Lactating? Skip the cookies and teas.
“I use oatmeal and tea to bump up my supply!”
Lactation is a confusing subject for most new mothers. Societal barriers are preventing us from seeing it frequently and most women have no idea what the breastfeeding relationship even looks like. The best way to establish a solid supply for baby is to nurse at the breast, on demand. Your body will make the perfect amount of milk with the perfect proportions of nutrients for your baby this way; but between cluster feeding, reverse cycling (feeding all night), and growth spurts, it can be incredibly unnerving to trust your body to provide as it should. What if baby isn’t getting enough? More is always better, right?
Enter galactagogues. “Try these lactation cookies.” A galactagogue is usually an herb (fenugreek, blessed thistle, brewers yeast) or prescription medication (domperidone, reglan) that can increase breastmilk supply. Galactagogues can actually cause more issues. Quite a few, even indirectly.
Galactagogue use can cover up a true problem.
If you actually aren’t making enough milk, despite good breastfeeding practice, there are other problems that need fixin’ and without addressing the actual problem, galactagogues will only take you so far before you lose your supply. Lip and tongue ties can cause ineffective milk transfer, causing mom to make less milk. Without correction of either the ties or the latch, mom may face an irreparable loss of supply. Maybe mom’s pump is broken and not removing milk appropriately? This is another problem that herbal remedies won’t fix.
Common galactagogue use suggests that a mother’s body needs help from the get go.
Many well-meaning friends give pregnant women lactation baskets that include multiple lactation cookies or recipes, teas, and even fenugreek pills! This subversively suggests that most women are unable to produce milk appropriately, and this is a dangerous message to send to women. The truth is that very few women have legitimate barriers to breastfeeding, and most of the failed breastfeeding relationships are a result of misinformation.
They can have side effects.
We are now adding problems to solve a problem that didn’t even exist. How frustrating! Fenugreek can cause GI upset in mom and baby. It can also interfere with certain prescription medications. Mom may take so much of a galactagogue that she becomes engorged, gets plugged ducts, or even mastitis. Mom’s milk may no longer be the perfect balanced since the volume has drastically increased, and that could cause upset in baby as well.
They cost you time and money.
Spending time and money blindly using supplements is more of a waste of time and money than scheduling a consultation with a lactation specialist. If you and your provider then determine that a galactagogue is actually warranted, you will be able to get a detailed, personal lactation plan written up that will be specifically targeted, and under a professional’s supervision.
Let’s stop reinforcing the notion that women’s bodies are incapable. Galactagogues have their place; but they should be considered as part of a full care plan after an evaluation with a lactation professional.
Pocket Guide for Lactation Management by Karin Cadwell and Cindy Turner-Maffei