Wondering how to increase milk supply—and whether or not certain foods and supplements could help? Here's what you need to know.
As a breastfeeding mom, it's incredibly common (and totally normal!) to be concerned about your breastmilk supply. Am I making enough? Is my baby nursing effectively? The good news is, the vast majority of mamas can make enough milk to satisfy their babies' needs (evidenced by weight gain and regular wet and soiled diapers). But there are times when you may want to know how to produce more breastmilk—whether you've got low milk production or simply want to boost your breastmilk supply in preparation for going back to work—and you may have heard changing your diet can help.
Is it true? While there are a lot of old wives' tales and anecdotal evidence about foods and supplements that can increase your milk supply—known as galactogogues—the science on them is actually pretty scant. "There is no solid scientific evidence that any foods are able to increase milk supply, " says Ginger Carney, IBCLC, a lactation consultant, dietitian, and the director of nutrition and lactation services at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. "However, if a mother wants to try on her own to see what results she may get, I don't see any harm." Of course, it's always a smart idea to consult your doctor before taking any sort of supplement, but check out these foods and herbs that could possibly help you get a few more ounces in that bottle—or an even more milk-drunk baby in your arms!
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A very common herb used in breastfeeding supplements, fenugreek is a known galactogogue. Carney explains: "It has been theorized that fenugreek stimulates sweat production, and because the breast is a modified sweat gland, milk ducts and milk ejection are stimulated. Most women who consume fenugreek report an increase in milk production within 24 to 72 hours after beginning oral consumption." You can drink it in tea or other forms.
Ever eaten a batch of lactation cookies? Chances are, they contained some oats. Folk wisdom has long touted oats' benefit on breastmilk production. There's very little scientific evidence pointing to true effects, though lactation pros hypothesize that increased milk after consuming oats could be connected to its high levels of iron. Sedjenane Chang, IBCLC, a lactation consultant in private practice in San Jose, California, says, "It's one of those things where it seems to help enough people consistently enough that it's a common suggestion. [But] there's not enough research to tell us why oats might help with milk supply." Either way, eating it regularly wouldn't be a bad thing to do while you're breastfeeding.
This leafy vegetable in the carrot family has long been considered a galactogogue, and some studies have shown a small relationship to better breastfeeding. Fennel is often found in teas and other supplements for breastfeeding moms, but it's also totally appropriate to cook up by itself. Find it at your local farmer's market or speciality grocery store. It's delicious roasted, in salads, or even sliced up and served with dip. Just make sure you like the taste of licorice, as that's what fennel is most often compared to.
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Ingesting brewer's yeast for increased breastmilk is another case of traditional wisdom and lots of anecdotal evidence. You may have heard that drinking beer is good for breastfeeding—ingesting brewer's yeast operates on the same general principle (just without the hops or alcohol!). Chang agrees that many mothers find it helpful. Brewer's yeast is also high in B vitamins, which can help with your energy levels. Buy it at your local natural foods store and put it in baked goods. Some moms even like it in smoothies.
Iron-rich foods like spinach can be effective at replenishing your iron levels (especially if you had a postpartum hemorrhage or otherwise lost an abnormal amount of blood during birth, as this can affect when your milk comes in). One study has shown that low iron levels are associated with low milk supply, so if you feel you're struggling, "have your doctor check your iron levels," Chang says. Other iron-rich foods you can consume include red meat (especially liver), beans, chickpeas, and other leafy greens.
In general, it's important to eat a healthy diet while nursing, not only so your baby gets good nutrition but to ensure your own body is operating at a healthy level, too. This includes eating a variety of whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and more.
Of course, the most important thing you can do to increase your supply is to breastfeed your baby frequently. Carney says: "Remember, successful breastfeeding is based on supply and demand. When the breast is emptied often, more milk will be produced. If an infant is not effective at the breast, this can certainly cause a problem with a sufficient milk supply." Nurse your baby as often as he or she wants, make sure to get a good latch, and offer both sides at every feeding.
If you're concerned about your supply, find a lactation consultant in your area who will work with you on you and your baby's personal situation. Breastfeeding is different for everyone, so making sure any solutions are tailored to you and your lifestyle is hugely important to maintain a happy, healthy breastfeeding relationship.