Foods to Increase Breast Milk Production for Low Supply Issues

person carrying baby on arms

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2006, 73.9% of all infants born in the United States were breastfed at least once. By age six months, 43.4% were still breastfeeding, which makes for many mothers involved in managing breast milk production and supply.

The majority of breastfeeding moms experience low breast milk supply at least once during their baby’s breastfeeding time, whether a result of a growth spurt, illness, stress, or other factors. Learn the role that foods play in increasing (and sometimes decreasing) breastmilk production so that mothers with low milk supply issues can find natural remedies.

The Basics of Breastfeeding Milk Supply

Before embarking on any protocol to increase milk supply, mothers should make sure that they are not consuming anti-galactogogues, and that the following basic self-care issues are being met:

  • Sleep. As hard as it might be, getting eight to 10 hours of restful sleep helps to keep breast milk levels high. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” isn’t a cliche. It’s sound advice for a healthy mother and good breast milk production.
  • Water. Drink to thirst. There is no specific amount of water a breastfeeding mother “should” drink, but breast milk production will drop if the mother doesn’t drink enough. Be sure to drink when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night as well.
  • Feed on demand. Breast milk supply relies on stimulation. If the baby doesn’t feed enough, then the signal to produce more breast milk doesn’t get triggered. Feeding on demand is the best way to help improve supply.
  • Pump when separated. Use a breast pump to empty the breasts every two to three hours when away from the baby. Store the pumped milk to feed to the baby later.

If breastfeeding mothers are following the above advice and still have low breast milk supply, then it’s time to move on to specific home remedies to help increase milk supply.

Breastfeeding and Low Milk Supply

Some mothers find that a combination of the right foods and herbs for breastfeeding help to boost milk supply the most. Herbal remedies to increase milk production can be very effective to increase mother’s milk, and when you add some of the foods listed below, low milk supply may be corrected.

Breast Milk Supply and Anti-Galactogogues

Breastfeeding mothers can accidentally sabotage breast milk production by consuming anti-galactogogues. These range from foods, herbs and drugs that inhibit milk supply.

Foods and herbs to avoid or drastically limit include:

  • Cabbage
  • Peppermint
  • Sage

Over-the-counter drugs, such as pseudoephedrine and anti-histamines, can have a drying effect on breast milk production, depressing supply. Mothers using home remedies to increase breast milk should avoid all anti-galactogogues.

Low milk supply can be caused by many factors, but the major culprits are:

  • Stress. Mothers often experience drops in breast milk production when returning to work, experiencing a major life stress, or going from one child to two and struggling with the adjustment.
  • Lack of sleep. While it might seem impossible, mothers need between eight and ten hours of restful sleep to help maintain proper milk supply.
  • Baby’s growth spurt. Babies will often seem frantic at the breast, desperate for more milk when going through a growth spurt. Frequent nursing and drinking more water concurrently is key to stimulating milk glands and increasing breast milk supply.
  • Thyroid or hormonal changes. Five to eight percent of all women experience postpartum thyroid disorders after pregnancy, and a low or high thyroid can compromise breast milk production.
  • Dehydration. Mothers need to drink to thirst to avoid low milk supply. Drink during the night as well to handle late night feedings.
  • Insufficient calories. Some mothers do not consume enough calories to maintain a full milk supply. Add 300 calories per day to cover the needed metabolic changes required to produce enough milk for breastfeeding.

If breastfeeding mothers are certain that none of the above is an issue, or can take steps to remove these issues as barriers to producing enough milk, then an increase in breast milk production should be seen. In addition, breastfeeding mothers can turn to various foods to help increase low milk supply.

Which Foods Can Increase Breast Milk Production?

The University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health’s Integrative Medicine Program advises mothers seeking information on low milk supply to eat the following foods:

  • Asparagus
  • Apricots
  • Green beans
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Beet greens
  • Watercress
  • Parsley
  • Dandelion greens
  • Peas
  • Pecans
  • Oatmeal
  • Beer (with or without alcohol)

There is no limit to the amount of these foods that a breastfeeding mother can eat each day, with one exception: alcoholic beer should be limited to one per day as a galactogogue, and the darker the beer, the better. The jury is still out on whether the alcohol in one beer affects the baby or not, so consult with a La Leche League leader, lactation consultant, or pediatrician before consuming beer and breastfeeding within two hours.

Increased breast milk production from these foods, in conjunction with consuming enough water, getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress and maintaining a healthy lifestyle should help to stabilize milk supply and provide enough for baby’s needs.

Breast Milk Production and Herbs

The University of Wisconsin’s “Natural Galactogogues” handout also notes that these herbs can improve breast milk production:

  • Fenugreek
  • Goat’s Rue
  • Milk Thistle
  • Blessed Thistle leaves
  • Borage leaves
  • Fennel and Barley Water
  • Hops
  • Alfalfa
  • Anise

The specific recommendation for using each herb to increase breastmilk should be followed carefully.

Natural Remedies and Prescription Drugs to Increase Breastmilk

There are a wide range of approaches to managing temporary or chronic low milk supply issues. To learn more about both natural remedies for increasing breast milk and prescription drugs that can boost breastmilk supply, please read the following articles:

Domperidone Can Help With Low Milk Supply – Sometimes natural approaches aren’t enough, and a prescription drug that increases prolactin levels and breast milk production is needed.

Where to Buy Domperidone For Low Milk Supply – Although Domperidone (Motilium) is legal in the United States, finding it can be a challenge. Learn where to buy this prescription drug to help increase breast milk.

Breastfeeding challenges can be overcome – it takes support and perseverance. Read as much as possible on the issue of low supply. Research every avenue for increasing milk production, in books, magazines, and online. Arm yourself with knowledge about techniques, dietary changes, supplements and other products designed to improve milk production to have the best possible outcome.

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding: Frequently Asked Questions 

Koletzko B, Lehner F. “Beer and Breastfeeding.” Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 478 : 23-8.

Marasco, L. “Increasing Your Milk Supply With Galactogogues.” Journal of Human Lactation, 24 (4), pp. 455-56.

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, “Natural Galactogogues”.

Weiss, Jean. Is Your Breast Milk Waning?, MSN Health.

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, “Natural Galactogogues”.

La Leche League International, How Can I Increase My Milk Supply?.

British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Pseudoephedrine: Effects on Milk Production in Women and Estimation of Infant Exposure via Breastmilk.

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