Products to increase breast milk supply: Herbal Galactagogue

By Safiya Momin, RN, IBLC, NP-C Galactogogues are products that assist with initiating, maintaining and increasing milk supply in a lactating mother. There are several herbal galactagogue commonly used all over the world for the purpose to augment milk supply. One of the most widely used is fenugreek. Other herbal products that has been gaining popularity in the developed countries are Shatavari (indian asparagus), Fennel, Goat Rue, Blessed Thistle, Cumin, AlfaAlfa, Brewer’s Yeast, and so on. Foods items that are known to increase milk supply are called the lactogenic foods, which can be incorporated into the mother’s diet, for instance, eating one bowl of hot oatmeal a day (Bonyata, 2011a). Galactogogues, herbal products or prescription medication should be incorporated along with frequent stimulation and/or breast emptying via breastfeeding and/or pumping. Prior to considering to start a galactogogues, consider the following:
  • It is wise to first evaluate if your milk supply is really low. Check out the information on how can I tell I have low milk supply? Most often the decrease in milk supply is usually because of inadequate latching and positioning techniques and introduction of supplementation early on after birth. Herbal galactogogues could be a good start for mothers who experience low milk supply due to early supplementation, delay in milk coming in, beginning work and experience drop in supply, adoptive mother and so on (Bonyata, 2011a).
  • Consult with your health care provider to ensure it is safe to use in case if you are taking any medication or have any health care condition. For instance, fenugreek can lower blood sugar levels and is not a good choice for a diabetic mother (Bharti, Sharma, Gupta, Murari & Kumar, 2012). Similarly, other herbal products may have some drug-to-drug interactions.
  • Consult with a lactation consultant to understand the incorporation of the herbal product along with the plan of care to frequently breastfeeding and/or pumping to augment your milk supply. Proper latching technique is a key in effective breast stimulation and milk transfer to occur.
Example of Herbal Galactogoues: Fenugreek: Fenugreek, which in India is referred as “Methi seeds” is popularly used for many years in India, Middle East and America (Bharti et. al., 2012). There are several studies being conducted on use of fenugreek and its effectiveness in increasing milk supply. Most studies conclude its effect being subjective, not justifying its effectiveness in increasing milk supply (Reader, Legrand, O’Connor-Von, 2013). However, a study published in the “The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” concluded having an increase in milk supply with fenugreek herbal tea. Mothers in the study group who consumed the herbal tea with fenugreek daily had infants with better regain of weight in the first week of life as compared to the control group who didn’t have fenugreek herbal tea (Turkyılmaz, Onal, Hirfanoglu, Turan, Koç, Ergenekon & Atalay, 2011). Thus, there are varying data available on use of fenugreek to increase milk supply.
  • The recommended dose of fenugreek usually is about 1200 to1500 mg three times a day (i.e. 2 tablets of 600mg three times a day). There are also fenugreek seeds readily available in any international focused or indian grocery stores. One can have ½ to 1 teaspoon of fenugreen seeds 3 times a day (can be soaked in water over night). Most mother’s who take fenugreek often know they having adequate dose, when their body fluid (like sweat and urine) smells like maple syrup.
  • Fenugreek is not recommended in mother’s with history of diabetes, asthma or peanut/chickpeas allergy (Bonyata, 2011b). Hence, always consult a Lactation Consultant or your health care provider
  References Bonyata, K. (2011a). What is a galactagogue? Do I need one? Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://kellymom.com/bf/canbreastfeed/herbs/herbal_galactagogue/ Bonyata, K. (2011b). Fenugreek Seed for Increasing Milk Supply. Retrieved April 9, 2015, from http://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/herbs/fenugreek/ Bharti, S.K., Sharma, N. K., Gupta, A. K., Murari, K. & Kumar, A. (2012). Pharmacological actions and potential uses of diverse Galactogogues in Cattle. International Journal Of Pharmacology And Therapeutics, 12(1), retrieved from http://www.earthjournals.org/IJPT_107.pdf Turkyılmaz, C., Onal, E., Hirfanoglu, I. M., Turan, O., Koç, E., Ergenekon, E. Atalay, Y. (2011). The Effect of Galactagogue Herbal Tea on Breast Milk Production and Short-Term Catch-Up of Birth Weight in the First Week of Life. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(2): 139-142. Reader, C., Legrand,A. & O’Connor-Von, S. K. (2013). The Effect of Fenugreek on Milk Production and Prolactin Levels in Mothers of Preterm Infants. Clinical Lactation, 4 (4): 159-165

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