What is Galactagogue?
A galactagogue is a substance that promotes lactation in breast-feeding mothers in the post natal period. A galactagogue is applicable for both humans and also in animals. These substances used in galactagogue may be synthetically produced, plant based or even endogenous. They help in promoting lactation as well as in treatment of low milk supply in a breast feeding mother.
Synthetic Vs Natural Galactagogue
Synthetic galactagogue includes domperidone and metoclopramide that interacts with the dopamine system in a way that they increase the production of prolactin, which in turn promotes milk secretion. The galactagogue blocks the D2 receptor and channelizes in order to promote secretion of prolactin. Prolactin is the most important hormone in the body that is involved in secretion of milk by a mother during the post natal period. Galactagogues are only used when non-pharmacologic interventions are proved to be insufficient to increase a mother’s milk supply to feed her baby. Galactogogues that are synthetic, such as domperidone are used when a mother in the post natal period fails to provide milk to the developing infant even after full lactation support has been provided. Other drugs may also be used as Galactogogues, such as antipsychotics like risperidone, sulpiride and chlorpromazine, because they have the ability to block D2 receptors; however, they are not recommended at all because of their side effects.
Natural galactogogues involves herbal or foods that have been naturally found to improve lactation. These have, however, gone through very little scientific testing, and cannot be empirically said to be sufficient as a galactagogue. The natural food products that have been found to have some features of a galactagogue are asparagus, fenugreek, fennel, chasteberry, anise and marshmallow root. Herbal or natural galactogogues are of two types:- the first one are those that have a sedating action on the nursing infant because they contain certain volatile constituents that are carried forward into the infant through the breast milk. The second category of galactogogues is those that promote the lactation irrespective of their content, this might be linked to their anethol content.
Some Natural Galactagogues & Their Uses
Galactogogues are important for breast feeding mothers whose milk supply is actually low. Some forms of natural galactogogues are listed below:
Galega Officinalis (Goat’s Rue): The parts of the plant that are actually necessary and help with lactation are the parts that remain above the ground and not underground, meaning the roots. Goat’s rue consists of certain alkaloids and other nitrogen based components that are important, which makes this plant a very potent and natural galactagogue. Besides this, Galega Officinalis or Goat’s Rue also sensitizes insulin levels and is hypoglycemic. Goat’s rue is also recommended for diabetic patients, which is also helpful in reducing the blood levels. In fact, it can cause low blood sugar level in even non-diabetic patients. It is also considered to be a phytoestrogen, as they are mildly anti-bacterial and may even increase the chances of burning fat. Goat’s rue has to be consumed as a tincture in the ratio of 1:3 of herb, 1-2 ml three times a day. For precaution it is essential for you to have full knowledge of your pregnancy. You need to exercise caution if you are diabetic because Goat’s rue may interact with the medicines you already take for your diabetes.
Trigonella Foenum-Graecum (Fenugreek Seeds): The seeds are the only part of this plant that can be used as a natural galactagogue. Fenugreek seeds constitute of complex carbohydrates, fatty acids and alkaloids. Fenugreek is also a natural and powerful galactagogue. The seeds of Trigonella Foenum-Graecum are also carminative, this is the reason they ease intestinal cramps or even gas. They also have a cardio-protective advantage. They reduce lipids and blood sugar levels. Fenugreek seeds may also be used to control diabetes and high cholesterol. Fenugreek seeds may be consumed in foods or can be used as powdered mixes that can be added to curries. Fenugreek seeds can also be used in the form of a capsule that can be taken in high doses at about 1200 mg four times a day. As a general precaution, you should be aware that they may also stimulate gastrointestinal system; hence, they cannot be used on patients that have an active peptic ulcer or have high level of stomach acid. The side effects of consuming fenugreek seeds may be that they cause stomach upset or may cause lower blood sugar levels. Some have found this herb to be so bothersome, that they have stopped consuming fenugreek altogether.
Humulus Lupulus (Hops): The scaly fruits of this plant which are the strobiles are used as a good source of natural galactogogues. The constituents of this fruit are resin, flavonoids, iso-alpha acids and also phenylated chalcones. These are moderate galactogoues; however, they are strong phytoestrogen and are moderate nervine. Nervines are herbs that act on the nervous system and might be either sedating or calming. Hops are also used on menopausal patients who suffer from hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Hops may also cause gynecomastia or increase in the breast tissue growth in men. In using hops in a tincture, the alcohol content has to be high for it encourages the activation of the action of the herb. The tincture, hence, is quite boozy. Other sources of hops are in beers, especially those that are craft-brewed. You should; however, be very cautious while consuming beer in the post natal period. Hops are generally harmless. Chronic overdose of hops may; however, cause estrogen-overdose like lower libido, edema and irritability. Side effects of this herb can be nausea or even vomiting. Hops cannot be prescribed for patients who have gallstones, active peptic ulcer or infectious diarrhea.
Urtica Dioica (Stinging Nettles): The leaves of the stinging nettles are the only portions of the plant that have been medically proven to work as natural galactogoues. Though the roots and the seeds of Stinging Nettles have other qualitative benefits, they do not function as a galactogogue. So you should make sure that the tincture you are consuming specifically come from the leaves of stinging nettles and not the other functional parts. The leaves of the stinging nettles constitute of flavonoid glycosides, caffeic and malic acid. Minerals, such as vitamins, chlorophyll, protein and sulphur, are also prevalent in the leaves of the stinging nettles. Nettles are very important herbs. They also have a diuretic quality that does not cause depletion in the potassium levels. The stinging nettles are also neurorestorative that restore kidney function to normal. Freeze dried nettle leaf capsules are also good against allergies. Nettle tea is also very nutritious, as they are high in minerals. The nettles have been methodically used through the times for malnutrition, nerve pain, strengthening of muscles and skeleton and also in systematic inflammatory diseases. They should be consumed 4-6 ml three times a day in form of a tincture. The nettle tea with some lemon in some 8oz of water steeped for around 10-15 minutes, tastes amazing. Raw fresh nettles can also be cooked in form of a soup or stew. They are not to be consumed by patients who have blocked arteries. It is otherwise safe for consumption throughout pregnancy and in the post natal period too for improving lactation.
Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel): Fennel seeds are very potent natural galactagogue. They constitute of volatile oils, Phenolic acids, fixed oil and furanocoumarins. Fennel is a very tasty natural source of galactagogue. It is also used as a mild expectorant, in case of thick and sticky coughs. Fennel is also antispasmodic and is considered great for colic gas and an irritable bowel movement. The fennel seeds are also great as a phytoestrogen and have been traditionally used by women to treat their menstrual symptoms like amenorrhea, low libido or even small breasts. Fennel seeds can be consumed in a tincture of 2ml up to 5 times in a day to improve the milk supply in a lactating mother. Fennel seeds can also be consumed in a formula that can be prescribed by any local herbalist; however, it might be contradictory heartburn. Fennel seeds provide relaxation to the esophageal sphincter which can even cause painful reflux symptoms. The fennel oil should not be applied internally as the overdose of the oil is toxic.
Silybum Marianum (Milk Thistle): This plant consists of lignin, silymarin like silibin, silychristin and silydianin. Milk thistles are good natural galactogogues. Milk thistles do not come in a tincture form. It is rather recommended that they be used in the form of a tea. A cup of the milk thistle tea can be consumed up to 3 times in a day to improve the milk supply. There are also milk thistle extracts that are available. Milk thistles are probably best known because of their liver protective function. Milk thistles are cholagogue and choleretic, which makes them helpful in stimulating bile production and the also their elimination. They are also considered to be potent antioxidants and are also antiviral in function. They are also considered to be very important as they are the backbone of any treatment plan that involves detoxifying function, especially in the detoxification of heavy metals. Milk thistle also prevents liver damage, as they mobilize the toxins. A substantial amount of research has been conducted that have proven that the milk thistle is very effective against liver failure. Milk thistles are generally safe. Milk thistles should not be used in patients with gallstones because that might potentially be life threatening. Side effects of consuming milk thistles are that they may cause diarrhea and nausea because they increase the flow of bile in the person who consumes the extract or tea.
Cuminum Cyminum (Cumin): The seeds of the cumin plant are incredibly effective Galactogogues. Cumin seeds are very nutritious and promote the milk production in breast feeding mothers. Cumin seeds are a rich source of iron and also help build strength during the post partum period. These seeds can be roasted and added to lentil soups and cumin seeds not only make the lentil soup tasty, but also make them nutritious. You can also soak the cumin seeds in water and drink it early in the morning for a healthy supply of milk.
Sesamum Indicum (Sesame): Sesame seeds are very good, natural galactagogues. The black as well as the white sesame seeds are also an excellent source of calcium and copper, which are both important minerals needed in the body. Sesame seeds are power packed with micro nutrients that are beneficial for both the mother and the child. You can make a variety of culinary dishes using sesame seeds and ensure that you consume a good portion of it every day for a good milk supply. Sesame seeds can be incorporated as a topping in many dishes and can also be used in lentil soups.
Trachyspermum Ammi (Carom): Carom seeds have many benefits including acting as a natural galactagogue. Carom seeds are amazing as a digestive agent and available in all the houses and are very tasty. Little do people know that they are also very important as a galactogogue. The carom seeds also relieve a person from symptoms of stomach upset and digestive issues. They also help in the production of milk in a lactating mother and is very beneficial. They can be consumed very easily by mixing them with fennel seeds, which is also very beneficial, or can be consumed directly. This way, it is really hassle-free and takes no time in consumption. Carom seeds can also be used in cooked food as a garnishing agent to ensure that you are consuming them on a daily basis.
Oats: Oats are a breakfast favorite of almost all the people. They are also highly slimming and a very healthy alternative. Oats are another natural galactagogue and are packed with calcium, iron and fiber. You can actually consume oats early in the morning mixed with milk as they are quite filling and ensure you a healthy and tasty meal which naturally increases the milk supply.
After the baby is born, the mother’s milk is its only source of nutrition. This natural form of feeding the child has been proved to be the best in many studies. Mother’s milk makes the baby strong and healthy and is generally preferred over formula milk by all gynecologists and pediatricians. It is thus very important to ensure that he mother can produce sufficient amount of ilk for the baby. Otherwise, the baby is compromised of a lot of healthy nutrients. Galactogoues are hence very essential and play an important role in a lactating mother.