“You are what you eat,” is a statement that many of us have heard before. For nursing mothers, it couldn’t be anymore truthful. What you eat influences how much milk you are able to produce, and the nutrients you consume affect your baby too. For thousands of years, mothers around the world have been imparted with a wisdom about what foods do what to your body and milk supply, and while some of this old world wisdom has gone away, those very foods that are beneficial to breastfeeding are still around. They are called galactagogues. Although the word is a bit of a tongue twister, incorporating galactagogues into your diet isn’t difficult. Here is everything you need to know about these foods, how to use them, and why.
What is a galactagogue?
The word “galactagogue” comes from the Greek “galacta,” which means “milk.” Anything ending in “-agogue” (also rooted in Greek) is a person or thing that stimulates a flow or leads. So, a galactagogue is technically something that stimulates the flow of milk. In most cases, it is food, herbs, and spices. That is why you will also hear “lactogenic foods” used synonymously with galactagogue.
Do I need a galactagogue?
Most women worry about having enough milk supply for their baby but rarely do they think about how their diet affects their milk supply. Although the body naturally regulates milk production through supply and demand, there are times when your supply could be low. If you find that your milk production is less than ideal, even with good latching, positioning, skin-to-skin contact, breast massages and compression, and frequent feedings, you might want to consider adding galactagogues. Keep in mind that lactogenic foods do not increase your milk supply at the snap of your fingers. As The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding states: “One option to speed things along is to use a galactagogue, an herb or medication, that increases milk production. It is important to take these ONLY after you’re nursing or pumping regularly to remove the milk that they help create. When it comes to building a supply, galactagogues are the frosting on the milk removal cake. They never substitute for milk removal itself. Many mothers have been successful in increasing their milk by nursing and expressing alone, so it is worth trying this before you go to galactagogues.”
What to know about galactagogues
So, milk increasing foods and supplements might sound exactly like what you need. But should you really resort to that? As we starting mentioning above, there are some things you need to make certain of before trying lactogenic foods. The first step is to talk to a certified lactation consultant or your doctor to make sure the foods, herbs, or supplements are right for you and your baby. You should also try other methods for improving milk production before using a galactagogue, such as:
- Skin-to-skin contact with your baby
- Breast massage and compression – gently squeezing your breast as you nurse will encourage the ducts to release more milk
- Frequent feedings and regular pumping sessions – the more you feed and pump, the more your body will respond to meet the demands
Most women will find that these simple steps can boost milk supply naturally.
According to La Leche League International (LLLI), the international group for breastfeeding, nursing mothers do not need to take on a unique diet solely for producing breast milk. You only have to worry about getting enough calories. Nursing mothers need to consume about 500 calories more per day, or around 2000 calories in total, if they want to produce enough milk and have enough energy to function throughout the day. Your diet should focus on healthy, wholesome foods, rather than fried foods, sweets, and other empty calories. Make sure you are getting enough fruits and vegetables, eating lean quality protein with high bioavailability, and use high-quality healthy fats. Next, incorporate lactogenic foods into this kind of diet throughout the day. You will find that most of the foods are already intrinsically healthy and nutritious, so you shouldn’t have any problem using them—and most women already eat many of the items daily! Here is the list of galactagogue foods:
Fruits & Vegetables
- Yams – the beta carotene present in red and orange vegetables is essential to healthy milk production.
- Leafy greens – kale, Swiss chard, spinach, collard greens
- Green papaya – has been used in Asia for centuries for enzymes, minerals, and vitamins, along with a high amount of vitamin C. Green papaya is not ripe and must be simmered to soften it up.
- Apricots – one of the few fruits that are known to directly impact milk production
Grains & Legumes
Whole grains and legumes are thought to be a comfort food, are high in antibiotics and are anti-inflammatory. Eating foods like oatmeal and barley is thought to elevate your oxytocin—a hormone linked to the production of breast milk. Eat plenty of the following:
- Brown rice
Be sure to eat plenty of healthy fats, because your baby needs plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and others for proper brain growth and development. Use the following:
- Nuts and nut butters – almond, peanut butter (technically a legume), cashews, walnuts
- Sesame seeds
- Chia seeds
- Whole milk yogurt
- Dark chocolate
Herbs & Spices
- Always speak with your doctor before trying any herbal supplementation that contains the following:
- Fennel Seed – a popular galactagogue that increases milk production
- Ginger – useful for milk letdown and flow
- Turmeric – helps prevent inflammation in the breasts to increase letdown and flow
- Garlic – while babies should never be given garlic, they do benefit from the compounds in garlic when present in their mother’s milk
How to use lactogenic foods wisely
Now, how can you use galactagogues to your advantage and get the most out of every ingredient? There are plenty of recipes available on the internet for things like lactation smoothies that blend these nutritious ingredients together to make delicious flavors like chocolate peanut butter. Make pearled barely with dinner. You can smoosh together things like nuts, nut butters, dates, and seeds to make energy and protein balls. Try hummus, overnight oats, roasted almonds, tahini and brown rice bread for snacks. The options are endless! But there is one thing to remember before you start stockpiling these foods: lactogenic foods can change the flavor of your breast milk. Babies tend to dislike things like garlic, chocolate, citrus vegetables, and the like, meaning that if you eat too much of these things, you could end up altering the taste of the milk and your baby won’t want to drink it at all. Since that is the last thing any mother wants, use these ingredients in moderation and continue with frequent feedings, pumping, massage and compression.
Hopefully, you now know more about galactagogues and how to use them wisely. These ingredients can be added to your diet to help increase your milk supply, but you might not need to add them at all. Remember to always try the other methods for promoting healthy milk production first and to consult your doctor or lactation consultant before trying galactagogues. Enjoy this article and want to know more about lactogenic foods, herbs, and available supplements? Have more questions? Fill out the contact form to get more information delivered straight to your inbox!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.