Nutritional strategies to boost milk production
Establishing and maintaining milk production is an important and sometimes elusive goal for most new mothers. The positive public health implications of successful breastfeeding are unquantifiable. We measure the effects not just in terms of maternal and child health, but also in economic terms, due to short-term and long-term disease prevention. This recent study explains the public health benefits of breastfeeding in detail.
This is the second post in the ongoing series on breastfeeding, and focuses on nutrition, including food and herbs. Make sure you read the previous post, which explains the importance of the context in which you breastfeed. All these nutritional strategies will work better for you if you have the right environment and the right kind of support!
Be aware that not all of the foods and herbs I mention in this nutrition-focused post are necessarily right for you. Yes, the foods and supplements highlighted here boost milk production. However, we all have unique nutritional needs. In other words, your food sensitivities, medications, medical conditions and your unique bio-chemical make-up may make some of the foods and herbs better for you than others.
As with anything nutrition-related, there is no “good” or “bad” in the real-food world. What we’re always looking for is what’s right for us at this given moment in time. So use this information as a starting point, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like personalized guidance!
Hydration: how and what to drink
You need to be well hydrated in order to produce milk. Spring water and nourishing broths and soups are great for hydration. Sip water slowly throughout the day rather than guzzling large amounts at once. The quality of your water is important. Read my post on water and water filters to learn more.
Coconut water is very hydrating due to its electrolyte content, but may be too sweet for some.
I do not recommend caffeinated or sugary beverages to nursing moms. Caffeinated beverages can interfere with mom’s and baby’s sleep patterns. Sugary beverages provide empty calories at a time when mom and baby absolutely depend on nutrient-dense foods and drinks. Of course, drinks with artificial sugar substitutes are even worse than their sugary counterparts.
Most herb teas are fine while nursing. I cover the topic of herb teas that can help milk production below. However, do avoid herbs that are contra-indicated during nursing.
I recommend keeping water in the various parts of the house where you nurse your baby, within easy, one-handed reach of where you nurse. There are few worse things in this world than holding a nursing or sleeping baby, being thirsty and not being able to reach for the water!
Nutrition for milk production
Before we get into the specifics of those foods that boost milk production, let’s review the basics. First and foremost, make sure you’re eating enough. This is not a time for dieting! Second, ensure that your foods are nutrient-dense, supplying the nutrition you need to heal after the birth and to produce sufficient and nutritious milk for your baby. Avoid fake foods, empty calories and processed foods. Read through my basic food-selection guidelines if you’re new to the concept of nutrient-dense real foods. Make sure you also read my post on the best foods to support fertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding as an introduction to nutrition during these important life stages.
What foods boost milk production?
- Oats – if you’re on a gluten-free diet, make sure they’re certified gluten-free. Then note your body’s response. Many gluten-sensitive people have cross-reactivity responses to oats because of the similarities between avenin and gluten. Read more here.
- Properly soaked quinoa is very supportive of milk production. http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2012/01/basic-quinoa-soaked.html. However, some strains of quinoa may not be tolerated by some gluten-sensitive people. Read more here.
- Lactation cookies are an easy way to get milk-boosting ingredients. Try this recipe. I would definitely use oat and quinoa as the flours, but feel free to experiment with the ratios. You may find that 3 parts oats to 1 part quinoa gives you a more pleasant flavor and texture than a 50/50 mix.
- Some aromatic herbs and spices can support milk production when used in cooking and in teas. Try coriander, cumin, fennel and anise (source). These are great both as flavorings for your food and as an ingredient in herb tea. Experiment to see what you like best.
Basic herbs for increased milk production
Many herbs support breastmilk production. With any herb you use in amounts that go beyond normal flavoring of
food, make sure you check for contra-indications and interactions specific to your medical conditions and any medications you are taking. You can buy herbs in bulk from your local health food store or online. I highly recommend choosing herbs that are organic or wildcrafted from pristine areas.
My favorite starting place for herbal support is a stinging nettle and fennel seed tea, with or without the addition of red raspberry leaf. This is a pleasant-tasting tea for increased milk production. These herbs have properties that go beyond breastfeeding support. Stinging nettles provide minerals and offer gentle support for the adrenal glands. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you may find relief from those as well. Fennel seeds are great for digestive support and decreased gas in both mom and baby, making them a great choice if there is any colic. In the weeks after birth, I recommend adding red raspberry leaf in as well. This is a wonderful herb for extra nourishment and tonification of the uterus.
Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and add a handful of stinging nettle along with 1/2 TBSP of fennel seed). Turn off the burner and let steep 15-30 minutes, then strain. Drink warm or cold. Once it cools down, you should store it in the refrigerator to prevent spoiling. Drink 1-4 cups per day. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, stinging nettle will help with that as well.
Additional supportive herbs
- Goat’s rue can be used to help increase milk production. Like all herbs, it can interact with some medications for hypoglycemia. You can make tea from loose-leaf goat’s rue herb or purchase a tincture.
- Blessed thistle (not milk thistle!) is another herb that can stimulate breastmilk production.
- Fenugreek is probably the most popular herb for milk production. It is one of the herbs in curry powder and in most lactation teas, as well as capsules. However, it is contraindicated if you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I generally don’t recommend this herb in anything other than culinary amounts, because Hashimoto’s is underdiagnosed and the post-partum period is a common trigger for flare-ups. Additionally, about 10% of women suffer from post-partum thyroiditis, a condition closely related to Hashimoto’s. Thus it’s wise to avoid possible triggers during this delicate time when your metabolism and hormones are constantly re-setting and rebalancing.
- If you want to learn more about herbs to support breastfeeding, this is a great resource.
If you need more help
Sometimes the basic nutrition and lifestyle recommendations are not enough to boost milk production. There could be other issues at work, such as the need for pituitary support. If you’re struggling in spite of good nutrition and other strategies, reach out to me via email at email@example.com.