Exciting new research will look at safe and effective ways to boost breast milk for new mothers.
Breast milk is a wonder of nature.
Among a long list of benefits, we know it protects babies from disease and infection, it is easier on little tummies, promotes bonding between mother and baby, and it is totally free. But some mothers experience a low supply of breast milk, and for them breastfeeding is not an automatic option.
Thankfully, ways to boost mothers’ low breast milk supply is the focus of exciting new research by Dr Luke Grzeskowiak, a leader in reproductive and perinatal drug treatment research with The University of Adelaide and SAHMRI, whose past work has contributed to national and global clinical guidelines around medication use in pregnancy and lactation.
With funding from The Hospital Research Foundation, Dr Grzeskowiak is investigating safe and effective drug treatments for mothers with low breast milk supply, particularly in those who give birth prematurely.
“We know that 8 per cent of all Australian pregnancies end in pre-term birth and almost half of those mothers experience problems with milk supply. Without an adequate milk supply, they often stop breastfeeding early, placing infants at increased risk of disease and complications from prematurity,” says Dr Grzeskowiak.
While all women receive non-drug lactation support following preterm birth (such as breast pumps to express milk) many are also recommended a galactagogue – a general term for substances thought to increase milk supply.
“Our latest research shows that more than 60 per cent of mothers use one or more galactagogues during lactation to try and boost their breast milk supply. It can include herbs like fenugreek, lactation cookies, or medication prescribed by a doctor such as domperidone,” says Dr Grzeskowiak.
“Domperidone, commonly known by the brand name Motilium, is thought to increase breast milk supply by increasing levels of the milk producing hormone prolactin. While it seems to work for some women, many see little or no change in breast milk volume and scientists don’t yet know why.
“Women respond to this drug differently and we don’t know the best dose to give them. It may come as a surprise, but despite common usage, no medication has ever been specifically licensed for increasing breast milk supply, meaning there is much uncertainty about what dose to give women and how effective they are in the short and long term.”
Dr Grzeskowiak’s research aims to significantly advance this knowledge by finding the answers to three key areas, which will in turn improve the wellbeing of mothers and infants.
“We’re recruiting 170 mothers from Neonatal Units across Australia and for the next three years we’ll be studying them closely. We want to know why some women develop low breast milk supply, which therapies are most effective over the short and long term, and how we can incorporate these scientific findings to assist your local GP, obstetrician or caregiver.”
Whether a baby is born pre-term or at full gestation, low breast milk supply is common among mothers and Dr Grzeskowiak’s research aims to improve treatment approaches for all women.
“By finding better treatments for low breast milk supply we will provide significant infant, maternal and societal benefits. Without the generous grant we received from The Hospital Research Foundation, we wouldn’t be able to undertake this important research.”