Galactagogue Herbs: A Qualitative Study and Review

Rachel Emma Westfall, PhD

Women often face challenges in their efforts to breast-feed their infants. One of these challenges may be a real or perceived insufficient milk supply. Presented here are some results from a qualitative study of self-care in pregnancy, birth and lactation among a purposeful sample of childbearing women in British Columbia. Twenty-three women were interviewed at one to four months postpartum, and were asked to share their experiences with childbirth and postpartum self-care. Interviews were tape recorded and transcribed. All 23 women were breast-feeding. Four women reported insufficient milk supply, whereas 14 women used galactagogue substances including herbal remedies, food items and pharmaceutical drugs to enhance their milk supply. Eleven women (48% of the sample) were using any of five galactagogue herbs, in many cases prophylactically. Each herb is reviewed and discussed here: blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), fenugreek (Trigonella foenicum-graecum) raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus), and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). This study reveals that galactagogue herb use is an element of postpartum self-care for some women, and it also identifies a need for clinical testing of the herbs. A larger-scale survey of galactagogue herb use would be beneficial to the state of knowledge, as would clinical trials and case reports on the more popular herbs.

lactation, herbal medicine, fenugreek, fennel, raspberry leaf, nettle, blessed thistle, galactagogue

This article has been peer-reviewed.


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