What is a Galctagogue?

A galactagogue, or lactogenic, is a herb or other substance, such as a prescription medication (or even a food or beverage) that is used to help increase breast milk supply, and even improve the let-down reflex, in nursing women, and the decision to add herbal supplements into your daily lactation routine is a very personal one. For some women, herbs are a feasible option when hoping to encourage a swifter increase in breast milk supply, and, after a bit of deliberation, others may decide that herbs are not really right for them. There is currently a lactation product on the market that claims to be a “miracle in a bottle”, which is misleading to women who long to lactate. While it would be wonderful to have access to such a product, there is simply no miraculous or magical means of making more breast milk, and herbal supplements hold very stark realities. While they can aid in the lactation process, they will not simply make milk for you. Herbs and other lactogenic food sources simply help the process along, and taking them will require you to continue the use of applicable lactation techniques, such as suckling, hand expression, pumping, and TENS stimulation, and some women find that these methods remain more effective than taking supplements.

That is not to say that there is no success to be found from including lactogenic herbs (and nature’s other finest super foods, which I myself use with fantastic results) in your lactation routine. There is, and many women have achieved wonderful results from the incorporation of herbs. Opinions and results vary greatly, of course, and it’s very important to remember that not every woman will respond to herbal supplements in the same way, or in the same length of time.

Before deciding if a particular galactagogue or other lactogenic is right for you, let’s discuss what is already known about every herb.

  1. Herbs may be carefully packaged and stamped as “organically certified”, but they are not FDA approved or regulated, and while they may have been prepared in a FDA-registered facility, this does not mean that they are FDA-certified.
  2.  Even though they are natural, herbs should be used with caution, as you can suffer allergic reactions upon consumption, and even “overdoes” if they are not consumed properly.
  3.  Herbs do have side effect warnings.
  4.  Herbs can negatively affect prescription medications, as they do carry drug interaction warnings with them.
  5.  Many herbs are not recommended for women who are pregnant or currently nursing.
  6.  Herbal supplements can pass through breast milk, which means that your partner will be taking them, too.
  7.  It is important that you always check with a health care professional prior to beginning any herbal regimen.

 

The FDA does play some role in the production, marketing, and sale of all herbs, but they handle them as a food rather than as a medication, so their medicinal effectiveness is not proven or guaranteed to consumers.

While “fresh is usually best”, when it comes to choosing a herbal galactagogue, it is better to opt for a dried root, leaf, flower, or seed, particularly if you will be using them as a tea or infusion. The process of drying fresh herbs locks in their medicinal, nutritive, and lactogenic properties, which leads to their effectiveness as galactagogues.

If you have been taking a herbal galactagogue for several weeks without achieving noticeable results in your milk supply, you might want to check your supplements for freshness. Dried herbs have very good color and distinct aromas. If the color of your herb seems dull or “faded”, or has lost a lot of its color and smell, it is probably old, and old herbs lose their effectiveness. Try replacing it with a new supply, and see if you notice an improvement

Over time, and with repeated use, our bodies begin to adapt to new routines, and naturally build a tolerance for, or even a resistance to, certain medications; herbal supplements are no exception to this, and may attribute to a certain galactagogue’s seemingly ineffective properties. If you have been using a lactogenic herb for several weeks without noticing results, your body may have built up an immunity to it. Try switching to a different lactogenic source, or combining a variety of galactagogues, to see if this helps.

Storing dried herbs in a glass airtight container with a well-fitting lid is the best way to preserve freshness, flavor, and nutritive properties. Placing them in a cool, dark, dry place will keep them fresh for a minimum of 18 months.

Please note that the herbs listed on Bountiful Fruits are often used to aid in many health issues (ranging from diabetes and heart disease to digestive problems and kidney disorders), so I will not be focusing solely on their lactation properties, and because there are drug interaction warnings associated with these herbs, and the list is fairly extensive and not all-inclusive, I have used terms such as “some” and “several” as a generalization; you will need to check with your physician to ensure that a particular herb is right for you. If you are currently taking a prescription medication that is not listed beneath each medication interaction heading, it is recommended that you speak with a qualified health care professional to be sure that combining your medication with a galactagogue is safe for you. Although some herbs are commonly listed here, and in other herbal resources, as being safe for pregnant women, always use your own judgment when taking a herbal supplement, as many are estrogenic and highly hormonal, particularly if you are at a risk for miscarriage.

Special thanks to Holly S., RN, certified herbalist Elaine R., and Rebecca D., IBCLC, for all of their valuable advice and assistance during the writing of this article.