[Pediatrics Guide Update: The FDA is now warning against the use of Domperidone. In response to reports that women may be using an unapproved drug, domperidone, to increase milk production (lactation), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning breastfeeding women not to use this product because of safety concerns.
Domperidone (Motilium) is a drug that has, as a side effect, the increased production of the hormone prolactin. Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates the cells in the mother's breast to produce milk. Domperidone increases prolactin secretion indirectly, by interfering with the action of dopamine. One of the actions of dopamine is that it decreases the secretion of prolactin by the pituitary gland.
Domperidone is generally used for disorders of the gastrointestinal tract (gut) and has not been released for use as a stimulant for milk production. This does not mean that it cannot be prescribed for this reason, but rather that the manufacturer does not back its use for increasing milk production. However, there are several studies which show that it works to increase milk production and that it is safe.
It has been used, for several years, in small infants who spit up and lose weight, but it has recently been replaced for this reason by a newer drug called cisapride (Propulsid). Cisapride does not have the effect on milk production which domperidone has. [Pediatrics Guide Addendum: Cisapride has been taken off of the market because it caused serious adverse side effects.]
Domperidone's ability to increase milk production has been recognized since it first became available. Another, related, but older medication, metoclopramide (Maxeran), is also known to increase milk production, but it has frequent side effects which have made its use for many nursing mothers unacceptable (fatigue, irritability, depression). Domperidone has many fewer side effects because it does not enter the brain tissue in significant amounts (does not pass the blood-brain barrier).
When is it appropriate to use domperidone?
Domperidone must never be used as the first approach to correcting breastfeeding difficulties. Domperidone is not a cure for all things. It must not be used unless all other factors which may result in insufficient milk supply have been dealt with first. These include:
- correcting the baby's latch so that the baby can obtain as efficiently as possible the milk which the mother has available. Correcting the latch may be all that is necessary to change a situation of "not enough milk" to one of "plenty of milk".
- using breast compression to increase the intake of milk.
- using milk expression after feedings to increase the supply.
- correcting sucking problems, stopping the use of artificial nipples and other stratagems.