Natural Galactagogues: Foods & Herbs to Boost Your Breast Milk Supply
First of all, what is a galactagogue?
A galactagogue is any substance used to promote breast milk production. The word itself comes from the Greek roots, "galacta" meaning milk, and "agogue" meaning something that leads to something else. As in: galactagogues lead to milk. Makes sense, right? Not all galactagogues are natural and can be found in pharmaceutical forms. However, many moms choose to avoid synthetic substances and prefer galactagogues that are naturally occurring and readily available.
Lots of common foods and herbs have lactogenic (milk-making) properties. You may have gotten seemingly unconventional breastfeeding advice from friends and family like drink fennel tea, eat oatmeal, or even drink a beer.1 These suggestions are actually based on a long history of traditional methods used to support breastfeeding. Fennel, oats, barley, and brewer's yeast are all natural galactagogues. Learn more about these and other foods and herbs used (for centuries!) to help increase breast milk supply right here.
What are some herbal galactagogues?
Fenugreek is an herb that has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years – and is often found in Indian and Asian dishes like curry. It is the most popular herbal remedy for increasing breast milk supply and continues to be recommended by lactation consultants.2 While studies are inconclusive on how effective fenugreek is, many breastfeeding mothers and lactation experts claim to have positive results from including it in their breastfeeding practices. Some studies suggest that fenugreek's effect on insulin and oxytocin (an essential hormone for breastfeeding) are major factors in its milk-stimulating abilities.3
Moringa, also called "The Miracle Tree" in some cultures, is a plant native to South Asia and parts of Africa. Like fenugreek, it's been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments. Moringa is rich in nutrients traditionally known to support lactation and it can increase prolactin, the main hormone associated with breastfeeding.4
Fennel seeds contain phytoestrogens – plant compounds that act similarly to estrogen in the body.5 Some studies also suggest fennel may increase prolactin.6 It also contains high concentrations of B vitamins, iron, and copper which may help combat postpartum hair loss. Fennel supplements and teas are popular with breastfeeding parents, and the fennel plant can add a delicious flavor to soups and other dishes.
Blessed Thistle is a traditional galactagogue native to the Mediterranean. Blessed Thistle is believed to increase prolactin and oxytocin, the two most important hormones for milk production.
Goat's Rue belongs to the same family as fenugreek. Goat's Rue has a direct impact on insulin regulation and could be a factor in its lactogenic properties. Additionally, Goat's Rue is thought to help promote breast tissue growth and with that, milk storage capacity.
Garlic is a culinary favorite that also happens to be highly nutritious, and a purported galactagogue. It has also been proven to help prevent the common cold7, reduce blood pressure8, and improve cholesterol.9
Other popular herbal galactagogues include shatavari, basil, ginger, dill, coriander, cumin, anise, milk thistle, nettle, and red raspberry leaf.10
What foods are natural galactagogues?
Oats are high in fiber, magnesium, zinc, and iron, which are a great nutritional boost for breastfeeding. Iron deficiency has also been linked to insufficient milk supply.11
Like several of the foods and herbs on this list, flaxseed contains phytoestrogens that mimic estrogen in the body and promote prolactin production, which may help increase breast milk.12 It also contains omega-3 fatty acids that may work to increase DHA, an essential building block to support baby's brain and nervous system development.13
Brewer's Yeast is another galactagogue that's long been used as a health supplement. It's high in protein and contains vitamin B, chromium, and beta-glucan which could all have some effect on breast milk production.16
Almonds are a nutritional powerhouse. They're rich in healthy protein and calcium, along with iron, zinc, and magnesium. They're also a high-calorie food, perfect for lactating people that are burning lots of energy from feeding.
Alfalfa sprouts are high in essential vitamins and minerals, and you guessed it, contain phytoestrogens that may affect milk production and breast tissue.17 Alfalfa also contains vitamins B1, B6, and zinc, which can help with the hair loss and excessive shedding that commonly occurs with breastfeeding.
Hydration is a key factor to breastfeeding. Coconut water has been compared to sports drinks when it comes to hydration and replenishing electrolytes – but without the added sugar.
Other foods that are considered galactagogues include spinach, chickpeas, papaya, beets, seaweed, and asparagus.10
When should you use galactagogues?
Galactagogues can be a helpful addition to your breastfeeding journey if you want to support your breast milk supply, but they should not be considered a treatment for low breast milk production. If you are struggling with your milk production, the best course of action is to contact your doctor. They can make recommendations, refer you to lactation experts, and advise you on any questions you may have. Galactagogues don't necessarily work on their own, so it's important to use them in combination with other methods like increased feeding and pumping. Many galactagogues are safe to consume and have nutritional value beyond helping to boost breast milk, so you can add them to your diet even if you aren't struggling with low milk supply. However, some galactagogues can interact with medications or cause allergic reactions. It's important to talk with your doctor to determine whether a galactagogue is safe for you.
- B Koletzko, F Lehner. Beer and Breastfeeding. 2000. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11065057/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Schaffir, Jonathan, and Czapla, Cheryl. Survey of Lactation Instructors on Folk Traditions in Breastfeeding. 3 August 2012. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/bfm.2011.0054 Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Thomas Sevrin, Clair-Yves Boquien, Alexis Gandon, Isabelle Grit, Pierre de Coppet, Dominique Darmaun, and Marie-Cécile Alexandre-Gouabau. Fenugreek Stimulates the Expression of Genes Involved in Milk Synthesis and Milk Flow through Modulation of Insulin/GH/IGF-1 Axis and Oxytocin Secretion. 11 October 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7602737/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Siraphat Fungtammasan, Vorapong Phupong. The effect of Moringa oleifera capsule in increasing breast milk volume in early postpartum patients: A double-blind, randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynocology and Reproductive Biology. December 2022. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590161322000321#bib2 Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Fennel. Last revision 15 March 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501793/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Mahboubi, Mohaddese. Foeniculum vulgare as Valuable Plant in Management of Women’s Health. Journal of Menopausal Medicine. 25 April 2019. https://e-jmm.org/DOIx.php?id=10.6118/jmm.2019.25.1.1 Accessed 20 June 2023.
- P Josling. Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. 18 August 2001. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11697022/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Rizwan Ashraf , Rafeeq Alam Khan, Imran Ashraf, Absar A Qureshi. Effects of Allium sativum (garlic) on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension. 26 September 2013. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24035939/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- C Silagy, A Neil. Garlic as a lipid lowering agent--a meta-analysis. 28 February 1994. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8169881/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Nice, Frank J., Francell, Mary. Selection and Use of Galactagogues. La Leche League International. 26 June 2020. https://llli.org/selection-and-use-of-galactagogues-2/ Accessed 18 July 2023.
- S J Henly, C M Anderson, M D Avery, S G Hills-Bonczyk, S Potter, L J Duckett. Anemia and insufficient milk in first-time mothers. 22 June 1995. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7779228/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- A.A. Troina, M.S. Figueiredo, M.C.F. Passos, A.M. Reis, E. Oliveira, P.C. Lisboa, E.G. Moura. Flaxseed bioactive compounds change milk, hormonal and biochemical parameters of dams and offspring during lactation. July 2012. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512003249 Accessed 18 July 2023.
- Charles R Harper 1, Megan J Edwards, Andrew P DeFilippis, Terry A Jacobson. Flaxseed oil increases the plasma concentrations of cardioprotective (n-3) fatty acids in humans. January 2006. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16365063/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Barley. Drugs and Lactation Database. Last revision 19 September 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501827/ Accessed 18 July 2023.
- Aleksandra Wesolowska, Bronislawa Pietrzak, Bozena Kociszewska-Najman, Miroslaw Wielgos, Krzysztof Czajkowski, Ewa Wietrak, Katarzyna Karzel, Maria K Borszewska-Kornacka. Barley malt-based composition as a galactagogue - a randomized, controlled trial in preterm mothers. 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33751522/ Accessed 20 June 2023.
- Lili Lily Jia, Louise Brough, Janet Louise Weber. Saccharomyces cerevisiae Yeast-Based Supplementation as a Galactagogue in Breastfeeding Women? A Review of Evidence from Animal and Human Studies. 25 February 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33668808/ Accessed 18 July 2023.
- Siew Cheng Foong, May Loong Tan, Wai Cheng Foong, Lisa A Marasco, Jacqueline J Ho, and Joo Howe Ong. Oral galactagogues (natural therapies or drugs) for increasing breast milk production in mothers of non‐hospitalised term infants. 18 May 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7388198/ Accessed 18 July 2023.