29 May Galacto-what? The Lowdown on Milk-Making Foods and Herbs
Taya Griffin | International Board Certifed Lactation Consultant
If you’re a breastfeeding mother, you may have heard Lactation Consultants or natural health practitioners mention, “galactogouges.” It’s a mouthful based on the Greek word for milk (gala or galaktos), covering substances that help increase milk flow in breastfeeding mothers. Galactogouges can be milk making foods, herbs and even medications.
First, a word of caution.
While galactogouges can be very helpful, I caution mothers not to use them as a band aid solution. If low milk supply is an ongoing issue, then the first step should be to speak with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to assess the latch and how the baby transfers milk, and investigate other reasons why milk supply may be low. The IBCLC will help identify whether there are other issues at play such as baby’s oral anatomy, a dysfunctional sucking pattern, or issues with baby’s jaw and neck, among other concerns. They will also look at reasons why mom may not be producing enough milk such as hormonal issues, lack of breast development, breast surgeries, etc.
That said, galactogouges can be extremely helpful for boosting supply during a growth spurt, in the late afternoon in anticipation of cluster feeding, or in cases where milk supply has been compromised.
In my Toronto-based practice, I am fortunate to serve a diverse range of clients. And each culture has their own amazing recommendation for milk-making foods. Many of my Chinese clients consume a fish and papaya soup broth that they find very helpful. My Peruvian clients swear by eating quinoa and drinking the water that they boil that quinoa in. My Indian clients will often consume fenugreek seed, fenugreek leaf and fennel tea. All of these foods nourish mother so that she can take care of herself and her baby in the postpartum period at the same time as boosting milk supply. Breastfeeding mothers require an additional 500 calories per day and adding highly nutritious foods, especially protein, and lots of water can be helpful to a mother’s supply.
Anecdotally, when mothers consume a bowl of oatmeal, they report that they can pump more or their baby feeds more effectively at the breast. It may be that oatmeal helps increase supply as it’s a good source of iron. It may also help lower cholesterol, similar to the herbs that have been shown to increase supply, which may also contribute to increased milk. And oatmeal is also an incredibly nutritious and satisfying meal.
Brewer’s Yeast is the reason why a dark beer is recommended to help increase supply! It’s high in protein, iron and B vitamins that help to combat fatigue and other challenges that come with having a new baby. B vitamins can also help improve symptoms of depression so mood may be positively impacted as well. Brewer’s Yeast can be purchased in capsule or powder format.
Flax seeds, like sesame seeds, contain phytoestrogens that may influence breast milk production. Adding flax seeds to the diet may also reduce cholesterol levels and improve digestive health. They’re very high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are helpful for a mother’s physical and mental well being.
Even though they’re natural, it’s important to consult a doctor or naturopath before consuming milk-making herbs to consider allergies and chronic illness. It’s also crucial to remember that if you start to feel unwell or notice any unpleasant side effects, then discontinue consuming the herbs.
Lactation teas contain many of the herbs that are important for milk supply such as blessed thistle and fenugreek (discussed below) as well as red raspberry leaf, stinging nettle, milk thistle, anise, fennel, and caraway, among others. It is key to steep the tea well to reap all the benefits from the herbs.
Herb tinctures or capsules
While teas are an easy way to consume milk-making herbs, the most effective way to naturally increase milk supply is to consume herbs via a tincture or capsule format. The two most common herbs that are recommended for milk supply are fenugreek and blesse thistle. These remedies seem to work best when taken together and can now be found in excellent combination remedies designed specifically for the breastfeeding mother.
While we are not sure of the exact mechanism behind why they increase milk supply, most mothers do experience a boost. Herbs tend to work within 24-48 hours so if they’ve shown no sign of positively affecting the milk supply and improving the breastfeeding experience by then, they can be discontinued.
The oil contained in fenugreek seeds is believed to play a role in boosting supply. While taking Fenugreek at a dose that will affect milk supply, mothers can generally expect to smell like maple syrup. Note that fenugreek is contraindicated if mother has diabetes as this herb can lower blood glucose levels. And caution should also be paid when mothers have an allergy to legumes (peanuts of chickpeas) and the family of herbs.
When mothers take blessed thistle for milk supply, they may also notice an increase in their appetite. This herb is used for digestive problems such as gas, indigestion, and diarrhea but can induce these symptoms when taken in too large amounts. For that reason, it should be avoided if mother suffers from ulcers or serious gastric issues. It may also be best to avoid blessed thistle if mother is allergic to ragweed, daisies, or sunflowers.
Besides blessed thistle and fenugreek, there are other herbs such as goat’s-rue and shatavari that can be extremely helpful for milk flow and supply, so speak to your naturopath or lactation consultant if you find the herbs you are taking are not working for you.
Above all, if you are concerned about your milk supply, the key is to seek out the help of a Lactation Consultant that you trust. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments!