Are you concerned you’re not producing enough milk to satisfy your baby? Having a low milk supply can be discouraging when it comes to breastfeeding. In fact, 35 percent of women who decide to stop nursing report perceived insufficient milk supply as their main reason.
Or maybe you’re going back to work soon and anxious about pumping enough milk for your little one when you are away? Whatever your reason is to increase your milk supply, there are ways to help.
One of the best places to start? Your diet! 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 really need to be producing more.
There’s a common misconception that certain behaviors your baby might have can be a sign of low supply. 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 leave you wondering 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 are signs 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:
Your baby should have around six wet diapers in a 24 hour period, with around three or more bowel movements. After your baby reaches one month, that number may go down.
This is normal. During well visit appointments with your baby’s pediatrician, you can keep a log and review it with the pediatrician. They will be able to tell you if your baby’s bowel movements are normal.
The number of times your newborn needs a diaper change is a good indicator of whether or not they’re eating enough. Most babies should have around six wet diapers in a 24 hour period, with around three or more bowel movements. After your baby reaches one month, that number may go down.
If you’ve noticed a decrease in the number of changes your baby needs before then, you should consult their pediatrician with any concerns.
Besides your baby’s diapers and weight gain, their overall appearance may also be a good indicator that you produce plenty of milk. Healthy babies will be alert, and you should feel their muscle tone. Babies’ skin should also 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 regarding galactagogues reaching their milestones.
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.
There are many ways to increase your milk supply. 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 meditation.
Another easy way to keep your supply flowing is to eat a healthy diet. Some foods to increase milk supply—known as galactagogues—are scientifically proven. While others have been passed down through the anecdotal evidence of our ancestors.
Whether you have a low milk supply or are trying to build a stockpile, here are 13 of the best foods to increase milk supply.
Muslim mothers are known for using dates to increase their milk supply. Dates are fruit that comes from a date palm tree. Date palm trees are native to the Middle East and North Africa. Most often, dates are sold dried, like a raisin or prune.
Studies have been conducted to scientifically confirm dates as a galactagogue, and research has proven dates to help promote and increase milk supply. 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.
Since then, Fenugreek seeds have been used in several different cultures to increase milk supply. It is also commonly used in supplements that promote milk supply. While much of the evidence of fenugreek’s milk increasing powers is based on hearsay, some studies show that this increase may be due to increased insulin and oxytocin.
If you are trying to increase your milk supply, try starting the day with a bowl of whole-grain oatmeal.
Anemia, or low iron, in mothers has been shown to cause a low milk supply. Regardless, you’ll want to get between 12.6 and 13.5 mg of iron a day. One cup of cooked oats has a little over 2 mg of iron—higher if your oats are fortified. 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 are not many scientific studies surrounding barley and milk supply, it is thought that the polysaccharides in barley may increase prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone responsible for milk production.
Barley is a grain that can be used in stews, soups, or side dishes. Barley can also be used as a substitute for rice, although it has a nutty flavor. Or it can be ground into flour to make bread.
Brewer’s yeast is a specific species of yeast that is used to make beer and bread. It is often found in supplements, or used by those practicing a vegan diet, because it is packed with vitamins and minerals.
Though brewer’s yeast has not been extensively studied, there is some research that shows it may increase milk production in certain animals. Though the safety and effectiveness of brewer’s yeast in humans is unconfirmed, there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence for brewer’s yeast helping women increase their supply.
Fennel seeds have also been shown to increase milk supply. Although the studies were small, milk volume, fat content, and infant weight gain were all shown to increase after consuming fennel seed. Fennel is often used in both teas and supplements that encourage milk supply.
Not everyone loves the taste of fennel seeds because they are similar to licorice or anise. If you are not a big fan of the licorice flavor, you may also use the fennel bulb. When cooked, the bulb is much milder than the seeds.
Although there is no scientific research that confirms the use of papaya as a galactagogues food, it has been used in India, Melanesia, and Angola. The papaya is specifically unripe and cooked. The unripe fruit contains proteolytic enzymes papain and chymopapain.
While papaya’s ability to increase milk supply is not confirmed, it can improve beta-carotene and vitamin A levels for you, mama!
The ancient Egyptians used to use chickpeas as a natural galactagogue. Chickpeas—also known as garbanzo beans—are a legume native to the Mediterranean region.
Oestrogenic isoflavones found in chickpeas—a phytoestrogen—helps 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. You can also put chickpeas in soups, roast them, or add them to salads.
Much like oats, dark leafy greens are full of iron. These vegetables are also high in phytoestrogen—a plant-based estrogen. Phytoestrogen may help produce more prolactin.
Dark leafy greens include, among other things, spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, and bok choy.
Women in Thailand use ginger as a natural galactagogue. Ginger has been shown to increase milk supply in a small study, confirming the anecdotal evidence. Ginger is also known as a powerful antioxidant, so it may be a healthy addition to your overall diet.
You can add raw or cooked ginger to your meals as a spice. Ginger can also be made into a delicious tea. If you do not like the taste or are too spicy for you, there are ginger supplements as well.
Protein is crucial for lactation. It is recommended that a nursing mother increase her protein consumption by 25 grams per day. By adding lean protein to your diet—skinless poultry, white fish, lean beef, tofu, greek yogurt—you may be able to reach this increase of protein.
Coconuts are high in essential fatty acids, like omega-3s. By increasing these fatty acids, your body may be better able to produce the hormones it needs to produce more milk. Also, you may pass those fatty acids to your baby, which can help support their brain development.
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.
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, it has been shown to work anecdotally.
Like the coconut, flaxseed is high in essential fatty acids like omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds may also help to increase prolactin because of their phytoestrogens. You can find flaxseed whole, ground, and added to cereals and nutritional bars.
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 are working for you.
If you are 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 foods into your recipes.
Smoothies are a lifesaver for nursing moms because they are easy to prepare — and you can also take them on the go. Plus, you can add in things that you don’t love the taste of without tasting them! 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 modest 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, or toss in some fresh fruits for a sweet, crispy kick. You can also top your salad with lean meat to add an extra helping of protein.
Another quick tip, prep your salad mixings ahead for the week. When you are 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 to boost milk supply are on the sweeter side, making them great ingredients for a lactation cookie. While baking can be a science, there are plenty of recipes available online. Many of these recipes use brewer’s yeast, oats, flaxseeds, fenugreek, and coconut oil to help increase milk supply. To help curb your sweet tooth, you can add in chocolate chips.
Many nursing mothers look for ways to increase their milk supply. If you feel like you have a low supply, make sure you look at the right signs—how many dirty diapers your baby makes, poor weight gain, and 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.
Working with your baby’s pediatrician and a lactation consultant can also help you determine if your supply is low or not. Though working with your healthcare professionals should always be the first step, signing up for in-person and/or virtual breastfeeding support programs and considering free digital programs like Medela Family – which delivers tons of expert-backed breastfeeding tips and content right to your inbox – can help you be informed, educated, and confident in your nursing and pumping journey.
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 to your body to produce more prolactin.
Get creative when adding these foods into your diet. Adding smoothies, salads, and cookies is an easy way to increase the amount of galactagogues in your diet.
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