It is not uncommon for new mothers to wonder if they are making enough milk for their baby. A quick Google search for products to boost your milk will yield an overwhelming amount of options. Do you need these products? Which ones? And do they really work? Galactagogues are any substance that is intended to induce, maintain, and increase the production of breast milk. They can be herbs or pharmaceutical agents. Let’s look into this a little further.
Do galactagogues work? Do I need them?
Yes, there are substances that can help increase your milk production. But by no means is is necessary for you to take these supplements, nor do you need them. The biggest issue I have with these products is they prey on fear. I have found, more often than not, that taking supplements to boost breast milk production can cause an unhealthy obsession with pump output. And, as I’ve said before, pump output is by no means an indicator of milk production. Why? A pump cannot extract milk as effectively as your baby can. While companies do their best to make flanges to fit a multitude of breast sizes the fact remains that they are rigid and do not mold do your breast the way your baby’s mouth does.
One of the galactagogue that I am often asked about is fenugreek. While it is thought to be effective at boosting milk supply, the research just isn’t there to support that. It has not been determined to what extent the pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties are excreted into breast milk. One of the most commonly reported side effects is gastrointestinal disturbances, for both mom and baby. These GI disturbances are not exclusive to fenugreek and can also occur with other herbs. Not to mention it can effect blood sugar levels, blood clotting, and the absorption of some medications. We currently do not recommend taking fenugreek without first speaking with a certified herbalist.
What are some alternatives?
The best way to increase your milk supply is to stimulate your breasts through nursing. For that reason, the best piece of advice I can offer to someone who wants to establish a healthy milk supply is to bring baby to the breast as often as possible. Other options include:
- Skin-to-skin contact when possible.
- Remaining hydrated.
- Not just water, either. Clear liquids and electrolyte drinks can help promote a healthy milk supply.
- Eating enough.
- Your body burns, on average, 500 calories daily from breastfeeding.
- Supplementing, when necessary, with expressed breast milk using a supplemental nursing system (SNS).
- This allows your baby to consume the calories needed while stimulating your breast to produce milk.
- Please note: I said supplement with expressed breast milk not because I have anything against formula, but because in my experience most moms who are trying to boost their milk supply would like to avoid formula. That being said, you can definitely use the SNS with formula and still have the benefit of stimulating your breast while knowing how much your baby is taking from a supplemental feed. Supplementing with an SNS using formula is ideal when you do not have time to pump in addition to nursing (or just don’t feel like pumping).
What foods can promote a healthy supply?
Incorporating some of the following foods into a regular part of your diet may help promote a healthy milk supply:
- Drink a glass each time you sit down to nurse.
- For breakfast or mixed into cookies are two easy ways to eat oatmeal.
- Flax seed
- Also a good source of Omega 3s.
- Can be sprinkled on most foods or ground up if you don’t like the seed-y texture.
- Brewer’s Yeast
- This is the actual reason that many believe a dark beer can help increase their milk supply.
Be aware that consumption of the above foods in excess may cause gastrointestinal issues, such as excessive gassiness. Eating these foods or taking supplements are not substitutes for feeding on demand and ensuring your baby has a good latch.
Eat well and eat enough. Stay hydrated. Nurse on demand and look for signs of satiety in your baby. If you need to supplement, use a SNS so you continue to stimulate your breast to produce milk. Your pumping output is not an indicator of milk production. Try not to stress.
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This article reflects the opinions of Rebecca Tucci, a lactation counselor. It is for informational purposes only and does not take the place of consultation with your physician. The efficacy of the galactagogues mentioned has not been evaluated by the FDA.