Did you know that there are certain foods reported to increase milk supply? This post will touch on some of most well known lactogenic foods and how they may help with milk production.
Once I learned about lactogenic foods and breast milk enhancer foods, my stress with breastfeeding disappeared.
We all go into this unknown of what nursing or breastfeeding will bring. You’ve probably heard sweet stories of it being so “bonding,” but you may have also heard stories of pain, regret and frustration.
The truth is, we all have our own breastfeeding experience, whether we choose to nurse, pump (exclusively or not), do bottle feeding, or do formula.
This post is not meant to shame moms who can’t or don’t choose to breastfeed.
Instead, it’s just meant to provide some evidence-based resources about foods that increase milk supply breastfeeding and touch on supplements to increase breast milk.
What’s the Research on Lactogenic Foods? Do They Really Help?
I’m not here to say eating the “best foods for breastfeeding” will solve your milk supply issues, but eating enough is certainly one part of the equation, as well as listening to your breastfeeding hunger.
There’s also research on supply and demand, and breastfeeding frequency and milk removal affect milk supply as well.
However, this post is specifically focused on breastfeeding foods to increase milk supply.
As mentioned in his paper, Common Herbs and Foods Used as Galactagogoues, researcher Frank Nice writes that herbs and foods have been used historically as galactagogues by breastfeeding women to maintain and increase milk supply (1).
“These substances stimulate milk supply or oxytocin, which aids in breast milk ejection,” he writes.
However, he acknowledges that there is a lack of evidence-based information on the use and safety of herbals and foods as galactagogues in many cases, herbs especially.
The FDA does not regulate the marketing of herbals and research studies are not required.
So, all the more reason to take care in what supplements you choose to take and to consult with your doctor, OBGYN, lactation consultant, etc.
It’s important to remember that while we have plenty of anecdotal evidence about the efficiency of certain lactogenic foods, we still need more peer-reviewed and published research before we can have definite recommendations.
As with anything, some of these foods may work better for some people than others.
Foods to Increase Milk Supply
As mentioned by the American Pregnancy Association, these foods listed below are galactagogue foods, meaning they may have substances that increase milk supply (2).
So, if you’re looking for how to increase milk supply when pumping, or just how to increase breast milk supply in general, these foods that help with lactation may help you!
I think it’s important to acknowledge that breastfeeding in and of itself is hard. It can be painful and frustrating and it takes a ton of time and energy.
And while it can be a great thing to provide to your baby, sometimes it doesn’t work out for moms and that’s okay too.
Many of these lactogenic foods go well in smoothies, so if you love smoothies, check out this post with 10 lactation smoothie recipes for breastfeeding.
Oats were an easy thing to include in my diet as a new nursing mother, as I loved to make a big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, or make baked oatmeal (apple pumpkin pie oatmeal or sweet potato oatmeal bake with blueberries are my personal favorites).
I also often made these chocolate chip baked oatmeal cups to snack on during the day or during night nursing sessions.
Oats also provide iron, energizing carbohydrates, B-vitamins to help with the production of energy, and fiber.
There’s not much published evidence about oats helping with breastfeeding but there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence and many lactation recipes available that use oats.
Similarly, whole grains have a balanced nutritional profile that may help support the hormones responsible for the production of breast milk.
Aside from oatmeal, barley, millet and brown rice are great grains to include in your breastfeeding diet.
Carbohydrates, like whole grains, can be comforting foods. Comfort foods may help women release the hormone, oxytocin, which is involved in the production of milk.
Fennel, an aromatic yellow-flowered European plant, is part of the parsley family. You can find it in many tea recipes (I happen to like this fennel tea with ginger).
Fennel may have estrogen-like properties, which may be why it’s known to help promote the milk ejection reflex.
The vegetable part of the fennel plant can be eaten raw or cooked with other vegetables. You can eat it as part of a soup or include it in other recipes.
Fennel seeds can also be used as a topper for many recipes and can be eaten whole.
Since fennel is also used as an herb, it’s important to be aware of some of the side effects as well.
Nuts are an easy addition because they’re so portable! I kept a little tin of almonds next to my bed for night nursing sessions and middle-of-the-night hunger.
Nutritionally, nuts are high in protein and healthy unsaturated fats, both of which can help with keeping you fuller longer, a great option for constant hunger while nursing.
I prefer to buy them in bulk because they last longer. Cashews, macadamia nuts and walnuts may also help.
Garlic has been shown to have antioxidant properties and many health-promoting properties. It is also believed to be a galactagogue food.
Interestingly enough, many mothers think of garlic as a turn-off to babies for tainting the taste of breastmilk.
However, a study published in Pediatric Research found that babies spent more time attached to the mothers’ breast after mothers ingested garlic, compared to mothers who consumed garlic capsules (3).
Garlic is easy to add to your diet. Sautee it and add it into soups, pumpkin chili, stews, roasted vegetables and pasta recipes.
Flaxseeds and Sesame Seeds
Both have phytoestrogens that can help with milk production. Flaxseeds are also full of essential fatty acids that help with decreasing inflammation as well.
I love throwing flaxseeds in smoothies and I even use flax eggs in this vegan brownie recipe.
I’ll admit, brewer’s yeast has a strong taste and odor that kind of turns me off. But, you don’t really taste it when it’s baked into the recipe.
For example, I use it in my triple berry lactation waffles and you don’t even know it’s there.
Brewer’s yeast is a powder, so easy to add to things. It’s full of B vitamins, iron, protein, selenium and many other minerals. I love this brewer’s yeast because it’s made by and for nursing mothers.
Fresh Ginger Root
Ginger is a well known galactagogue in Thailand. A study published in Breastfeeding Medicine found that women taking ginger root had higher milk production than women in the placebo group, not taking ginger (4).
I wouldn’t recommend popping ginger supplements, but adding raw, fresh ginger to your meals can be easy, or finding ginger teas that you like.
We’re all well aware that we should be eating more dark leafy green vegetables, including spinach, kale, arugula and collard greens. However, since these foods may also help support lactation, they provide more bang for your buck!
Add greens to sandwiches, smoothies, stirfries, pasta dishes and more to enhance the nutritional content of the dish. They’ll add calcium, iron, Vitamin C, B Vitamins, Vitamin A and more.
There are also herbal galactagogues, like fenugreek, blessed thistle and alfalfa, but those aren’t the focus of this post.
You can learn more about herbal galactagogues here and the efficiency of galactagogues in this systematic review (5,6).
Are Lactation Supplements Safe?
A review about the safety and efficacy of medicinal and galactagogue supplements published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Science states that “the use of galactagogue (supplements/herbs) should be limited to those situations in which reduced milk production from treatable causes has been excluded, and to “surrogate” and adoptive mothers who want to breastfeed (7).
It would be prudent to talk with your doctor, OB-GYN or lactation consultant before taking anything.
Need More Resources on the Transition to Motherhood?
These 50+ freezer meal ideas for new moms is super helpful and chock full of tips for freezer friendly, healthy recipes.
This post talks about the introduction of solids with baby led weaning.
This short TED talk is a great way to think about the transition to motherhood.
- Nice, Frank. Common Herbs and Foods Used as Galactogogues. Ican: Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition. 3. 129-132 (2011). doi: 10.1177/1941406411406118.
- American Pregnancy Association. Galactagogues – Boosting Your Milk Supply. Accessed February 19, 2020 from https://americanpregnancy.org/breastfeeding/galactagogues-boosting-your-milk-supply/
- Mennella, J., Beauchamp, G. The Effects of Repeated Exposure to Garlic-Flavored Milk on the Nursling’s Behavior. Pediatr Res. 34, 805–808 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1203/00006450-199312000-00022
- Panwara Paritakul, Kasem Ruangrongmorakot, Wipada Laosooksathit, Maysita Suksamarnwong, and Pawin Puapornpong.Breastfeeding Medicine, 361-365 (2016).http://doi.org/10.1089/bfm.2016.0073
- Bonyata, Kelly IBCLC. What is a Galactagogue? Do I need one? Kelly Mom. Accessed February 18, 2020 from https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/herbs/herbal_galactagogue/
- Mortel Mylove, Supriya Mehta. Systematic review of the efficacy of herbal galactagogues. Journal of Human Lactation. 29(2):154-62. (2013). doi: 10.1177/0890334413477243.
- Zuppa AA, et al. Safety and efficacy of galactogogues: substances that induce, maintain and increase breast milk production. Journal of Phamaceutical Sciences. 13(2):162-74 (2010). doi 18433/j3ds3r
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