding can be. This is true at some point for practically every woman that has ever breastfed a child. Estimates say that 60% of mothers don't breastfeed as long as they intend. Being stressed or worried about the amount of breastmilk baby is getting is one of the biggest concerns for nursing mothers.
Except for pumping and bottle feeding, it isn't very easy for a mother to assess how much milk their baby is taking in. Paying attention to your baby’s cues, keeping track of soiled diapers, and healthy growth are the signals nursing mothers use. But what happens when there's a real concern that baby isn't getting the breastmilk they need? Mom is likely to wonder if she’s producing enough milk and what can be done to increase her supply.
The Mysteries of Milk Supply Unveiled
At some point early in your pregnancy (usually around the third month) your body begins preparing to produce milk for your baby. The process is one that shows just how miraculous a mother’s body is. Once your baby is born, hormones go into overdrive. One of the hormones that are most important for breastfeeding is prolactin.
After birth, there is a surge in prolactin that cues the mother’s body to increase milk production. As your baby nurses, prolactin levels increase, even more, ensuring that your body produces what your baby needs. This natural biological response between mother and baby is one of the reasons many lactation experts recommend on-demand nursing.
As perfectly as nature has designed our bodies, things don’t always go as planned. Anything that disrupts the production of prolactin can affect milk supply. This can include anything from a sleepy feeder, latch issues, stress, medications, routine, diet, supplementation, and health or physiological problems with mom.
Sometimes the remedies to increase milk supply are more complicated, and in these instances, it's always best to speak with your medical care provider or a lactation consultation for advice. Other times, increasing your supply, and reducing the stress of breastfeeding, is as simple as making a few adjustments to your diet and lifestyle. For many nursing mothers, increasing their intake of galactagogues is enough to boost their supply and get the milk flowing again.
What are Galactagogues and Why Do I Need Them?
A galactagogue is a substance, whether food, herb or medication, that works to increase milk supply in nursing mothers. Galactagogues work by stimulating the production of prolactin. Depending on the type of galactagogue, they work to achieve this in different ways.
Pharmaceutical galactagogues are medications your doctor can prescribe to enhance milk production. Pharmaceutical galactagogues are often medications that have a primary indication other than increasing milk supply; however, their benefit for lactation is listed as a notable "side effect".
Some medical professionals will suggest you try non-pharmaceutical options first, while others will prescribe a pharmaceutical galactagogue as the first line of treatment due to their relatively quick effectiveness. Before taking a pharmaceutical galactagogue, it's essential to assess whether your low supply is the cause of some external factor that requires another remedy – for example, a tongue-tie or poor latch.
Here’s a list of the most commonly prescribed pharmaceutical galactagogues. Keep in mind that you should discuss the risk/benefit profile of any medication for increasing milk supply with your medical care provider.
Metoclopramide: Commonly prescribed under the brand name Reglan, this medication is used to treat GERD and GI problems. It has been shown to increase milk supply, as well as stimulate lactation in women who are not pregnant or currently lactating by increasing serum prolactin. A metanalysis of metoclopramide showed no increase in milk production over the placebo until the medication is taken for three consecutive weeks.
Antipsychotic Medications: Two antipsychotic medications, risperidone, and chlorpromazine are in exceptional circumstances prescribed as a galactagogue. Both of these medications can have somewhat severe side effects, and caution should be exercised before taking these medications for the singular purpose of increasing milk supply. If one of these medications comes up in a discussion, research your options carefully and get a second opinion to weigh the risk/benefits.
Other Galactagogue Pharmaceuticals.There are other pharmaceuticals that women in other parts of the world take to increase milk supply. Not all of these medications are approved for use in the United States. Drugs such as domperidone haven't gone through enough testing to be legal in the United States; however, they have shown to produce fewer side effects than some other medications.
With something as natural as breastfeeding, it’s no surprise that mother nature often provides much of what we need. Herbal galactagogues are plants that stimulate prolactin production and are usually available in the form of supplements or teas. A few words of advice here. Do your research and speak with a qualified professional as to whether a supplement is safe for you and baby. Just because something is natural, doesn't automatically mean it's safe.
Second, quality and purity are essential. When choosing an herbal galactagogue, purchase only from reputable companies that are known for their commitment to quality and purity. Some herbal galactagogues can even be grown in your own back yard. Popular herbal galactagogues include:
Finally, the foods you eat to nourish your body can also help you produce more milk for the baby. Before getting into the list of galactagogue foods, I want to take just a minute to discuss the importance of nutrition while breastfeeding. Nursing mothers need to ensure they’re consuming enough calories per day (about 500 more than your regular suggested intake), and that each of those calories is nutritionally dense enough to support her hard-working body.
Maybe you’ve heard about lactation cookies or special teas. These are wonderful ways to treat yourself while giving your body what it needs to nourish your baby. However, a diet that incorporates many food sources of galactagogues will be most effective at boosting milk supply. Here are a few examples of food sources of galactagogues.
Dark, leafy greens
Beta carotene-rich vegetables, such as carrots, yams, and beets
Will Galactagogues Really Help Increase Milk Supply?
Galactagogues can be useful in increasing your milk supply, and some have been used for centuries for that very purpose. However, galactagogues work best when they're not a stand-alone remedy. If you’re having trouble with low supply, make sure you’re taking care of yourself in every way possible.
Get as much rest as you can (not always easy with a little one, I know), stay hydrated, eat a nutritious diet, work on reducing stress, talk to someone about depression or anxiety, feed on demand, and give that precious baby of yours tons of skin to skin contact. Finally, speak with a medical professional or your lactation consultant about solutions. Breastfeeding can be challenging, but you don’t have to go it alone. Reach out and get the support you need and deserve. Join our Luscious Letdown support group on Facebook to connect with the support and community you need.
Facts. (2019, December 28). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/facts.html
Galactagogues - Boosting Milk Supply and Production. (2019, October 14). Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/breastfeeding/galactagogues-boosting-your-milk-supply/
Metoclopramide use while Breastfeeding. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/breastfeeding/metoclopramide.html