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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What is a galactagogue? Do I need one?

Galactagogues are substances that can increase milk supply. They can be used to help increase low supply or build a supply for adoptive nursing or re-lactation. But these alone can't increase your supply. The first question to ask is Do you think your supply is low? and Why?

These are important signs that indicate your baby is receiving enough milk:

  • The baby nurses frequently averaging at least 8-12 feedings per 24-hour period.
  • The baby is allowed to determine the length of the feeding, which may be 10 to 20 minutes per breast or longer.
  • Baby's swallowing sounds are audible as he is breastfeeding.
  • The baby should gain at least 4-7 ounces per week after the fourth day of life.
  • The baby will be alert and active, appear healthy, have good color, firm skin, and will be growing in length and head circumference.
If indeed your supply is low, try some of the following:
  • Encourage your baby to breastfeed frequently and for as long as he will.
  • Offer both breasts at each feeding. Allow baby to stay at the first breast as long as he is actively sucking and swallowing. Offer the second breast when baby slows down or stops. "Finish the first breast first," is a good general rule. (This technique gives baby lots of the fatty "hindmilk.")
  • Baby should end the feeding. He may do this by falling asleep and detaching from the breast after about 10 to 30 minutes of active sucking and swallowing.
  • Be sure baby is latched on and positioned correctly at the breast, that is, lips should be on the areola (the darker skin area), well behind the nipple. An LLL Leader can help fine-tune positioning as well as suggest ideas to ease soreness. Breastfeeding isn't supposed to hurt.
  • A sleepy baby may benefit from "switch nursing" that is, switching breasts two or three times during each feeding. Switch breasts when baby's sucking slows down and he swallows less often.
  • All of baby's sucking should be at the breast. Limit or stop pacifier use while encouraging baby to nurse more effectively. If you are supplementing, even temporarily, you can give the supplement by spoon, cup, or with a nursing supplementer. Contact an LLL Leader for assistance in using these.
  • Contact a local LLL leader for information and support.
Here are some further resources on milk supply issues from

That being said, some of the most common herbal galactagogues are fenugreek and blessed thistle. These are available in herbal teas (which are not as easy to control dosage), tinctures and capsules. There are also prescription medications that can increase supply such as domperidone which is approved for nursing mothers by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Some more readily available galactagogues may already be in your kitchen cabinet such as barley, brewer's yeast, hops, nettles and fennel. Oatmeal and beer (please read this information on alcohol and breastfeeding before deciding about the beer) are also galactagogues. Who knew?! Enjoying that bowl of oatmeal for breakfast just got even better, but remember that milk supply is based on supply and demand, so don't forget to nurse nurse nurse!

Happy Nursing!

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