The whole process of chestfeeding is, well, a lot. But one thing that isn’t always excessive (or might not seem to be) is a lactating parent’s milk supply. This can be frustrating as you pump and pump and see little results, or, as you may worry that your baby isn’t drinking enough milk during a feed.
If your child is gaining weight appropriately and needs regular diaper changes, your breast milk supply is likely adequate, even if your babe is fussy or not feeding during an entire session, says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC. Of course, any feeding questions or concerns should be discussed with your and your child’s medical providers. You can also consult with a lactation consultant or a dietician.
The best way to increase your breast milk supply is by expressing breast milk frequently and consistently, explains Brooke Gilliam, BSN, RN, IBCLC, nurse, and member of the board of directors for the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.* “This can be done by means of latching the baby directly to the breast, use of a breast pump, or by hand,” she says.
If you have done this, and if there are no outstanding issues like a poor latch, tongue-tie, stress, or sickness (even a cold can impact supply!), you can try turning to your pantry. Call it an old wives’ tale or ancient wisdom, but for centuries, certain foods and herbs have been used to promote lactation. “Historically, almost every culture has its own galactogogues that they rely on to nourish new parents and support a healthy milk supply,” says Lilly Schott, RNC, MSN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant for the reproductive health and parenting app Ovia Health. Although the research is not definitive, and it may not impact everyone, many of those mealtime additives and supplements remain popular today.
What to Consume to Increase Milk Supply
These go by the fancy name of “galactogogues.” There are hormonal galactogogues such as oxytocin (aka “the love drug”), and then there are edible galactogogues that you could work into your diet.
We know it’s such a cliché, but water really is the MVP. Whether that’s through flavored water, electrolyte drinks, water-filled fruits like watermelon, matcha, or tea (better-caffeinated alternatives than chugging coffee), grab what keeps you hydrated! “Really anything to increase water intake for mom is helpful,” says Lizzy Swick, RDN and founder of Lizzy Swick Nutrition. That said, overhydrating may decrease a lactating parent’s milk supply, Gilliam says. “Instead, one should be encouraged to drink fluids, preferably water, whenever feeling thirsty,” she says.
Krystyn Parks, RD, IBCLC, owner of Feeding Made Easy, says oatmeal, a lactogenic food (food that promotes milk production), is one of her top recommendations to increase breast milk. “It’s cheap and many people already include it in their diet.” Oats contain beta-glucan, she explains, a fiber that studies suggest may increase prolactin levels which can help increase milk supply.
It’s among the most common herbs that lactating parents use for cooking or making lactation tea, but it comes with several disclaimers. “I don’t recommend fenugreek in large quantities due to mixed reviews from moms,” says Tori Hamilton, BScN, RN, IBCLC, PMH-C, founder of The Mama Nurse. “Some breastfeeding moms find that their milk supply decreases, rather than increases.” It could also cause diarrhea, trigger migraines, lower blood sugar, and interact with drugs, so it’s best to consult your doctor and start low.
Goat’s rue, dandelion, millet, seaweed, anise, basil, blessed thistle, fennel seeds, moringa leaf, Shatavari, torbangun, vervain, red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, and more have all been reported to increase milk supply. Remember, recommendations are largely anecdotal rather than scientifically backed, so you don’t need to worry if your local grocery store doesn’t carry these. If you can’t find these at your local grocery store, you may want to try a specialty healthcare store or online retailer. When you find them, some of these herbs can be thrown into smoothies or veggie-rich soups and stews if drinking tea isn’t your cup of tea, so find what works for you.
It may sound counterintuitive since chestfeeding parents are encouraged to limit alcohol consumption, but brewer’s yeast can be used in cooking and is considered a galactogogue.
A bit of a one-stop-shop, these treats, which can be homemade or store-bought, often contain a mix of galactogogues and may help stimulate breast milk production.
Starbucks’ Pink Drink
You may have heard that some lactating parents (one of our editors included!) swear by the Starbucks Pink Drink to help counter a low milk supply. This may be because of the coconut milk used to make it and the belief that coconut and coconut milk are galactogogues. Even if it sounds more trendy than true, there’s no harm in giving it a try.
Whether or not you stock up on galactogogues to increase breast milk supply, know that how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. “Ongoing energy needs in the next phases of feeding are so high, so eating enough is priority number one,” Schott says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) generally recommend that chestfeeding parents eat an additional 330–400 calories a day compared to what they were eating before pregnancy.
And again, remember that consuming galactogenic foods alone will not increase milk production without ensuring frequent, consistent, and adequate drainage of milk from the breasts, Gilliam says.
What to Consume to Make Breast Milk Nutrient-Dense
When a lactating parent eats nutrient-rich foods, their body can heal and function at its best, which is always good for chestfeeding. Even though galactogogues are up for debate, Schott says we know of foods that “definitely support chestfeeding, recovery, and healthy milk supply.”
Plus, the levels of certain nutrients found in breast milk are affected by mom’s intake. “In other words, if mom isn’t eating enough of these nutrients, the breast milk may be slightly low in these nutrients,” Manaker says.
Do your best to incorporate sources of vitamin A, C, B6 and B12, omega 3s, iodine, choline, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, prebiotics, and other key nutrients. We know it’s a lot to keep track of, but you can start by working these recommendations into a diverse and varied diet:
This superfood (or another dark leafy green of choice) is a good source of plant-based iron. “After pregnancy, many moms find their iron stores depleted,” Parks says. Pairing it with a source of vitamin C can help the body more fully absorb the iron.
Oranges are probably the first source of vitamin C you think of, but Swick says all fruits, especially kiwi and strawberries, are also good options.
When possible, Beth Ann Martin, MPH, CLC, DONA, owner of Beth Ann Doula Services, suggests reaching for whole foods like eggs, nuts, avocados, and dates. “They are wonderful for supply and postpartum healing,” she says.
Most people can benefit from continuing with a prenatal vitamin or switching to a postnatal one (but always check with your doctor). “This is because it is so hard to tick every single box,” Schott says.
Talk to a pediatric care provider if there are foods you worry about incorporating into your diet while chestfeeding. “Generally speaking, chestfeeding parents can consume most foods,” says Chrisie Rosenthal, an IBCLC with The Lactation Network. “If you have a history of food allergies in your immediate family, speak to your pediatrician for guidance when it comes to introducing that food.”
It isn’t wrong to reach for snacks or to listen to your taste buds if any of these foods aren’t your thing. “You do not need a perfect diet to make excellent and nutritious milk,” Schott says.
And as you consider foods that increase breast milk production, Swick encourages you to listen to your intuition.
“Mom should feel empowered that if her body just created a human, it can certainly send her cues on what, when, and how much to eat,” she says. “It’s only when mom feels pressured to bounce back [to her pre-pregnancy weight] that the signals on nourishment get staticky and may cause her not to trust her hunger and satiety cues.”
She also says Mom shouldn’t cut out all carbs, and that there should be no intermittent fasting or restriction “of any kind” while nursing.
“Don’t make this a time of many rules and nutrition dogma,” she says. “If Mom has struggled with disordered eating, or if she is feeling burdened by the pressure to fit into pre-pregnancy clothes, she should talk to a dietitian or therapist if it’s getting in the way of properly eating the food necessary for this nutrient-intensive time.”
*Information shared by Gilliam is provided entirely independently and is not a reflection of the IBCLC examination.