I am a nursing mom! I recently went to New Orleans and left behind my 10 month old baby girl. I knew that the 48 hours we were going to be apart could affect my breast milk supply, even though I would be pumping when I could while I was away. When I got home a few days later, my supply had not only decreased, but my daughter’s demand had increased. I felt devastated that I couldn’t meet her needs and started to supplement with my pumped milk from New Orleans. I knew that I had to act fast and support my supply. I nursed on demand as usual but that wasn’t enough for a hungry frustrated baby.
(Pictured Above- my arsenal of galactagogues before I started my research! Gooey stuff is corn gruel.)
Rainbow baby is my fourth baby to nurse and I already knew about a few things that could help my milk supply. I had used fenugreek in the past and had imbibed a few beers along the way to stimulate a larger supply, but I had never had it dip this low before. I was very worried. My midwife suggested corn gruel so I started eating that four times a day. My best friend’s dad, a natural nutritionist, suggested an oatmeal stout (dark beer). I started taking an herbal supplement from Mountain Meadow Herbs called Maxi Milk in my water and continued to take my ReMag Magnesium, also in my water, and was drinking about 80-100 oz of water daily. (I refilled my water bottle 4-5 times which equals about that many ozs).
At the end of the day, my milk definitely came back, and Rainbow Baby’s diapers are now, wetter than ever. However, all the stress and worry and late night google searches made me doubt the effectiveness of my course of action when I was feeling so helpless and guilty for having left her in the first place. Why aren’t there more resources for the effectiveness of galactagogues (herbs, hormones etc that stimulate milk production)? There are a lot of websites and blogs and even doctors that throw doubt on whether or not they work and there is more research done on increasing bovine milk supply than human supply. We deserve to have resources and extensive lists of all of our options to naturally help us give our baby her best shot. So I started researching the science behind galactagogues and this is what I found.
A galactagogue is a substance that stimulates milk production in mammals. There are many substances that are suggested to be galactagogues but there is also a lot of doubt on whether or not they work and the scientific evidence to back it up is a pain in the ass to find on the internet. Galactagogues do work in their ability to increase milk production through phytoestrogenic properties, oxytocin stimulation and prolactin stimulation. (Prolactin is named because it is the hormone responsible for lactation.)
Beer is often touted as a way to increase lactation and that is because it is generally made from Barley, Hops and sometimes oats which are high in beta glucan which in turn stimulates the production of prolactin. However, most beers made today are not made in the traditional way, and since alcohol can decrease milk production, quality of the beer is very important. I would suggest, based on my research and recommendations given to me, an imported beer such as Guinness or an oatmeal stout such as I drink, Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout (however, in lieu of Samuel Smith I also drink an oatmeal stout by alocal Michigan brewer called the Poet). Generally through the brewing process the beta glucans can diminish but in the production of stouts some grains are added in toward the end which adds to their silky flavor and texture also retaining a higher beta glucan level than many other beers. Hops are not generally indicated because of their sedative affect in comparison to Barley and Oats and are also known to reduce sex drive.
Beta glucan, found in the stout variety of beer aforementioned is a fiber and polysaccharide that is found most often in cereal grains, bacteria, and fungi like mushrooms (Shiitake and oyster varieties being highest) that is directly related to an increase in prolactin levels. Brewer’s yeast, a lactogenic ingredient suggested in lactation cookies, is a variety of fungi and super high in beta glucan as well. Hilary Jacobsen, a respected and highly knowledgeable lactation consultant notes that in Switzerland, new mothers are gifted malt, which is a more easily digested and very nutritious version of barley. Gruels and porridges are a precursor to beer and may even be the original galactogogue as they are full of nutrition and minerals in addition to a high beta glucan content. It must be noted that steel cut oats will have the highest effect over any processed version of and though not directly linked to lactation, Oatmeal Kissel could be an amazing addition to increase lactation and overall health of mom. I mean, you did just create a human being!
There is much less research on herbal galactogogues than the effect of beer and grains on lactation but there is sufficient evidence in our past and present to outweigh the lack of scientific interest in this subject in favor of bovine lactation.
Sheila Kingsbury, another knowledgable lactation consultant, wrote a very informative article called “Herbs for Lactation”. This is an invaluable resource on the categories that different herbs fall into ie, Digestives, Oxytocics, Nutritives and Nervines and relates them to the bigger picture as to why they are effective in promoting lactation. Prolactin and Oxytocin go hand in hand in milk production and most galactagogues stimulate wither one or the other. For more on their roles without the use of galactagogues, click HERE!
Fenugreek is likely the most popular herb recommended and highly effective for many, although not for everyone. One theory on the efficacy of Fenugreek is that it stimulates sweat glands which is similar to mammary glands pointing to its possible effectiveness on them. Fenugreek also contains phytoestrogens as do some of the other herbal galactagogues which are said to work like estrogen in increasing supply; however there is little research, sadly, on how it actually works and contradictory information on the effect of phytoestrogen on the reduction of lactation. My best guess is moderation being the key. Other lactogenic herbs have different properties as categorized and listed here.
Oxytocics are fenugreek, goat’s rue, and blessed thistle and work to help lift the mood and promote the production of oxytocin which works hand in hand with prolactin in milk production.
Nutritives are Oats and Marshmallow which help make higher quality milk and have a high mineral content.
Nervines are lemon balm, oats and hops which help support the nervous system.
Digestives are fennel, anise, caraway, hops, milk thistle, and are also helpful in relieving colic in the nursing infant. It’s a 2 for 1! Fennel is indicated as assisting with the letdown reflex and also may displace dopamine receptors that can inhibit prolactin
There really is a lot of information to support the used of all of these galactogogues either used alone or in support of one another. Herbs and Lactation includes Kingsbury’s dosing recommendations for the lactogenic herbs aforementioned. So the next time someone tells you that the evidence is all anecdotal, send them my way!
For a more extensive list of lactogenic herbs compiled by Jacobsen, click HERE!
“Beta-Glucan”. En.wikipedia.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
“A Boiled-Down History of Porridge and Gruel in 7 Facts.” Mental Floss. N.p., 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.
“Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals.” Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. SESSION 2, The physiological basis of breastfeeding. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148970/
“Fermented Oat Kissel – Beets ‘N Bones”. Beets ‘n Bones. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Frisbie, Danelle. “Lactation Cookies: Increasing Milk Supply”. Drmomma.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Foong, Wei Cheng et al. “Oral Galactagogues For Increasing Breast-Milk Production In Mothers Of Non-Hospitalised Term Infants”. Wiley Online. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Jacobson, Hilary. “Beer And Breastfeeding – A Brief History – Beer And Breastfeeding”. Beer and Breastfeeding. N.p., 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.
Kingsbury, Sheila. “Herbs For Lactation”. American Herbalists Guild. N.p., 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.
Taylor, Cheryl. “Mother’s Milk, How To Increase Your Supply”. Drjaygordon.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.