A lack of milk supply is one of the most common reasons new mothers stop breastfeeding. But, the good news is that there are lots of natural ways you can increase your milk supply – from massaging your breasts to creating a calming environment when you feed. The question is, can what you eat also impact your milk flow mojo?
The truth is, the scientific jury is kind of out on lactogenic foods, aka foods that support lactation. Not enough studies have been done to guarantee that certain ingredients alone can increase your milk supply. However, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most Googled terms by new mamas, with many women swearing by the breastfeeding benefits of certain foods and natural remedies. We took a look at the science behind some of the most commonly recommended foods for increasing milk supply to see their nutritional value for ourselves.
Fennel and Fenugreek Seeds
Fennel may be a bit of a strange-looking vegetable with a funky hairdo, but it has long been regarded as a natural way to increase breastmilk supply. It's actually been used for its lactogenic properties in India and the Middle East for centuries.
Although some studies indicate that fenugreek tea can increase breast milk supply, there isn’t a lot of data to explain if (and how) it does this. However, there are a few theories. Firstly, both the plant and its seeds contain phytoestrogens which are thought to promote lactation, thanks to their natural estrogen-like properties. It is also believed to increase prolactin, which is important for breastfeeding. It’s also packed full of tryptophan, one of the 10 essential amino acids our bodies need and an important feature in breastmilk – and a feature in many lactogenic foods.
While fenugreek is great, you can have too much of a good thing. If you consume more than you need, it can cause side effects – including diarrhea. Eating the plant itself is a gentler way of getting the nutrients you need - and there are so many ways to enjoy it. We love including it raw in a salad or roasted up with chicken or fish!
There’s no huge mystery behind this piece of advice – everyone knows that eating enough vegetables is the cornerstone of a healthy diet – and that certainly goes for new moms too. Leafy greens are packed full of nutrients for both you and baby, but that doesn’t mean your plate needs to look like rabbit food. A great way to ensure you’re getting the vitamins you need is to give your meal plan the rainbow treatment, and each colour has its own benefits for breastfeeding.
Many dark leafy greens like kale and spinach have lots of phytoestrogens, which can help with your milk supply. If you want to mix it up a little bit, dandelion greens and stinging nettles are known as two of the best greens for lactogenic purposes. Many green vegetables are known as natural diuretics – meaning they help reduce water retention. This can help to suppress milk production if you need it and is also great news for post-partum swelling.
When it comes to the brighter end of the colour spectrum, you’ll still find plenty of foods that may benefit breastfeeding. Yams, beetroots and carrots are bursting with betacarotene, which could increase milk production and also transfer vitamin A to your baby.
Barley and Barley Malt
The theory that a tall pint of beer can help increase milk production may be a bit of an old wive’s tale, but there may be a grain of truth in it (literally). Barley and malt are key ingredients in beer and are both perceived as great lactogenic foods. Barley is one of the richest dietary sources of beta-glucan – a polysaccharide that increases prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactation – as well as our old friend, tryptophan.
However, alcohol has been proven to inhibit your milk production, and of course, drinking beer while breastfeeding is not advised as it can be passed on to your baby. A safer way to get up your barley content is to consume it directly. You can include it in soups or stews, sprinkle it on top of your salad, or even include it in your next batch of homebaked bread!
If you have a sweet tooth, pure barley malt can be used as a healthy, breastmilk friendly, substitute for maple syrup when baking cakes and cookies. Oats are another food that consistently features on lists of lactogenic foods, so having oatmeal with barley malt on top will give you double the breastfeeding benefits before you’re even out of your pajamas!
Brewer’s yeast has been a favorite of nursing mothers for years and is a recurring ingredient in lactation cookies and breastfeeding teas. But, why do so many women swear by it?
Well, it is packed full of vitamins, especially B vitamins, iron, and protein – so its healthy credentials are pretty high. It also has phytoestrogen, polysaccharides, and chromium, —all of which are important to lactation. All of these nutrients can help boost your energy levels, which is exactly what a tired new mom needs. If that's not enough, it has probiotic properties, which are amazing for supporting gut health.
Like barley and oats, brewer's yeast can be incorporated into your baking or you could even add it to pancakes or healthy homemade smoothies.
Now while we may be waiting for more in-depth studies to prove these lactogenic theories, these foods are certainly packed full of nutrients and vitamins that are going to be great for your overall health – and your baby. As long as you’re including them as part of a varied, healthy diet – and you feel good and baby is eating well – there’s no harm in trying them out!
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.