A galactagogue, from the Greek “galacta”, meaning milk, is a food, herb or drug that increases the production of breast milk.
If your milk supply is still not increasing despite good positioning and attachment, plenty of skin-to-skin contact, breast compressions, frequent breastfeeds or regular pumping you may wonder whether to try a galactagogue. Before doing so, a consultation with a breastfeeding specialist can be invaluable to help maximise breast milk production.
Herbs have been used to help milk supply for millennia. Many mothers who have taken them felt they helped increase their milk supply.
The quality of herbal products can vary, so it is important to buy them from a reputable source. Herbal preparations can vary in their strength, purity, allergic potential, how they affect blood sugars and insulin resistance and their ability to react with other drugs[i].
Many herbs can have side effects, particularly if taken in medicinal doses, so it’s important to know how they work, what dose to take and whether or not they may be suitable for you. If you are considering taking herbs for milk supply, seek the advice of a qualified practitioner to check in case of any herbs are not compatible with your medical history.
Authors Marasco and West say that it typically takes at least two to five days to notice a difference in milk supply. Some mothers will only need galactagogues for a short time such as a week to a month and once they have a full milk supply can gradually reduce their dose over one to two weeks. Others find galactagogues are helpful in longer-term [ii].
Fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is one of the most popular galactagogues. It is a common middle-eastern spice and one of the oldest medicinal herbs known[iii]. Also found in this supplement from Wild Nutrition
Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is an effective galactagogue, to be used in conjunction with fenugreek [iv].
Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis) belongs to the legume family with alfalfa and fenugreek and is widely used as a galactagogue. Goat’s rue is often suggested for insufficient glandular tissue and breast surgery situations as it is reported to stimulate breast growth. Goat’s rue contains galegin—a herb that the drug metformin was originally developed from. Goat’s rue can be helpful for low milk production related to insulin resistance[vii]
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgar) [ix]
Alfalfa leaf (Medicago sativa) is a very nutritious herb full of minerals, numerous vitamins and essential and non-essential amino acids. Alfalfa is said to be phytoestrogenic and contain thyroid releasing hormones which may be how it stimulates prolactin and milk supply [x]
An extensive list of galactagogue food and herbs includes: chaste tree fruit, dandelion, lemon balm, almonds, anise, asparagus, barley, basil, beets, borage, caraway, carrots, cherries, chicken broth/soup/stock, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), coconut, coriander seeds, cumin, dill, flax seeds, garlic, ginger, green beans, hibiscus, hops, lentils, lettuce, malunggay (moringa), marshmallow root, millet, molasses (black strap), mung, mushrooms, oats, papaya, peas, pumpkin, quinoa seeds, red clover, red raspberry, rice, sage, seaweed, soup, sesame seeds, spinach, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes and turmeric [xi].
[i] ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of Galactogogues in Initiating or Augmenting Maternal Milk Production, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, Second Revision 2018.
[ii] Marasco and West, Making More Milk: The Breastfeeding Guide to Increasing Your Milk Production, 2020
[iii] ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of Galactogogues in Initiating or Augmenting Maternal Milk Production, Second Revision, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, 2018
[iv] Blessed Thistle, e-lactancia, 2014 (accessed Jan 2020)
[v] Milk Thistle, e-lactancia, 2015 (accessed Jan 2020)
[vi] Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Stinging Nettle. [Updated 2021 Dec 20].
[vii] Goat’s rue, e-lactancia, 2018 (accessed Jan 2020)
[viii] Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Wild Asparagus. [Updated 2021 Aug 16].
[ix] Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Fennel. [Updated 2022 Mar 21].
[x] Alfalfa, e-lactancia, 2015 (accessed Jan 2020)
[xi] Nice FJ. The Galactagogue Recipe Book. Plano, TX: Hale Publishing; 2014.
Please note that the information contained within this website does not and should not replace medical advice, and is not intended to treat or diagnose. We always recommend you consult with your doctor. Our Nutritional Therapy team is highly trained and we offer one to one Nutritional Therapy Consultations, which are designed to be complementary to any medical treatment from a functional medicine approach, as well as offering a preventative & optimal health focus.