Becoming a mother is one of the most beautiful and challenging events one can experience in life. Along with all the blessings a newborn baby brings, a new mom can also face a number of unexpected hurdles when learning things like breastfeeding.
Many mothers struggle with milk production, meaning they’re unable to consistently produce enough breastmilk to meet the demand of their newborn. While it’s always a good idea to speak with a lactation consultant to address the underlying causes of milk supply issues, there are also some ways that nutrition may help.
Can Foods Help With Lactation?
Foods, herbs, and spices thought to increase milk production are called galactagogues. Overall, clinical research in this area is limited, but that’s not to say the use of galactagogues is ineffective. Most evidence is anecdotal; the best way to know if something will work for you is to try it under the supervision of a lactation consultant.
What Research Says
A 2020 Cochrane meta-analysis examined 41 randomized controlled trials on the effect of oral galactagogues for increasing milk production in non-hospitalized breastfeeding mother-term infant pairs. The study involved over 3,000 mothers and 3,000 infants from at least 17 different countries.
Many of the galactagogues evaluated had limited but positive evidence for success. Still, the authors concluded that more studies are needed focusing on dosing and safety before recommendations can be made.
A 2021 review examined 13 articles on plant galactagogue use, finding that 14 types of plants have undergone clinical studies in the past decade to verify their activity, with 12 showing a positive effect on milk supply. But again, the authors noted a significant gap in clinical research on galactagogues among breastfeeding moms.
The most well-known and widely used plant to promote milk production is Fenugreek, a Middle Eastern spice. In a 2011 randomized controlled trial among 66 mothers, Fenugreek herbal tea was found to be effective for enhancing breastmilk production and infant weight gain in their early postnatal days.
And in a 2018 review of 5 studies with 122 mothers taking Fenugreek, the authors concluded that Fenugreek significantly increased milk production compared to placebo. Keep in mind that Fenugreek should not be taken while pregnant, and the general safety of high doses is uncertain.
Safety and Effectiveness
While there is some evidence for certain plant galactagogues, safety data for their use among nursing mothers is still lacking. For instance, some herbs may interact with medications or supplements, and there are no standard doses for galactagogues.
Note that the use of a galactagogue on its own will likely not be enough to boost milk supply in the long term. Instead, this will be most effective when it’s done in combination with increased breastfeeding frequency. Removing milk more often tells the body to produce more.
Before starting a galactagogue or any other supplement while breastfeeding, always talk to your healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe and appropriate for you to do so.
Other Ways to Boost Milk Production
In addition to meeting with a lactation consultant and considering a galactagogue, there are other things you can do to help support healthy breastmilk production.
First, be sure to eat enough calories. Breastfeeding is hard work, and your body needs adequate fuel to do the job. Nursing mothers need 400-500 extra calories per day compared to non-nursing mothers. If your appetite is low, incorporate energy-dense foods like peanut butter, smoothies, and avocado, and cook with flax or olive oil.
Next, design a diet that incorporates a variety of whole and minimally processed foods. Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean proteins provide fiber, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support overall health. To complement your diet, consider continuing a prenatal vitamin like Garden of Life mykind Organics Prenatal Once Daily Tablets.
Finally, stay hydrated. Breastmilk is mostly made of water. Milk production can dehydrate, and if your body doesn’t have enough fluid, it can be more difficult to breastfeed. While it doesn’t appear that nursing mothers have significantly higher fluid needs, preventing dehydration is key. Keep a water bottle with you and monitor your urine, which should be pale yellow in color.
Breastfeeding is challenging for many new moms, so if you are struggling, you are not alone. If breastfeeding your child is important to you, speak with a lactation consultant about natural ways to help boost your milk production.