Domperidone, Getting Started
Domperidone (Motilium™) is a drug that has, as a side effect, the
increase of milk production, probably by increasing prolactin production
by the pituitary gland. 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, whose action is to decrease the secretion of prolactin by the
pituitary gland. Domperidone is generally used for disorders of the
gastrointestinal tract (gut) and has not been released in Canada 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 that show that it works to increase milk production and that it
is a relatively safe drug. It has been used, for several years, in
small infants who spit up and lose weight, but was replaced until a few
years ago by cisapride (Prepulsid™) (cisapride has since been taken off
the market because it can cause serious cardiac problems). Domperidone
is not in the same family of medication as cisapride. Another, related,
but older medication, metoclopramide (Maxeran™, Reglan™), is also known
to increase milk production, but it has frequent side effects which have
made its use for many breastfeeding 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).
In June of 2004, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in the US put out
a warning against using domperidone because of possible cardiac side
effects. This unfortunate step was taken without considering the fact
that the cardiac side effects occurred only when the drug was given
intravenously to otherwise very sick patients. In all the years I have
used domperidone in so many mothers, I have not yet heard of any
significant cardiac side effects that could be definitely attributed to
domperidone. Incidentally, the Federal Drug Administration has no
authority outside the US, and even in the US, compounding pharmacies,
which are not regulated by the FDA, are continuing to provide patients
with domperidone. See the information sheet On the FDA and Domperidone.
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 should be used only in conjunction with fixing all other factors that
may result in insufficient milk supply. (See the information sheet Protocol for Managing Breastmilk Intake as well as the video clips). What can be done?
Do as much skin to skin as possible with the baby, during and in between feedings. See information sheet: The Importance of Skin to Skin Contact.
Correct the baby's latch so that the baby can best obtain the milk 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"
(Also see the video clips on our website).
- Use breast compressions to increase the intake of milk (See information sheet Breast Compression).
If you are breastfeeding exclusively, try expressing your milk after the
feedings. A few minutes of hand expression after the feedings may be
very effective to increase the milk supply. Some mothers may wish to
use a hospital grade pump for 10-15 minutes after feedings—this may be
very effective for some and not at all for others. Do what you can. A
mother exhausted from pumping is probably no further ahead with milk
production. And yes, it is not necessary to express your milk if this is a burden and makes you want to stop altogether.
Correct sucking problems, stopping the use of artificial nipples (See information sheet Lactation Aid, and Finger and Cup Feeding).
Using Domperidone for Increasing Milk Production:
Domperidone works particularly well to increase milk production under the following circumstances:
Domperidone still works, but often less dramatically when:
It has frequently been noted that a mother who is pumping milk for a
sick or premature baby in hospital has a decrease in the amount she
pumps around four or five weeks after the baby is born. The reasons for
this decrease are likely many (not putting the baby to the breast early
enough, no true kangaroo mother care, etc), but domperidone generally
brings the amount of milk pumped back to where it was or even to higher
When a mother has a decrease in milk supply, often associated with the use of birth control pills. Avoid
estrogen containing, or even progesterone only birth control pills or
progesterone releasing intrauterine devices (Mirena) while
breastfeeding. See the information sheet, Slow Weight Gain Following Early Good Weight Gain for other reasons milk supply might decrease and fix what can be fixed.
The mother is pumping for a sick or premature baby but has not managed to develop a full milk supply.
The mother is trying to develop a full milk supply while breastfeeding an adopted baby.
The mother is trying to wean the baby from supplements.
Side Effects of Domperidone:
As with all medications, side effects are possible, and many have been
reported with domperidone (textbooks often list any side effect ever
reported, but symptoms reported are not necessarily due to the drug a
person is taking). There is no such thing as a 100% safe drug.
However, our clinical experience has been that side effects in the
mother are extremely uncommon, except for increasing milk supply. Some
side effects which mothers we have treated have reported (very
uncommonly, incidentally):headache which disappeared after a few days or
when the dose was reduced (probably the most common side effect)
alteration of menstrual periods, usually stopping them, but also
breakthrough bleeding is possible. It is usual when breastfeeding not
to have menstrual periods for many months
a very few mothers who have taken domperidone for many months, usually
more than a year, have reported feelings of anxiety, sleeplessness, loss
of appetite and other symptoms when they stopped the domperidone “cold
The amount that gets into the milk is so tiny that side effects in the
baby should not be expected. Mothers have not reported any to us, in
many years of use, at least not symptoms that can be attributed
definitely to the domperidone. Certainly the amount the baby gets
through the milk is a tiny percentage of what babies would get if being treated for spitting up. Remember, this is a medication often given to babies for reflux.
Are There Long Term Concerns About The Use of Domperidone?
The manufacturer states in its literature that chronic treatment with
domperidone in rodents has resulted in increased numbers of breast
tumours in the rodents. The literature goes on to state that this has
never been documented in humans. Note that toxicity studies of
medication usually require treatment with huge doses over periods of
time involving most or all of the animal's lifetime. Note also that not breastfeeding increases the risk of breast cancer, and breast cancer risk decreases the longer you breastfeed. Also note, in Canada we have used Domperidone as a ‘milk-making’ medication for over 20 years
Generally, we now start domperidone at 30 mg (three 10 mg tablets) 3
times a day. In some situations we go as high as 40 mg 4 times a day.
Printouts from the pharmacy often suggest taking domperidone 30 minutes
before eating, but that is because of its use for digestive intolerance.
It is true, though, that absorption of domperidone is greater on an
empty stomach. You can take the domperidone about every 8 hours, when
it is convenient (there is no need to wake up to keep to an 8 hour
schedule—it does not make a real difference). Many mothers take the
domperidone for 3 to 8 weeks, but sometimes it is needed longer than
that, and sometimes it is impossible for mothers to maintain their milk
supply without staying on domperidone. Mothers who are breastfeeding
adopted babies may have to take the drug much longer. People taking
domperidone for stomach disorders often have been taking it for many years.
After starting domperidone, it may take three or four days before you
notice any effect, though sometimes mothers notice an effect within 24
hours. It appears to take two to three weeks to get a maximum effect,
but some mothers have noted positive effects only after 4 or more weeks.
It is reasonable to give domperidone a trial of at least four, and
better, six weeks before saying it doesn’t work.
For more information on how to wean off Domperidone see the information sheet: Domperidone, Stopping
Questions? First look at the website nbci.ca or drjacknewman.com. If the information you need is not there, go to Contact Us and give us the information listed there in your email. Information is also available in Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding (called The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers in the USA); and/or our DVD, Dr. Jack Newman’s Visual Guide to Breastfeeding (available in French or with subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian); and/or The Latch Book and Other Keys to Breastfeeding Success; and/or L-eat Latch and Transfer Tool; and/or the GamePlan for Protecting and Supporting Breastfeeding in the First 24 Hours of Life and Beyond.
To make an appointment online with our clinic please visit www.nbci.ca. If you do not have easy access to email or internet, you may phone (416) 498-0002.
Written and revised (under other names) by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC, 1995-2005
Revised by Jack Newman MD, FRCPC, IBCLC and Edith Kernerman, IBCLC, 2008, 2009