Background: Therapeutic approaches to addressing insufficient lactation are available but remain poorly understood. Current trends in maternal health, such as increasing rates of obesity, delayed age at childbearing, and high rates of cesarean section, may be associated with physiological challenges for lactation that cannot be managed by counseling alone. Women who have not had success with counseling alone, including adoptive mothers seeking to induce lactation, may use galactagogues (pharmaceutical and herbal compounds used to increase lactation). We present a review of selected studies of galactagogues and data indicating popular demand for such products.
Methods: A systematic search was conducted for published studies on the use of galactagogues for breast-feeding. The following databases were searched: MEDLINE (PubMed), EBSCO (Academic Search Complete), and EMBASE. The search was conducted between July 15, 2015, and August 18, 2015; only English language articles were included, and we imposed no restrictions on publication date. Two authors independently reviewed the studies and extracted data.
Results: Blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trials of 2 pharmaceutical galactagogues (domperidone and metoclopramide) and 5 popular herbal galactagogues (shatavari, fenugreek, silymarin, garlic, and malunggay) were identified. All of the studies identified for domperidone showed a significant difference in milk production between the treatment and placebo groups. Of the 6 trials of metoclopramide, only 1 study showed a significant difference in milk production compared to placebo. Results of the clinical trials on herbal galactagogues were mixed. Our review of the evidence for the efficacy of popular pharmaceutical and herbal galactagogues revealed a dearth of high-quality clinical trials and mixed results.
Conclusion: Health providers face the challenge of prescribing or recommending galactagogues without the benefit of robust evidence. Given the suboptimal rates of exclusive breast-feeding worldwide and the availability and demand for medical and herbal lactation therapies, controlled trials and analyses investigating these medicines are urgently warranted.
Keywords: Breast feeding; galactogogues; health policy; lactation.