TLDR: If you’re trying to boost your milk supply, there are lots of foods that have been known to increase milk production in breastfeeding women. Some suggestions are backed by science, while others have been passed down through generations. Adding foods like oats, papaya, and more is an easy and delicious way to enhance your postpartum diet.
Are you concerned you’re not producing enough milk to feed your baby? Having a low milk supply can be discouraging when it comes to breastfeeding. In fact, 35 percent of women who decided to stop nursing1 reported that they did so over a perceived insufficient milk supply.
“As a lactation consultant I get a lot of calls about perceived low milk supply,” says Angie Whatley2 , an RN nurse educator and lactation consultant. “Many times, mom is making just the right amount for her baby, although you may notice changes in your breast after the initial milk comes in.”
Whatley notes that this happens around three to five days after your baby is born, depending on how often you nurse or express milk. “Your breast will feel softer and may stop leaking,” she says. “This is normal.”
However, if you still have concerns about low supply or if you’re going back to work soon and anxious about pumping enough milk for your little one, some things can help.
One of the best places to start? Your diet! Staying hydrated and eating foods to increase milk supply will not only benefit your baby, but it can also give you a nutritional boost. Before we jump into that, though, let’s figure out if you need to be producing more.
Signs of Low Milk Supply
There’s a common misconception that certain things your baby does are a signal that you have a low milk supply3 . These behaviors include crying often, not sleeping for long periods, being hard to feed, or wanting to nurse often.
Changes in your body may also make you wonder if you have a low supply. Your breasts may not feel as full, stop leaking, or less milk comes out when you pump. None of these is a sign of a low supply; in fact, they’re perfectly normal and happen more often than you might think.
The following are more reliable signs that your baby isn’t getting enough milk:
Not producing enough wet and dirty diapers
The number of times your newborn needs a diaper change is a good indicator of whether or not they’re eating enough. Your baby should have around six wet diapers in 24 hours, with around three or more bowel movements. After your baby reaches one month of age, that number may go down.
Whatley notes that your baby’s poop also is important to pay attention to: “Many times the baby may have efficient wet diapers, but to really know the baby is transferring milk, the stools are the key.”
She says that babies generally have “one to five stools” from day one to day five after the baby’s birth, “with the color changing from dark tarry stool to a more yellow seedy stool by day five.”
If you’ve noticed a decrease in the number of changes your baby needs before then, consult your pediatrician with any concerns.
Poor weight gain
While the number of diaper changes can tell you if your baby is getting enough to eat, their weight can also tell a story. If they’re not gaining enough weight—which is checked at your baby’s well-visit appointments—your pediatrician can advise on the next steps to take to ensure your baby is getting enough to eat.
Baby’s overall appearance
Besides your baby’s diapers and weight gain, their overall appearance may also be a good indicator that you’re producing enough milk. Healthy babies will be alert and you should be able to feel their muscle tone. Babies’ skin also should look healthy, and they should be growing out of their clothes.
Remember, babies reach milestones and weight at their own pace. Contact your baby’s pediatrician if you have concerns.
If you still aren’t sure about your milk supply, don’t hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant. They can help you learn different techniques that can help increase your supply, like proper nursing positions, correcting latch issues, and offering another layer of support.
Best Foods to Increase Milk Supply
There are many ways to increase your milk supply. Whatley emphasizes staying hydrated by drinking more water, first and foremost. You can try getting more skin-to-skin contact with your baby, use different expression techniques, or try lowering your stress and getting better sleep. One way to lower your stress is to try meditating.
Another easy way to keep your supply flowing is to eat a healthy diet. Some foods (known as galactagogues) have been scientifically proven to increase milk supply, while others have been passed down through the generations on the strength of anecdotal evidence.
Whether you have a low milk supply or are trying to build a stockpile, here are 13 of the best foods to eat:
Dates have been recommended for years to increase milk supply, and research has proven that dates help promote and increase milk supply4 . Dates are a fruit that comes from a date palm tree, which is native to the Middle East and North Africa. Most often, dates are sold dried, like a raisin or prune. You can eat dates as a snack or add them to sweet or savory dishes.
Fenugreek is an herb native to the Mediterranean region. The seeds of this herb have been used in cooking and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Its strong maple smell and taste are often used to make artificial maple syrup. (Fun fact: taking fenugreek supplements also can make you smell a little like maple syrup!)
Since then, fenugreek seeds have been used in several different cultures to increase milk supply5 . It’s also commonly used in supplements that promote milk supply. While much of the evidence of fenugreek’s milk increasing powers is anecdotal, some studies show that this increase may be due to increased insulin and oxytocin. If you’re interested in taking a fenugreek supplement, you should talk to your healthcare provider before starting it. It can interact with some drugs, and it’s not safe to take if you’re pregnant.
If you’re trying to increase your milk supply, try starting the day with a bowl of whole-grain oatmeal. One cup of cooked oats has a little over 2 mg of iron—higher if your oats are fortified. Iron is an important nutrient because anemia6 , or low iron, has been shown to cause a low milk supply in breastfeeding mothers. The recommendation for iron intake for women is between 12.6 and 13.5 mg7 of iron a day, so starting your day with a boost of iron or snacking on an oatmeal cookie may help increase your milk supply.
Oats aren’t the only whole grain that can help boost your milk supply. Barley has been used in many cultures to increase milk production. While there aren’t many scientific studies surrounding barley and milk supply, there’s some evidence that the polysaccharides in barley may increase prolactin8 , a hormone responsible for milk production.
Barley can be used in stews, soups, or side dishes. Barley can also be used as a substitute for rice, with a slightly nutty flavor, or it can be ground into flour to make bread.
Brewer’s yeast is a type of yeast used to make beer and bread. It’s often found in supplements, or used by people on a vegan diet because it’s packed with vitamins and minerals.
Though it hasn’t been extensively studied, some research shows brewer’s yeast may increase milk production in certain animals9 . Though the safety and effectiveness of brewer’s yeast in humans is unconfirmed, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for brewer’s yeast helping women increase their supply.
Fennel seeds have also been shown to increase milk supply10 . Although the studies were small, milk volume, fat content, and infant weight gain were all shown to increase after the breastfeeding mothers consumed fennel seed. Fennel is often used in both teas and supplements that encourage milk supply.
Not everyone loves the taste of fennel seeds as they have a similar flavor to licorice or anise. If you’re not a big fan of the licorice flavor, you can also use the fennel bulb in recipes. When cooked, the bulb is much milder than the seeds. Like fenugreek, fennel supplements aren’t recommended during pregnancy.
Although there is no scientific research that confirms the use of papaya as a galactagogue food, it has been used in India, Melanesia, and Angola. For it to benefit the milk supply, the papaya specifically has to be unripe and cooked11 . The unripe fruit contains proteolytic enzymes papain and chymopapain. While papaya’s ability to increase milk supply is technically unproven, it can improve beta-carotene and vitamin A levels.
The ancient Egyptians used chickpeas as a natural galactagogue. Chickpeas—also known as garbanzo beans—are a legume native to the Mediterranean region. Oestrogenic isoflavones12 (a phytoestrogen) found in chickpeas can help to stimulate prolactin. They also have one of the highest levels of protein of any legume, which is important for milk production.
Chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus, which you can eat as a dip or spread on a wrap or sandwich. You can also put chickpeas in soups, roast them, or add them to salads.
Dark leafy greens
Much like oats, dark leafy greens are full of iron. These vegetables also are high in phytoestrogen—a plant-based estrogen. Phytoestrogen may help produce more prolactin. Dark leafy greens include spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens, collard greens, and bok choy.
Ginger is popular in Thailand as a natural galactagogue. Ginger has been shown to increase milk supply13 in a small study and it’s a powerful antioxidant, so it may be a healthy addition to your overall diet.
You can add raw or cooked ginger to your meals. Ginger can also be made into a delicious tea. If you don’t like the taste or it’s too spicy for you, you can also try ginger supplements.
Protein is crucial for lactation. When you’re nursing, it’s recommended that you increase your protein consumption by 25 grams per day14 . Try adding lean protein—think skinless poultry, white fish, tofu, Greek yogurt, and the aforementioned chickpeas—to your diet.
Coconuts are full of healthy fats, which are great for most diets. While there are no scientific studies to prove coconut products increase milk supply, the anecdotal evidence is plentiful. You can get the benefits of coconut by consuming the oil, milk, water, or flesh of the coconut. Coconut water is also great for hydration, which can help with overall milk production.
Flaxseed was first grown in Egypt and China. It has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian medical system. Much like other galactagogues, there has not been much research on flaxseed related to milk supply. However, there’s anecdotal evidence that it helps.
Flaxseed is high in essential fatty acids like omega-3 fatty acids, and it may also help to increase prolactin because of its phytoestrogens. You can find flaxseed whole, ground, and added to cereals and nutritional bars. You can sprinkle it on yogurt or add to smoothies, as well.
How to Get More Galactagogues in Your Diet
Eating a well-balanced diet should always be your first choice when breastfeeding, but with so many lactation-friendly foods, it may seem impossible to add them all into your diet. The truth is, you don’t have to! Try one or two to start, and see if they work for you.
If you’re unsure of how to cook or prepare more foods to increase milk supply, or which foods would be best for your needs, a nutritionist can help. In the meantime, here are a few ideas for how to add these galactagogues into your diet.
Smoothies are a lifesaver for nursing moms because they’re easy to prepare, and you can take them on the go. Plus, you can add in things that you don’t love the taste of without really tasting them. For example, toss spinach, flaxseed, or coconut water into your smoothies. Adding a nutritionally dense smoothie to your day will also help boost your nutrition, energy, and stamina—all things a nursing mom needs.
Need an easy lunch or dinner option? Look no further than the salad. Salads don’t have to be boring, though. You can make your salad more exciting by adding different dark leafy greens, seeds, seasonings, or a tangy ginger dressing. Try roasting chickpeas and adding them to the top of your salad for crunch, or toss in some fresh fruits for a sweet kick. You can also top your salad with lean meat to add an extra helping of protein.
Another quick tip is to prep your salad mixings ahead for the week. When you’re craving something fresh, all you have to do is open your pre-planned containers and build your salad to your liking. Top it with a delicious dressing, and you’re good to go.
Some of the foods that boost milk supply are on the sweeter side, making them great ingredients for a lactation cookie. There are plenty of recipes available online, and many of these recipes use brewer’s yeast, oats, flaxseeds, fenugreek, and/or coconut oil to help increase milk supply. To help satisfy your sweet tooth, you can add chocolate chips, too.
Many nursing mothers look for ways to increase their milk supply. If you feel like you have a low supply, make sure you look for the right signs—how many dirty diapers your baby makes, poor weight gain, muscle tone, and alertness. Working with your baby’s pediatrician and a lactation consultant can also help you determine if your supply is low or not.
Adding galactagogues (foods to increase milk supply) to your diet is a simple way to help. Foods high in protein, essential fatty acids, and iron can all help. Foods high in phytoestrogen may also help to increase milk supply by signaling your body to produce more prolactin.
Get creative when adding these foods to your diet. Adding smoothies, salads, and lactation cookies is an easy and delicious way to increase the amount of galactagogues in your diet.