Breastfeeding is the time-honored and native approach to nourish your baby, as it delivers essential nutrition. Breast milk is yielded naturally by women and provides elemental nutrition for a baby during the first few months of life. Colostrum is the initial breastmilk produced, beginning in mid-pregnancy (12-18 weeks) and is continually formed for the first few days after baby’s birth. It is thick, sticky, concentrated milk and is frequently yellow, clear or white, although it could be other colors as well. Breastmilk consists of antibodies, protein, sugar, and fats. Research demonstrates that breastfeeding presents many health benefits for infants and mothers, as well as impending economic and environmental benefits for communities. Among its other identified health benefits are some protections against common childhood infections and better survival during a baby's first year, including a reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome1.
At the start, nearly all women face some challenges with breastfeeding, but many are able to exclusively breastfeed subsequently or at best top up with some breast milk. However, some women do struggle with what we call a “low milk supply.” Producing too little milk can be due to many factors and can be very discouraging! Here in this article, we will discuss about potential breastfeeding milk boosters.
As one of the oldest medicinally used plants, fenugreek is conventionally used to support general health and wellbeing, benefit women and breastfeeding mothers, and enrich men wellness. Reports suggest that its seeds have mastogenic effect which stimulates the development of mammary gland. It is used around the world as galactagogue in women due to its substantial phytoestrogens levels2.
It was found that fenugreek induces a significant increase in milk production in women and decrease the time of neonates’ recovery weight3. Many reported that the effects were seen as early in few hours to 1 or 2 days after consumption of fenugreek products with signs such as breast engorgement, increased volume of milk and infants’ perceived satisfaction4-7. The volume of breast milk showed a statistically significant difference between the three groups. The control group showed the lowest amount of 35.5ml4. There was no significant difference between Fenugreek and dates, 50.8ml and 67.6ml respectively4. This shows that fenugreek and dates increased breast milk volume significantly by the third day postpartum4.
Fennel's reputation for boosting breast milk production is related to its natural estrogen-like properties. Fennel seeds contain the volatile oil composed largely of anethole8. Anethole, an active constituent found in fennel is likely to be responsible for the stimulation of milk flow9. With the similar chemical structure as dopamine (a chemical acts to inhibit secretion of the milk-producing hormone, prolactin), anethole might compete with dopamine at the receptor sites, thereby inhibiting the antisecretory action of dopamine on prolactin9.
Fennel has been adapted as a galactogogue in humans and no adverse effects have been reported yet10,11. It has been observed to increase milk secretion, improve the reproductive cyclicity, facilitate birth, and increase libido12.
In the Middle East and North Africa, traditional medicine has regarded date palm fruit as milk-increasing fruit. Eating dates have been publicised to increase prolactin production, which is a hormone that signals the body to increase the production of milk. Date contains sterol compounds including cholesterol, campesterol, stigmasterol, beta-Sitosterol, and isofucosterol13. These sterol compounds are the production precursors of steroid glucocorticoids and estrogen. Progesterone and estrogen play a role in breastfeeding, evolution, and the proliferation of breast ducts and alveoli, and low doses stimulate prolactin secretion14.
The study group who received date showed significant linear increase in the blood prolactin levels at days 10 and 22 of breastfeeding compared to the control group15. The upsurge in prolactin levels makes date lactogenic and helps to combat low milk supply.
Many nursing mothers feel despair of the low milk supply they may encounter throughout their breastfeeding journey. Various factors can cause a low milk supply during breastfeeding, such as waiting too long to start breastfeeding, not breastfeeding often enough, supplementing breastfeeding, an ineffective latch and use of certain medications. While the ingredients mentioned in this article generally supports the boost of prolactin functioning to increase breastmilk production, galactogogues should never replace evaluation and counselling on modifiable factors that affect milk production16,17.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827–e841. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827
- Sreeja S, Anju VS, Sreeja S. In vitro estrogenic activities of fenugreek Trigonella foenum graecum seeds. Indian J Med Res. 2010 Jun; 131():814-9.
- Turkyılmaz C, Onal E, Hirfanoglu IM, Turan O, Koç E, Ergenekon E, Atalay Y. The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Feb; 17(2):139-42.
- Sakka AE, Salama M, Salama K. The effect of fenugreek herbal tea and palm dates on breast milk production and infant weight. Journal of Pediatric Sciences. 2014;6:e202.
- Sim TF, Hattingh HL, Sherriff J, Tee LBG. The use, perceived effectiveness and safety of herbal galactagogues during breastfeeding: a qualitative study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2015;12,11050-11071.
- Ghasemi V, Kheirkhah M, Vahedi M. The effect of herbal tea containing fenugreek seed on the signs of breast milk sufficiency in Iranian girl infants. Iran Red Crescent Med. J. 2015;17(8):e21848.
- Khan TM, Wu DBC, Dolzhenko AV. Effectiveness of fenugreek as a galactagogue: a network meta-analysis. Phytotherapy Research. 2017.
- Fennel - Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) – NCBI. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501793/
- Badgujar SB, Patel VV, Bandivdekar AH. Foeniculum vulgare mill: a review of its botany, phytochemistry, pharmacology, contemporary application, and toxicology. BioMed Research International. 2014.
- Agrawala IP, Achar MV, Boradkar RV, Roy N. Galactagogue action of Cuminum cyminum and Nigella staiva. Indian J Med Res. 1968 Jun; 56(6):841-4.
- Abascal K, Yarnell E. Botanical galactagogues. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2008;14(6):288–294.
- Rather MA, Dar BA, Sofi SN, Bhat BA, Qurishi MA. Foeniculum vulgare: a comprehensive review of its traditional use, phytochemistry, pharmacology, and safety. Arabian Journal of Chemistry. 2012.
- Kikuchi N, Miki T. The separation of date (Phoenix dactylifera) sterols by liquid chromatography. Microchimica Acta. 1978;69(1-2):89-96.
- Freeman ME, Kanyicska B, Lerant A, Nagy G. Prolactin: Structure, function, and regulation of secretion. Physiological Reviews.2000;80(4):1523-631.
- Saeed EF, Mina H, Mohammad M. Effects of the date palm fruit (Phoenix dactylifera L.) on prolactin, IGF-1, and stress factors in lactating female rats andits impact on their litters’ development. Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 10 (2017) 251–258.
- Brodribb W. ABM Clinical Protocol #9. Use of galactogogues in initiating or augmenting maternal milk production, second revision 2018. Breastfeed Med. 2018; 13:307–14.
- Breastfeeding challenges: ACOG Committee Opinion, Number 820. Obstet Gynecol. 2021;137:e42–e53.