Which foods can help with lactation?
Read on to discover some of the best foods to help lactation, along with some other tips to encourage a steady flow of breast milk.
There has been very little research into foods that increase lactation. However, the following may encourage the production of breast milk:
Oatmeal contains fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
According to anecdotal reports, oatmeal is one of the best foods for boosting the milk supply. It is also a good source of nutrients that are important for breastfeeding women and babies.
These nutrients include:
According to the University of Wisconsin's Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, oatmeal's high iron content may explain why it is popular with breastfeeding women. Low iron levels can reduce the milk supply.
Oats are also versatile and easy to prepare, making them a great meal option.
Brewer's yeast is a fungus that manufacturers use to make beer and bread.
Also, some people consume it because it acts as a probiotic and encourages gut health.
The yeast is also a rich source of:
- B vitamins
- trace minerals
Many people say that brewer's yeast is a galactagogue, which is a substance that promotes lactation.
Brewer's yeast is generally safe to consume while breastfeeding. However, understanding its full effects on lactation will require more research.
Fenugreek seeds are a staple in many Asian recipes. They are also a popular remedy for boosting the supply of breast milk.
Results of an older study, from 2011, suggest that drinking three cups of fenugreek tea a day leads to a significant increase in breast milk output, compared with a placebo. However, not all research supports this finding.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), fenugreek may cause:
- a worsening of asthma symptoms
- breast milk, urine, and sweat to develop a "maple-like" smell
The NCCIH also advise women to avoid fenugreek while pregnant, as it may affect uterine contractions. They caution that there is a lack of research into the risks of taking fenugreek while breastfeeding.
Eating garlic or taking garlic supplements may support lactation in some women. Although no research exists to show its effectiveness, some people in India use garlic as a galactagogue.
However, consuming too much garlic can cause breast milk to take on its odor. Some babies do not like this, and they may feed for shorter periods as a result.
Fennel seeds are a common ingredient in teas and supplements marketed to increase breast milk output. Some people also use fennel seeds to relieve gas and bloating.
Some studies report that taking fennel while breastfeeding can increase the volume and fat content of milk and help the baby gain more weight.
Tofu is an excellent source of protein.
Protein is essential for the production of breast milk, and it passes from the woman to the baby to nourish and support growth.
For this reason, breastfeeding women require an additional 25 grams of protein per day.
To ensure a steady supply of milk, it is essential to eat plenty of protein-rich foods every day.
Good sources of protein include:
- lean meat
- beans and lentils
- nuts and seeds
Fish represent another strong source of protein. However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise pregnant and breastfeeding women to avoid fish that contain high levels of mercury.
Those with the highest levels of mercury include:
- king mackerel
- bigeye tuna
- orange roughy
Leafy green vegetables
According to the University of Wisconsin's Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, many fruits and vegetables — including leafy greens — may help encourage lactation.
Examples of leafy green vegetables include:
- beet greens
- dandelion greens
Eating a wide variety of vegetables while lactating has other benefits for the woman and baby. It may encourage breastfed babies to eat more fruits and vegetables when they get older, according to some research.
A varied diet can also help prevent common nutrient deficiencies during pregnancy and lactation, such as deficiencies in:
These vitamin and minerals are present, in varying amounts, in leafy green vegetables.
Alfalfa is a type of pea. People consume sprouted alfalfa in salads, other meals, as a tea, and as a dietary supplement. Alfalfa may have modest benefits for lactation.
While no clinical trials support the use of alfalfa as a galactagogue, some women report that it helps boost breast milk production. Alfalfa is often an ingredient in lactation teas and supplements.
In Mexico, some breastfeeding women consume sesame seed cakes to increase their milk production. These seeds are rich in calcium, which may explain some of their effects on breast milk.
Calcium intake is especially important during pregnancy and breastfeeding for the bone health of the woman and baby. Consuming too little of the mineral while breastfeeding can result in milk with low calcium content.
Foods to avoid
Some women may need to avoid eating dairy products while breastfeeding.
Many women find that they do not need to avoid any foods while breastfeeding. Others report that certain foods and beverages reduce their milk supply or cause the baby to be fussy.
Foods that commonly cause issues include:
- products with caffeine, including coffee, tea, and chocolate
- dairy products
- herbs, including parsley, peppermint, and thyme
- spices, such as cinnamon and chili
- fruits, including citrus, kiwi, prunes, and pineapple
- gas-causing vegetables, such as onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower
Every woman and infant are different, however. Keeping a diary and looking for patterns can help identify problematic foods.
The following recipes may help increase milk supply and quality:
- Oatmeal lactation cookies. As well as being a tasty treat, these cookies contain several foods that could boost lactation, including oats, brewer's yeast, and egg.
- Oatmeal and banana lactation smoothie. Also containing brewer's yeast and peanut butter, this smoothie is rich in fiber and protein, and it may support healthy digestion and sustained energy.
- Lactation tea. This lactation tea contains just fennel and fenugreek, which may boost milk production and reduce bloating.
- Lactation oatmeal. A person can prepare this easy dish in advance for a quick, healthful snack between infant feeds.
- Kale and lentil soup. Combining leafy greens and lean protein, this warming soup is a freezer-friendly option for breastfeeding women.
Other tips for healthy lactation
Dietary choices can support lactation, but there are also many other ways to increase milk supply. These include:
- breastfeeding very soon after delivery
- nursing frequently, in response to infant demand
- expressing milk after breastfeeding to maintain supply
- staying hydrated, with water and juices
- getting plenty of rest
- reducing stress through meditation and exercise
- wearing a well-fitting nursing bra
- avoiding alcohol and nicotine
- ensuring that the baby's latch is effective
- receiving prompt help from a lactation consultant if nursing issues arise
- discussing medications with a doctor, as some can decrease milk supply
When breastfeeding stops early, a perception of low milk supply is the most commonly reported reason.
Often, women can boost their breast milk supply through a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes.
For example, eating more leafy green vegetables, protein-rich foods, and certain herbs and seeds may support healthy lactation. Also, consuming a wide variety of nutritious foods will have other benefits for the woman and baby.
Breastfeeding women with concerns about their milk supply or quality should speak to a doctor, midwife, or a lactation consultant.