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What is a Galactagogue?

By Deborah Walker
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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A galactagogue is any natural or synthetic substance that increases milk production. Some mothers may not produce enough breast milk to sustain their babies. As a result, they may turn to a prescription or herbal galactagogue. Before using a galactagogue, women should make sure they are eating properly, drinking enough fluids, and nursing frequently. Professionals recommend that a medication or herbal preparation be used as a last resort.

Domperidone and metoclopramide are prescription medications used to increase milk production. Domperidone is not approved for use as a galactagogue in the United States, but it may be used in the United Kingdom and perhaps elswhere. People who take Risperdal, an anti-psychotic, may also experience lactation as a side effect. These medications appear to work with dopamine to create more prolactin. The increased prolactin usually means an increase in breast milk production.

Herbal galactagogues have been used for thousands of years. The most commonly used galactagogue herbs are fenugreek, hops, blessed thistle, and red raspberry leaves. Marshmallow root, or althaea, acts as a support to and improves absorption of herbal galactagogues when taken at the same time.

Fenugreek is a galactagogue that works quite quickly. The usual dosage varies woman to woman. It can be combined with blessed thistle. Fenugreek does lower blood sugar levels, so women with hypoglycemia or diabetes may want to be extra careful when using this herb. Although fenugreek is non-toxic, mother and baby can develop gastrointestinal side effects from high dosages. Fenugreek should not be taken by women who are pregnant.

Hops, used in beer making, is another herb that promotes lactation. A nursing mother may not want to use hops for too long because it is known to cause depression. It may also act as a sedative.

Blessed thistle is said to increase milk supply two to three days after consumption. It can be brewed into a tea, taken as a tincture, or in capsules. Herbalists commonly recommend four cups of tea per day, which could be problematic for some women. To avoid nausea sometimes associated with more than two cups of this tea, it can be taken in tincture form. This herb may be combined with fenugreek and red raspberry leaves.

Combinations of galactagogues, such as Mother's Milk Tea, and others, are available at health food stores, from herbalists, or at the local market. Although the herbs are generally considered safe, nursing women may want to consult with a professional or lactation specialist prior to using a galactagogue. Self-diagnosing and self-treating is not recommended, particularly if the woman is pregnant and nursing another baby at the same time.

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