Foods that help increase milk supply work on a hormonal level. This means that it affects the hormones (prolactin and oxytocin) that controls milk production and let-downs. Although evidence is only anecdotal (not evidence based), we know that certain foods stimulate an increase of prolactin and oxytocin in us. Therefore, they can potentially increasing our milk production too.
According to La Leche League International (LLLI) about 5% of mothers are physiologically not able to produce enough milk for their babies. This is a very small number considering 75% of mothers don’t make it 6 months of exclusively breastfeeding. Although well-intentioned, our society still does not have a wide enough program in place that can educate mothers and their families. Mothers need to know what to do when the going gets tough in the breastfeeding department.
Let’s be real, breast feeding is HARD! Luckily it can also be easy, if you get some additional support. A good place to start is taking a breastfeeding course at Lactation Link.
Where do I start?
Make sure baby is latching correctly
Before turning your meal planning up side down, in a desperate attempt to get that milk flowing, make sure there are no other underlying issues.
Common reasons why milk supply is low:
- improper latch.
- not allowing baby to feed on demand.
- hormonal imbalance
What the first two issues have in common, is that they signal less “demand”, which means the breasts will produce accordingly. Often, as you try to resolve latching issues, you can increase milk supply by pumping on the side. If you are not sure which breast pump to use, check out my review of the Ameda Finesse Double Electric Breast Pump. Using a Nipple Shield can also help correct an improper latch, but make sure to consult a lactation consultant first for proper use.
Healthy Diet helps with milk supply
You will find an infinite number of foods that help increase milk supply. Each site you go to will have a new item that you have not yet tried. It can be exhausting which is why it is more important (for your sanity) to focus on eating a healthy and balanced diet first.
A balanced diet is the basis for establishing a well oiled system (your body), which in return works without glitches. You don’t have to become a health fanatic or expert. Follow basic healthy eating guidelines to the best of your ability, and you’ll help your body function at its best.
A healthy diet should include:
- Grains: choose whole wheat or whole grain (instead of white refined products) because they are high in fiber. A few examples include brown rice, quinoa, rye and oats.
- Fruit & Vegetables: aim for 5 portions / day. Ideally half your plate at a meal should be a combination of Fruit & Vegetables.
- Protein: white meat is better than red meat because it has less saturated fat (the bad kind).
- Dairy: 3 servings daily (1 serving is approx a cup of milk or a bowl of yogurt).
- Water: aim for 8 glasses / daily.
Snacking is great for a mother’s supply
As part of a healthy diet, it is important to eat these healthy foods regularly through the day. This will keep your blood sugar level stable and your body functioning at prime capacity. When you are breastfeeding it can be difficult to make food, so don’t be shy to ask for help. I suggest storing a basket full of healthy snacks next to your nursing chair, that way you can eat without getting up.
Healthy Snack Options from Amazon
Nurse or pump frequently to increase milk supply
As mentioned earlier, if you don’t signal a demand to the breasts they won’t activate milk production. Therefore, the first step to increasing milk supply is to breastfeed on demand. This means that as a newborn and up to 6 months, baby gets fed everytime they ask for it.
Breastfeeding on demand is hard, particularly when baby goes into nursing marathons. Remember though, that this is nature’s way of signalign to the mother that a growth spurt is about to start therefore baby needs more fuel!
If you feel like your supply has fallen behind the demand of your baby, you can help your supply increase by using a breast pump. After every feeding (or at least a few times a day), pump directly in order to empty breasts.
This is good for two reasons:
- Emptying your breast completely signals to start producing more milk.
- When you Increase the demand, your supply will increase accordingly.
You are eating a balanced diet and you have made sure your baby latches correctly, now you want to give your milk supply that extra humph. So lets take a look at some of the most common foods that help increase milk supply, also known as galactagogues. The term means substances that increase milk supply.
Common foods for increasing milk supply
- Barley: has the highest level of dietary beta-glucan, which increases prolactic secretion which controls milk production.
- Used as a spice for soups and salads, barley is also a malt, great to sweeten drinks and food.
- 3,500mg of barley is recomm
- Fennel: herb commonly used for medicinal purposes dating as far back as Egyptian times. It has a reputation for increasing milk supply.
- Best way for a lactating mother to take fennel is eating the vegetable or using the grasses to flavor recipes.
- 480mg (0.48g) daily.
- Fenugreek seeds: maybe the most common supplement for increasing milk supply. Results are varied with some mothers experiencing an increase within 24-72 hours.
- Fenugreek seeds are offered as capsules, powder and tea.
- 580-610mg (0.58-0.61g) daily. Do not take more than 1gram / day.
- Oats have the second highest concentration of dietary beta-glucan (like barley) than any other food. This makes it a great addition to your daily menu.
- Oats are in oatmeal and cereal as well as certain bread.
- 1 cup of cooked oatmeal daily(3,000mg of beta-glucan).
- Brewer’s yeast: ferments beer and wine, brewer’s yeast is termed a super food, as it contains many key ingredients to support a nursing mother.
- take it as a capsule or add the powder to your drink / smoothie
- 3tsp / daily for lactation support
- Green Papaya – used for centuries in Asian cultures to boost milk supply. Green papaya is actually yellow papaya that is not yet ripe. It promotes the production of oxytocin which controls letdowns during breastfeeding.
- Papaya is a fruit you can find in grocery stores.
- quantity not available but I would limit to 1 medium papaya daily. Excessively eating papaya can cause your skin to turn orange (not even joking).
- Garlic garlic has a tendency to alter the flavor of breast milk which some babies really like. This can consequently get them to stay at the breast longer which increases production.
- 1-2 cloves daily.
- Blessed thistle: a plant with a multitude of benefits for humans, beyond that of increasing breast milk. Some of these benefits include indigestion, colds, bacterial infection and diarrhea. It supposedly works by increasing prolactin levels in lactating women.
- Most commonly used as a tea or found in supplements.
- 3,000-4,000mg daily.
Snacks that help Milk Supply
Drinks that help Milk Supply
Supplements that help Milk Supply
Foods that tank a mother’s milk supply
While the above foods will help you increase milk production on a hormonal level, there are some foods to avoid for this same reason. There is the obvious ones like alcohol, but continue reading to make sure you are not inadvertently tanking your milk supply.
- chaste berry: plant used as dietary supplement. It inhibits the secretion of prolactin which reduces milk production.
- alcohol: blocks the release of oxytocin which affects a mothers letdowns.
- sage, parsley, peppermint and menthol: these spices are known for helping mothers because it can dry up their milk while weaning.
- Pseudoephedrine, methergine, and bromocriptine: these are active ingredients in medicines that decrease milk supply. Pseudoephedrine is found in cold medications, methergine used to treat severe bleeding of the uterus after childbirth. bromocriptine is known for treating menstrual problems.
The one take away for increased milk supply
There is a sea of information out there on what to eat for increased milk supply, it can get your head spinning. The reason so many people swear by different remedies, is because the research is anecdotal. There is no in depth research that says either way, which can be frustrating, considering how advanced we are in medical research for other areas of concern.
If you take away one thing from this article, is that eating a healthy diet and checking your baby breasteeding latch are the best thing for your milk supply.
Do you have a food that helped increase your milk supply?