Are you worried that you’re not producing enough milk for your baby? I know this feeling all too well and it was especially overwhelming when I had my first bundle of joy.
Breastfeeding can be challenging, especially for new moms who are wracked with stress, self-doubt, and uncertainty. You’re trying to get the hang of things and I assure you, all these feelings are absolutely normal.
When it comes to lactation and nutrition, there’s a myriad of information out there and it may be overwhelming. We’re here to give you the lowdown on the best foods for lactation to leave you feeling great and benefit your milk supply. You can do it, mama!
Is Your Milk Supply up to Par?
Do your breasts feel heavy when you first wake up? Are you hearing swallows when baby is at the breast? Is baby growing well? These might be indicators that your supply is doing just fine.
Baby’s cheeks should look full when nursing, and your baby should release from the breast on their own. You can also tell whether you have enough supply by how blissful your baby looks once they’re done feeding. They should look relaxed, with loose arms and open hands, which would be an indication of satisfaction.
Perhaps one of the best ways to tell that you have enough supply is to check whether your baby is gaining enough weight. After birth, babies lose a little weight, but they gain 4 to 7 ounces per week once they start feeding regularly and once mom’s milk comes in (2).
Your breasts will also feel soft after feeding, and you might feel sleepy.
What Causes a Low Milk Supply?
A low supply of milk can occur for a variety of reasons. We’ll go over a few common ones here:
- Poor latching: How well does your baby latch onto the breast? One of the most common causes of low milk supply is poor latching. If your baby is struggling, your body will not get the signal to produce more milk.
- Less feeding: If you’re not breastfeeding your baby often enough, your milk supply will reduce to match. Newborns need to feed on demand, which is generally anywhere between eight and 12 times a day (3).
- Certain health conditions: Some illnesses such as diabetes or anemia could affect your milk production. Previous breast surgery may also be the culprit as it can disrupt the formation of tissue. Mammary hypoplasia, which is a lack of sufficient glandular tissue, may be the cause as well (4).
- Estrogen-based contraceptives: Some research suggests that contraceptives containing estrogen may reduce breast milk production (5). Instead, consider taking progestin-only birth control pills as they don’t affect the milk supply and waiting until after 6 weeks to start them.
When Should I See a Lactation Expert?
If the reasons above are not the cause of your low supply, you might want to see a lactation expert or even your doctor, to determine where the problem is. However, before you get to that point, why not try some solutions at home?
How Do I Increase My Breast Milk Supply?
- Feed the baby often: Frequent nursing stimulates the body to produce more, so feed your baby whenever they seem hungry. You should also offer them both breasts at each feeding. Try to compress your breast during feeding so you can drain the milk until they’re satisfied.
- Pump your breasts: If your baby sleeps too long, or you need to be away, you can pump between nursing sessions to increase the supply.
- Avoid giving your baby a pacifier: Try to encourage a baby to comfort themselves while breastfeeding because sucking will stimulate production. If you would like to use a pacifier, wait until breastfeeding has been well-established.
What Are the Best Lactogenic Foods?
As a breastfeeding mom, you need all the nutrition you can get. This means you should strive to have a balanced diet with all the minerals and vitamins you need. That said, certain foods are more lactogenic than others.
Since you’re looking for foods that will increase your milk supply, the following list is a great place to start. We’ve categorized the foods into several sections to make it easy for you to digest. See what I did there?
Carbohydrates play a vital role when it comes to breastfeeding, and whole grains are always a better choice than refined carbs. The problem with refined carbs (such as white bread, white pasta or pastries) is that they lack fiber and can spike blood sugar.
Go with complex carbs so you and the baby will both benefit. You’ll gain some slow-releasing energy to keep you going, and some fiber to keep your blood sugar in check and improve digestion.
At this point, you probably already know that alcohol may inhibit milk production. However, barley, an ingredient of beer, is actually known to be lactogenic.
It’s one of the richest sources of beta-glucan, which is a polysaccharide known to increase prolactin, the breastfeeding hormone (6). One of the best things about barley is that you can add it to soups, salads, or even stews.
Oats are excellent milk makers because they also possess a high concentration of beta-glucan, just like barley (7). Oats may not be the most flavorful food on their own, but they’re very easy to work into a diet. You can make muffins, cookies, crumbles, or even top it with fruits, and voila!
3. Other Whole Grains
Whole-wheat toast and brown rice also contain beta-glucan, which makes them incredible lactogenic foods. Of course, they need to be whole grain, white flour or white rice don’t make the grade.
4. Brewer’s Yeast
Brewer’s yeast is high in iron, selenium, chromium, protein, and B vitamins. It’s been used as a nutritional supplement for generations and has always been recommended as a milk booster (8).
However, it passes easily into breast milk so you need to use it in small amounts to avoid gas or fussiness in your infant. Use it in your baked goods or pancake recipes.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are also a complex carbohydrate that contains vitamin A. This is an incredibly important vitamin because it’s essential for vision, cell and bone growth, and immune function (9).
Plus, sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium. Awesome, right?
6. Beans and Legumes
Beans definitely belong to your diet if you’re a breastfeeding mom. This is because they contain protein, fiber, and iron, as well as phytochemicals. Phytochemicals stimulate the immune system, help to regulate hormones, and increase milk production among other things (10).
I love how easy beans are to have as dips, in chili or casseroles, and even on salads. The same goes for lentils.
You’re worried about gas, right? If you actually eat them regularly, gas becomes a thing of the past. Furthermore, any gassiness is not likely to be passed on to your babe (11).
Get Those Vegetables
As we all know, vegetables are our friends. They’re full of vitamins and minerals, and some have a great deal of water to help keep you nourished and hydrated.
Besides that, your baby will get used to these foods via the milk and may end up liking them as well (12). You might escape having a picky eater!
1. Dark Leafy Greens
Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and broccoli are great galactagogues. They’re some of the best sources of protein, iron, and vitamins, which are essential minerals for both of you (13).
Carrots possess beta carotene and vitamin B6 (14). These are essential when it comes to providing the extra energy that lactating moms need to improve their milk supply.
Okra is one of those foods you either love or simply can’t stand, given the sometimes slimy texture. But if you want the benefits, it’s not hard to find recipes that make it taste delicious (15).
High in folate, it’s also a good source of other vitamins and minerals including niacin, thiamine, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Garlic is a well-known galactagogue, and even though there’s no research backing up its effectiveness, many will claim it does work. Of course, garlic is one of those foods you want to take in moderation because of the odor.
It’s widely recommended to eat two servings minimum of fruit every day while breastfeeding. However, not all fruits are lactogenic, so let’s check out some of the yummy fruits out there that fit the bill.
Oranges are the kings of vitamin C, which you need when you’re breastfeeding more than you did when you were pregnant. This vitamin plays a critical role in growing teeth, muscles, and bones in children (16).
Yes, even for newborns! And the only way to give it to them is through breast milk.
2. Green Papayas
Cooked unripe papaya is one of the best galactagogues; they’re just wonderful at inducing lactation (17). Papaya contains carotenoids that can help in the absorption of vitamin A and beta-carotene for nursing moms. They’re easy to incorporate into smoothies and they make a healthy snack for both you and the baby.
You already know that blueberries are a superfood given the antioxidants they contain — one of the highest amount of all fruits (18). These antioxidants will pass to your baby and help fight free radicals that could damage cellular DNA (19).
These are another source of vitamin C that’ll make it easy for you to meet the recommended daily intake of 120 milligrams (20). They also feature a high water content, which will help keep you hydrated. It’s imperative for breastfeeding moms to stay hydrated in order to prevent fatigue (21).
Potassium might have been important when you were pregnant, but it’s more so now that you’re breastfeeding. Potassium will keep your electrolytes and fluids in balance. Breastfeeding moms need 5,100 milligrams of potassium per day to have enough for two (22).
Avocados contain protein and more potassium than bananas. Of course, there are other foods that contain potassium like potatoes, so you don’t need to pack up on avocados alone. They also contain folate which is good for brain function (23).
For breastfeeding moms and their babies, avocados are a source of amino acids essential for cell growth.
7. Dried Apricots
High in fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium and calcium, dried apricots are a snack that surely packs a punch. But they also contain tryptophan, which can boost prolactin levels. Other calcium-rich dried fruits, like figs and dates, are great options, too.
Protein acts as a building block and supports your baby’s growth. When breastfeeding, you need enough protein to build and maintain the baby’s muscles, skin, and other organs (24).
Foods such as dairy, meats, nuts, soy, lentils, and seafood are all excellent sources of protein. However, below are some of the best for your milk supply.
Salmon is not only an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, but it also contains protein and it’s super rich in vitamin B12. Salmon is one of those rare sources of natural vitamin D (25). You definitely want to take advantage of that to prevent vitamin D deficiency (26).
You’ll also benefit from B12 and omega-3 because they help to ward off postpartum depression. The healthy fats found in the omega-3 are great for brain development.
As a breastfeeding mom, you have a high need for zinc and this is an incredible source. Beef is a quality protein rich in iron and B vitamins, too.
It will replenish your energy and help with milk production. If possible, go for healthier grass-fed beef where you will get more omega-3 fatty acids. This way, you also avoid the added hormones and antibiotics that could be harmful.
You already know what a good source of protein eggs are. But do you know they’re also a good source of riboflavin, folate, and vitamin B12? Eggs are so easy to cook and there’s nothing not to love about them.
For optimal nutrition, you should eat the whole egg.
Seeds are not only an excellent source of fiber but monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well.
They’re packed full of minerals, vitamins and healthy antioxidants (27). Even better, they help reduce cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Some of them are super lactogenic, like the ones listed below.
Fenugreek and its seeds both contain phytoestrogens that help with milk production (28).
Fenugreek, however, is not so good for people with diabetes, legume allergy or even heart or thyroid disease. If you have any of those, consult your doctor before consuming it. Use it in moderation by eating it raw or incorporating it into other dishes.
Chia seeds are amazing! They’re rich in calcium, protein, fiber, and magnesium. Apart from that, they pack a pretty powerful punch of omega-3 fatty acids (29).
All these nutrients will leave you and your baby feeling fuller for longer. They also have a nice pleasant taste and you can incorporate them into salads, granola, smoothies, and more.
Hemp seeds are a superfood, given their high levels of omega-3s. These are a complete protein which means they have essential amino acids that you and your baby need.
They also come with a high concentration of vitamins and minerals including the B vitamins. They’re bursting with zinc and iron, which are essential for your baby’s growth.
Similar to hemp seeds, flaxseeds contain fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids (30). The secret to unlocking all the goodness is to grind them because the body doesn’t digest them well when they’re whole.
You can also use flax oil which has a light, sweet taste. It pairs quite well with vegetables and incorporates seamlessly into smoothies. Flaxseeds will not only help with your milk supply but might combat inflammation too.
Nuts are full of iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins, as well as fatty acids and protein, making them one of the best overall snacks. Almonds especially are considered a galactagogue. Other good options for milk-making support include cashews and macadamia nuts. Rather than roasted and salted varieties, try raw nuts when possible.
2. Greek Yogurt
Calcium is imperative for you and baby and you need to have 1000 milligrams per day. This is easy to meet with low-fat yogurt or Greek yogurt, which also contains protein.
The best thing is that there are so many things you can do with yogurt. From eating it plain to adding fruits or granola, the list is endless. Unless your baby has a dairy intolerance, indulge yourself (31).
You’d be surprised at the number of moms who simply disregard water while breastfeeding. Hydration is super important. Water is essentially the base for your increased milk supply once you eat the right food.
Drinking a minimum of eight glasses per day will leave you replenished. It’s also very important because, as I mentioned earlier, it’ll prevent fatigue on your end.
4. Nursing Teas
Lactation teas are basically made of herbs and certain supplements. You can make your tea as you please, either with a single herb or a combination. Some of the herbs you could combine include milk thistle, fenugreek, and blessed thistle.
Apart from increasing your breast milk supply, teas are always a treat that comforts and relaxes a person (32). Not to mention how easy they are to prepare.
Even though you don’t necessarily need a specialized diet while breastfeeding, having nutritious foods to eat is essential, so fill up on plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Experiment with nuts and seeds and see what you like. Healthy fats are also essential. And I’ll say this again: stay hydrated!
As always, I would love to hear from you. What lactogenic foods worked best for you while breastfeeding? Tell me your story and I’ll be more than glad to upgrade my list.
Any comments, advice, or remarks are always welcome. Sharing would be highly appreciated too.