I have heard moms say that breastfeeding is the hardest thing they have ever done. This isn’t surprising because breastfeeding has a huge learning curve and there is no way to practice before you play!
Once you get the basics down and finally feel like you are on your way, you suddenly develop low milk supply. You want to cry, feel like pulling your hair out, and seriously consider just giving up!
I’ve been there so many times along with countless others.
Lactogenic foods have been used by different cultures for centuries to help moms increase breastmilk supply. You are not alone in this struggle. You are not a breastfeeding failure and there is hope to boost up your supply and continue breastfeeding your sweet baby.
The following post is going to explain everything you need to know about recognizing the signs of low milk and how to use lactogenic foods to increase your breastmilk supply.
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It’s never too late to do something about low milk supply
One of the biggest problems with low milk supply is an all or nothing mindset.
New moms see other mommies in their circle struggle with their milk supply, start using formula, and ultimately end up giving up breastfeeding altogether. They then worry that this will also happen to them and when dips occur, it’s assumed that their baby will only get enough nutrition if milk is seen and measured.
This is the beginning of driving yourself crazy with ways to increase your supply.
Related: Breastfeeding tips for new moms
While it may be necessary to supplement for low milk supply, it does not have to be the end to your breastfeeding journey. Even if your efforts to restore your supply never reaches your baby’s full daily requirements, you will still be giving them all the benefits of breastfeeding with whatever they are able to get from you.
You DON’T have to be the only source of nutrition to have a successful breastfeeding journey.
I want to stress this because I don’t want you to give up. If you take that pressure off yourself, you will likely breastfeed longer. The longer you give your baby whatever milk you have, the better their health and vitality. Every drop is a gift and you should be proud of yourself for your efforts!
Why does milk supply decrease?
There are many components that make up an adequate milk supply. Your low supply can be due to one reason or multiple reasons.
Your milk supply may decrease due to not enough circulating prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production. The stimulation of your nipples increases circulating prolactin.
Your milk supply may decrease due to not enough prolactin receptors, which develop in the early weeks of breastfeeding so your breasts can respond to prolactin hormone and make milk. Increase your receptor production early on by frequent nursing sessions from the very beginning. You can even add extra pumping sessions to store up milk.
Your breastmilk needs to be adequately removed, as in the breasts need to be emptied, in order to signal your body to make more. This depends on the proper latch, adequate sucking strength and length for removal, and frequency of nursing sessions to signal the body to keep up the production.
If you are an exclusively pumping mama, it is of the utmost importance to make sure the breast shield that comes along with your pump is the right size for your breasts. An improperly sized shield can cause nipple pain, inadequate milk removal, and actually decrease your milk supply.
This short clip from Medella does a great job at visually explaining how to adequately fit your breast shield. Most companies offer a variety of sizes.
How do lactogenic foods help to increase milk supply?
Lactogenic foods, also known as galactagogues, helps to increase milk supply by increasing the circulating prolactin in the bloodstream. The more prolactin that is available in your breasts, the more likely it will bind to the receptors and stimulate the breasts to produce milk.
Lactogenic foods have not been studied in depth scientifically. Most of the common advice about foods to increase milk supply comes from generations of traditions and wisdom.
I for one don’t need a scientist to tell me that chips and salsa taste good for me to believe it. That being said, not all of these foods will work for every mama. We are all unique and our bodies will respond to different things.
So, when it comes to lactogenic foods, I say try them all! I mean who doesn’t love oatmeal cookies?
Breastfeeding moms need to increase their intake of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folate, and Calcium. Most vegetables are high in vitamins and nutrients, but some vegetables are higher in the specific nutritional needs of a breastfeeding mother. These include:
🥕 Dark leafy greens
🥕 Sweet potatoes
🥕 Green beans
Adequate amounts of Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron, which is a necessary part of breastmilk to prevent anemia. Get vitamin-rich fruits into your diet every day along with dietary fiber by consuming these nutrient-dense fruits:
🍊 Green Papaya
During pregnancy, your body uses up much of its iron stores in to support the growing baby.
Iron is an essential component of breastmilk and you will need to build your stores by eating plenty of red meat, chicken, fish, and legumes.
Getting one to two portions of fish a week will ensure you are consuming enough Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) to pass along to your baby in breastmilk. This essential fatty acid is responsible for promoting healthy brain and eye growth.
🍗 Free-range organic chicken
🍗 Grass-fed beef
🍗 Wild caught salmon
🍗 Wild caught cod
🥔 Legume varieties
Nuts and Grains
Raw nuts are another great staple for making nutrient-rich breast milk. Almonds are high in Vitamin E, protein, and fiber.
Oats, millet, and barley are highly nutritious and have long been known to increase breast milk supply. You can make your own barley water at home to get that milk factory working hard again.
🌾 Oatmeal (steel-cut and rolled)
🌾 Brown Rice
🥜 Pumpkin Seeds
Healthy fats, full of omega 3 and 6, are an essential part of a lactating woman’s diet. Avoid hydrogenated oils as these produce free-radicals in the body, which can cause cell mutation (aka cancer). They aren’t good for you or your baby.
🥥 Coconut oil
🥥 Olive Oil
🥥 Sesame Oil
🥥 Avocado oil
🥥 Flaxseed oil
🥥 Fermented Cod Liver Oil
🥥 Hemp Oil
Herbs and Spices
Anise seed originates in France and is known for not only increasing milk supply but also helping ease gas and colic. Caraway seed also helps to alleviate gas pains.
Dill seed and fennel work to enhance milk ejection and dill seed is one of the ingredients in gripe water. Everyday spices have multiple medicinal properties and the following help to increase milk supply:
🌶 Anise Seed
🌶 Caraway Seed
🌶 Fennel Seed
A breastfeeding mama needs plenty of water to support her body and her milk productions. Aim to drink at least ten 8-ounce glasses of water each day. You know you are well hydrated if your urine runs clear.
Breastfeeding moms also need plenty of Calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B12, so cow’s milk is a nutritious beverage in addition to water. Some nut-based milk are fortified with Vitamin D.
🥛 Lactation tea
🥛 Barley water
🥛 Coconut water
🥛 Coconut milk
🥛 Almond Milk
🥛 Flaxseed Milk
Fenugreek is probably one of the most studied herbs for increasing milk supply. It has shown its effectiveness by raising plasma prolactin levels. (source)
Many of these herbal suggestions are available in tinctures and combination teas.
Brewer’s Yeast is a excellent source of Folic Acid, B Vitamins, and Zinc, all of which are very important for the makeup of breastmilk.
🍼 Red Raspberry
🍼 Stinging Nettle
🍼 Moringa Leaf
🍼 Brewer’s Yeast
🍼 Goat’s Rue
🍼 Blessed Thistle
Homeopathy can be used for low milk supply. (source) For the best results, you should consult a homeopathic practitioner but the following remedies can be used as a guide.
The proper remedy is chosen not only by physical symptoms but emotional symptoms are considered as well.
- Agnus Castus– to be used when there is depression in addition to low supply
- Calcarea carbonica– for general use to stimulate production
- Causticum– for use when short-term exhaustion is present and when the mother’s personality is one that resists change instead of going with the flow
- Dulcamara– loss of supply after exposure to cold
- Helonias-drop in supply after exhaustion due to taking on too many things (trying to be supermom)
- Ignatia– lack of milk after shock or grief
- Ricinus communis– only use 6C potency as 30C can decrease supply. Use for nonappearance of milk or to increase flow
- Urtica urens– general use when milk is slow to come in or if you go back and forth between overproduction and underproduction.
Things to avoid
Large doses of certain herbs can act to decrease your milk supply or cause over diuresis (too much peeing), which dehydrates the mother and decreases her production.
In addition, lack of sleep, high stress, not enough caloric intake, and high doses of caffeine will decrease milk supply.
Many women experience a large dip in supply when the go back on birth control pills. If you are concerned about avoiding another pregnancy but do not want to take birth control, you could use the Ovia fertility app to track your cycle. I have been doing this for over a year without getting pregnant.
❌ Artificial ingredients
If you are currently faced with a low milk supply, it can truly be scary.
When it happened to me, I so badly want to ease the hunger pains of my baby with what my body could give him. I had to face the fact that I would have to fight for my supply.
This involved being intentional with my diet by eating lactogenic foods, taking supplements, power pumping at night, hydrating well, and giving my son the frozen milk stores or formula when it called for it.
I was able to reach full supply some days. Other days such as when I was on my cycle, not so much. I have managed to breastfeed him every day of his life so far and he is 13 months. The biggest reason why I have been able to do this is because I refused to quit, no matter how little I pumped or short his nursing session was.
I wish your journey to be easier than mine and you to find the golden ticket in some of these lactogenic foods to increase your milk supply fast!
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For additional reading:
Breastfeeding: Real Moms Tell You How. (2011). MacDonald, M. & Wright, T. Published by Diversion Books, New York, NY.
The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk. (2009). West, D. & Marasco, L. Published by The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc. New York.