Galactagogues - what are they and why you might need them

By Johanna Clark , Franjo's Kitchen

The incredible health enhancing properties of food and herbs blew my mind everyday whilst studying my in naturopathy and in fact it still does. I am forever learning.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t acknowledge the gift that real, wholefoods can give each and everyone of us (and I mean this on all levels). Whether it is sharing your grandmothers favourite dessert with her or cooking up an amazing superfood salad. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually food can benefit us all.

As a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist I reminisce on those long days in lectures gaining wisdom. I was like a sponge, I wanted to soak up everything and more. I couldn’t get enough. I was in heaven learning about the medicinal benefits and traditional uses of certain foods and herbs.

This leads me to my herbal medicine classes and the ‘G’ word you are all wishing to learn more about!

As herbalists we use literally hundreds of herbs. I had over 200 liquid herbal extracts in my dispensary when I was practicing. Each and everyone of them have their specific uses. Their own qualities and actions they exert on the body. To make learning them all a tad easier they were grouped in to ‘actions’. Although most herbs have more than one specific action on the body they usually have one or two major actions.

So, we have sedatives, carminatives, stress adaptogenics, immune boostings, anti-bacterial, lymphatic herbs… and the list goes on. When my lecturer said now for the Galactagogue herbs, I was like ‘galacta-what!?’

What is a galactagogue?

The true definition of this Greek word is ‘a substance that promotes lactation in humans and animals. It may be synthetic, plant-derived or endogenous.’

What a pretty neat substance! Herbs and foods that can help breastfeeding woman. I then went on to learn the many herbs and foods, that as naturopathic practitioners, we could use to assist mothers during their breastfeeding years. Whether it was to stimulate and boost production or to generally support them through this very taxing time and ensure that they can produce enough milk for their little ones for as long as they desire.

How is your milk supply doing?

As it is hard to measure your supply, some signs that you may have a low supply could be:

  • An unsatisfied baby and an unsettled baby
  • Low weight gain for the baby
  • A fussy baby

Not every woman has the ability to produce adequate milk. Unfortunately, many women feel like they have failed if they don’t have enough milk and this type of stress can make it even worse. As a community, we need to support and guide each and every mother on their breastfeeding / feeding journey and help them make the most appropriate decisions for them and their little ones

Reasons why your supply might be lagging

  • High stress levels
  • Inadequate rest
  • Dehydration
    • Not enough water
    • Too much caffeine
  • Infrequent feeding (and therefore not enough stimuli for the body to go in to milk production). For the first few months it is important to feed every few hours at least. Even if your baby is sleeping through the night a good idea is to still get up (not what you want to hear) and express.

Galactagogues

These three following foods are very well known galactagogues and have been advocated by midwives, lactations consultants and have been used by mums for hundreds of years. 

Brewers yeast

  • Is naturally high in the energy producing B complex vitamins, which are essential for breaking down carbohydrates, fats and protein for energy production. They also support the nervous system and help maintain digestion. They make your food into fuel
  • Contains the blood sugar balancing nutrient chromium, perfect to help keep you running all day long and free from sugar lows
  • Is packed with the anti-oxidant selenium, imperative to keeping you young
  • Is rich is iron, a very important nutrient commonly deficient in new mums
  • Contains a decent amount of protein so it will naturally assist in supporting natural grown and repair of the body’s cells
  • Has been recommended by midwives and folk health care providers for hundreds of years. It is one of the most traditional galactagogues going around

Oats

  • Are another excellent source of iron. Studies show that low iron levels can decrease a milk supply and adding foods high in iron can drastically increase milk supply in many women
  • Have all the personality of common comfort food. The warmth and relaxing effects of eating oats may encourage a faster let-down, which in turn will build a healthy milk supply
  • Whole oats are among many foods that are shown to lower cholesterol
  • Are full of fibre. Great for your bowels but also it is known that when raising farm animals fibre is often increased in their feed as the most common method to increase milk return
  • Like brewers yeast, breastfeeding mums worldwide have consumed oats for years to help boost their breast milk supply

Flaxseeds

  • These little glossy beauties are rich in the essential fat omega 3. Most nursing mothers are deficient in these good fats as all of their stores are usually sent to the breast milk for their babies
  • Every new mum needs to consume more not only for themselves but also for their babies. Omega 3 fats are essential for the healthy brain development of infants and children
  • Flaxseeds are also high in fibre, protein, magnesium, calcium, zinc and protein – a superb superfood

Some other galactagogues:

  • Fennel seeds
  • Fennel bulb
  • Fenugreek seeds
  • Nettle
  • Dill
  • Green Papaya
  • Asparagus
  • St Mary’s Thistle
  • Goat’s Rue         

 

Depending on your situation and supply levels you may go about introducing galactagogues in a number of ways such as liquid herbal medicines, herbal tablets, herbal teas and food (diet) inclusion. Please always consult a herbal medicine or naturopathic practitioner for nutritional and or herbal supplementation.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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