Any food, medicine, or supplement that boosts milk supply is considered a “galactagogue.” Many of the most popular galactagogues are herbal supplements. Let’s take a look at some of these and see what the research has to say.
Fenugreek is a popular lactation supplement, but the research on it has been mixed. A 2017 review that included 122 participants found that it can be a significant help in boosting milk supply, although it did not perform as well as Coleus or palm date. An older randomized controlled trial found that fenugreek tea supported breast milk production and led to better weight maintenance in the infants. Animal research from 2019 further supports fenugreek supplementation for lactation benefits.
Still, other studies do complicate the picture. A 2020 Cochrane review found only inconclusive or low-quality evidence on fenugreek and milk supply. Many people who have used fenugreek supplements to boost their milk supply have reported digestive discomfort. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any supplements.
Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is partially converted into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and healthy omega-3 fatty acids—all of which are important for your health. When it comes to milk production, though, there’s no evidence to support the claim that flaxseed changes milk volume. Flaxseed can increase the amount of ALA in breastmilk, but cannot increase DHA, which must come from a mother’s ingestion of seafood or fish oil directly.
Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is a plant used to make herbal supplements including for boosting milk production. (Note: It’s not the same thing as milk thistle.)
Overall, there is no solid scientific evidence that blessed thistle is effective for lactation support. A review of galactagogue studies found that blessed thistle is among the more popular herbs used for this purpose, but that more trials are needed to understand its effectiveness. While blessed thistle is generally considered safe to use, some may experience adverse reactions like nausea or stomach cramps.
Brewer’s yeast is a high source of B vitamins, chromium, protein, and iron. No scientific studies in humans have established the effect of brewer’s yeast on milk supply, and even animal studies that have found benefits attribute the impact to the vitamins and other nutrients in Brewer’s yeast, not the yeast itself.
Fennel is an herb often included in lactation formulas due to its reported ability to support milk production. While there is limited and low-certainty evidence, a Cochrane review suggested that fennel may contribute to improved infant weight in breastfeeding. However, further research is necessary to establish more conclusive results.
One of the active ingredients in fennel is anethole, which is believed to play a role in promoting lactation. However, excessive consumption of fennel containing anethole may lead to toxicity in infants. Using fennel in smaller amounts may be best for the safety of both the mother and the baby. While fennel is sometimes added to formulations for infants to address colic, it is still best to check with your medical provider before using any dietary supplements.
Goat’s rue, also known as Galega officinalis, is a flowering plant. Research is mixed when it comes to increasing milk supply. This herb has been used worldwide as a galactagogue, but there is currently no high-quality evidence from clinical trials to support its use.
Older studies that investigated the benefits of Goat's rue exist, but they were poorly designed and had limitations in terms of data quality. Caution should be exercised when interpreting the findings from these studies. One study examined a product that included Goat's rue along with vitamins and magnesium and found some benefits. However, this study had several limitations, including the absence of recorded dosages, the lack of a control group, and the inability to determine if the observed results were solely due to Goat's rue or a combination of the other nutrients included in the product.
Goat’s rue has the potential to interact with medications for metabolic health in the mother, and it could also lead to gastrointestinal symptoms. The impact of goat’s rue on the infant’s health and safety remains unknown and has not been verified for safety.
Milk thistle is an herb that contains silymarin, an active ingredient that is popular for liver health. But, when it comes to its effectiveness in lactation support, the evidence is inconsistent. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial involving 50 women found no significant difference in milk production between those who took milk thistle and those who received a placebo.
Another non-randomized, placebo-controlled trial with 50 women reported greater milk volume in the group that consumed milk thistle. However, the composition of milk was not different between the two groups. There were also limitations to this study, including the lack of blinding among the investigators and the absence of a standardized approach to breastfeeding techniques between the groups.
Overall, research is too confounded to definitively say that milk thistle helps support lactation, and there is no conclusive evidence to say that it is safe for the mom or baby, although it has not been found to pass through to breast milk. In addition, it may also cause gastrointestinal side effects for the mom. Individuals with ragweed allergies may be at higher risk for allergic reactions due to cross-reactivity.
Alfalfa is sometimes used in herbal supplements and occasionally included in formulations that claim to support lactation and milk supply. Yet, there is currently no scientific evidence to support these claims. Alfalfa has the potential to exacerbate certain chronic health conditions because of how it can interact with immune system cells. It also may interact with certain medications that affect coagulation.
Given the lack of evidence supporting its lactation-related benefits and the potential for interactions, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider before considering this as a lactation supplement.
Shatavari is a popular adaptogenic herb that is native to India. Shatavari comes from Asparagus racemosus, which is not the same as the asparagus vegetable eaten in the United States.
Clinical trial results investigating the effects of Shatavari on lactation are mixed and of varying quality. In a small study involving 15 women who were given a formulation containing Shatavari along with other nutrients, the lack of blinding, randomization, and placebo control limits the reliability and accuracy of the findings. While 11 out of 15 participants reported an increase in milk supply, the study's poor design compromises any conclusions.
Another study involving 40 women who were given a combination herbal supplement containing Shatavari, ashwagandha, fenugreek, licorice, and garlic suggested a benefit in terms of milk volume. However, similar limitations to the previous study were present, making the evidence from this study unreliable.
A better-conducted trial of 60 mothers compared Shatavari to a placebo. The group that received Shatavari demonstrated a 33% increase in serum prolactin levels over baseline, compared to only 10% in the placebo group. Additionally, infant weight gain was higher in the treatment group, with a 16% increase compared to 6% in the placebo group. One limitation of this study is the lack of details regarding how and when prolactin levels were measured, as these factors can vary based on the time of day and can be affected by the internal body clock circadian rhythm. Nonetheless, this study was better designed than others, and no negative effects were observed.
Overall, Shatavari has some potential beneficial evidence from studies compared to other galactagogues, but the positive effects should still be interpreted with caution.
Nettle, also known as stinging nettle, is sometimes utilized as a postpartum tonic and lactation aid in herbal medicine. But there is no clinical evidence available to back up its effectiveness or safety. In fact, one case study found that the topical use of nettle on the breast resulted in a contact allergic reaction and subsequent IgE allergy in an infant, which persisted for weeks even after discontinuing the use of nettle.
The only study done on nettle and lactation had such poor design and reporting that it cannot be used as evidence for benefits. The safety profile of nettle remains unknown. There are other herbs with more established safety profiles, but regardless, only your healthcare provider can determine what may be best for you and your baby.
Moringa oleifera, sometimes just called Moringa, is an herb that is known for its antioxidant properties. Most studies conducted on Moringa have been small and poorly designed, which makes it impossible to extract valid outcomes.
A Cochrane review suggested that Moringa may lead to increased infant weight compared to a placebo, but due to incomplete reporting and imprecise measurements, the overall certainty regarding its effect is diminished.
In a case study involving co-lactation, Moringa was used as one of several aids to successfully induce breast milk in a non-gestational parent. Since other lactation aids were concurrently used, we don’t know how helpful Moringa was in this case.
Moringa does have a potential interaction with clotting factors, so it’s important to speak with a medical provider before using this. There is ongoing research on Moringa, so there will be more to learn about this as a lactation herb in the coming years.
Anise is used as an herbal supplement and a food. It is used in lactation formulations or sometimes as a standalone ingredient. There is very little evidence that it works. It contains the same active ingredient as fennel, anethole, which has been reported in a few case studies as being toxic for infants.
Several small studies have been conducted on anise, but they often have unclear methodologies or show no differences between treatment and control groups. As a result, there is currently no evidence to support the use of anise as a lactation aid.
Garlic is an aromatic food but it’s also used for its medicinal properties. It has been traditionally used as a galactagogue in Ayurvedic medicine, but there is no specific research that proves it works to support lactation. Studies conducted on garlic's effect on lactation are generally small and do not demonstrate any differences in terms of milk volume, infant weight, or total nursing time. Some researchers believe that garlic may enhance the taste palates of breast milk, but these studies lack long-term follow-up to determine if these theories hold any truth.
Garlic is generally recognized as safe, but it may interact with medications that affect clotting. Also, garlic can cross-react with allergens found in lilies, onions, and chives.
Marshmallow root is sometimes used as a lactation aid with the aim of increasing milk supply, but there is a lack of evidence to support its use.
One study, sponsored by the manufacturer of a mother's milk tea that contained marshmallow root along with several other ingredients, found no difference in outcomes between the intervention group and the control group. Notably, the study did not specify the exact amount of marshmallow root ingestion, since the blend used in the tea was proprietary. Since there was no observed difference in outcomes, the specific intake of marshmallow root does not really matter. Overall, marshmallow root is likely safe, but with no proven benefits.
You’ve probably noticed chamomile as an ingredient in herbal teas and supplements for sleep and gastrointestinal support. It is also sometimes used as a lactation aid, but there is no clinical trial data available for this purpose.
The only existing research on chamomile and lactation is one case study in which a person reported a significant increase in milk supply after consuming large amounts of chamomile tea. However, this case study would need to be replicated in order to be considered proof that it works. This case study also has the potential for other factors that could have made the difference, including that the mother was more hydrated from drinking more fluids.
Chamomile is likely safe for both the mother and baby, and it’s even used in some infant herbal formulations for colic relief. However, it's important to note that loose leaf teas of any kind can potentially be unsafe due to the risk of botulism spores. When choosing herbal supplements, choose manufacturers that undergo third-party testing for safety. Additionally, allergies to chamomile are possible, including the potential for serious reactions. Individuals who are sensitive or potentially sensitive should avoid it. Also, cross-reactivity has been reported with echinacea, feverfew, ragweed, and milk thistle, so anyone with known allergies to these should avoid its use. Always check with your doctor before starting any supplements, especially if you have any sensitivities.
There has not been enough research to say that lactation supplements work. While some have been associated with more milk production, many herbs require larger studies to know whether or not they are beneficial. There is significantly more evidence that assistance from lactation experts—as well as mental, physical, and emotional support at home and in the workplace—can make it easier to breastfeed.
Breast milk includes all the nutrients your child will need during the first 6 months of life – fats, carbs, vitamins, proteins, minerals, and water. And, most importantly, breast milk can help support the infant’s developing immune system.
The lactation process starts well before the newborn infant first latches on. Small amounts of milk can be released at week 16 of the pregnancy, which is considered stage one of the lactation process. After the baby is delivered, stage two begins in earnest, with copious milk production taking effect. Lactation is maintained by regular removal of milk and consistent stimulation of the nipple. When the nipple is stimulated, a process is triggered where the mammary gland gets the hormonal signal to keep producing milk.
Insufficient milk production can be caused by a number of factors, including a lack of appropriate nutrient intake.
A breastfeeding person often has higher nutritional demands than a person who is not. Eating a balanced diet is important during this time. The healthier your body is, and the fewer nutrient gaps that you have, the better your body may be at producing milk. There are still many variables that can affect lactation outside of food and nutrients.
Taking prenatal vitamins can help pregnant and breastfeeding people keep up with the body’s increased nutrient demands. The current recommendation for lactating women is to consume up to 500 more calories per day to keep up with the increased demand required for milk production. People who are breastfeeding are encouraged to empty the breast as often as possible – ideally every 2 to 3 hours. Studies also show that vitamin D may be an important nutritional supplement for supporting the health of both the child and the parent.
If you have questions about your milk supply, you should begin by consulting a certified lactation consultant. If they suggest that supplements could support your milk production, it’s best to ask your healthcare provider before starting anything.
Most lactation supplements have not been studied specifically to know how safe they are for the parent or the infant. They may cause side effects. Always check with your doctor before starting a supplement, especially since some substances can pass through breast milk to the infant. Herbal supplements can also be contaminated with unknown or harmful ingredients, so always choose products that are vetted by third-party testing.
Lactation supplements can interact with other prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, other dietary supplements, foods, existing health conditions, and allergies. If you do decide to use herbal lactation support, use caution, thoroughly read labels, and follow dosage instructions.
As a breastfeeding parent, it’s natural that you want to be sure that you are producing enough milk for your child. The evidence on lactation supplements is mixed and your own needs may depend on many factors. Work with a lactation specialist, talk to your healthcare provider, and seek support in your home and workplace to cultivate the best support network for you. Breastfeeding is a journey that can have ups and downs, but there are many ways to help you flourish throughout the process.