Continuing with the theme of August as National Breastfeeding month, let’s talk about food and activities that may help with breastfeeding. All moms want to produce the most nutritious milk possible for their babies in order to provide them with the vitamins and calories they need to develop properly. But breastfeeding can be difficult, especially if your breasts are swollen or you feel you’re not producing enough milk. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best foods and methods available to soothe aching breasts while encouraging a natural flow.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
About 25 percent of mothers choose not to breastfeed. This may be due to difficulties finding time in a busy work schedule, lack of support from other breastfeeding mothers or lack of proper instruction. While it’s certainly not harmful to use formula, the Surgeon General has listed a large number of benefits to breastfeeding. These benefits extend not only to your growing bundle of joy but to your own health as well. Breastfeeding can:
- Strengthen the bond between mother and baby
- Lower the risk of postpartum depression
- Save money on infant formula
- Save containers and waste, making it environmentally friendly
- Provide the baby with nutritionally balanced meals
- Provide the baby with protection against some common infections
- Lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancers in mothers
- Reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Lower the risk of a baby developing asthma
Some of these medical benefits aren’t guaranteed, but breast milk does contain vital nutrients and minerals, and it can act as a source of protection against some illnesses. Now that you know the benefits, here’s how to get things going if you’re having trouble.
Foods that Help with Breastfeeding
Below are foods that many mothers have found ease the complications that can come with breastfeeding. Some foods help with lactation, some help with swelling and some do both. While these foods may provide assistance for minor difficulties during lactation, anything that seems out of the ordinary should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
Studies have shown that babies respond well to the smell of garlic that comes from a mother’s breast milk, encouraging more successful feedings. Garlic also contains antifungal properties, which can prevent and treat thrush, a common fungal-based yeast infection in babies.
Oatmeal is a great breakfast food for many moms as it’s high in iron, which promotes lactation, and helps lower mom’s cholesterol.
Fennel is known for its ability to help nursing mothers create more breast milk. Fennel can be consumed raw or cooked to provide benefits to both baby and mom. This vegetable is also a traditional remedy for babies who suffer from colic, a type of pain caused by gas buildup.
Carrots contain beta-carotene, which is known to increase breast milk production. The introduction of carrot flavor through breast milk will likely make the baby enjoy carrots as they grow. Carrots also contain vitamin A, an important nutrient for baby’s development. Carrot paste has also been known to work well to reduce swelling when applied directly to the breasts.
For moms with engorged and swelling breasts, cabbage leaves may be able to offer some relief. Use a clean cabbage chilled from the refrigerator to wrap around the breasts, leaving the nipple exposed.
The yolks of eggs contain high amounts of choline, which is an important nutrient for everyone, but especially breastfeeding mothers. Choline supports brain and spinal cord development, and some studies have even suggested it may improve children’s cognitive abilities and memory later in life.
Non-Food Ways to Boost Lactation
Increase the feedings
Allow your baby to breastfeed as often as he likes, and try to feed at least every two to three hours. Frequent nipple stimulation plays a large role in milk production. Try to empty your breasts at each feeding or empty them with a pump if your baby is sleeping.
Without sufficient water, your body cannot produce enough milk. It’s important to drink plenty of water and eat foods that are high in water content, such as cucumbers and watermelons, in order to produce the most nutritious breast milk.
Stay relaxed and well rested
Moms are better able to produce milk when they aren’t stressed, overworked or exhausted. It might seem impossible to take the “me” time you need, but try to relax and get the sleep that you need. A well-rested mom is a happier mom, and happier moms have more success with breastfeeding (and parenting). Plus, breastfeeding itself can be relaxing, making it easier to bond with your baby and handle the stress of a newborn.
Make sure your baby is latching
You might worry about your baby getting enough milk. It’s a common problem, but the bigger issue is probably in how your little one is latching. The American Pregnancy Association recommends that you make sure you and your baby are in a comfortable, relaxed position and that your nipple is aimed towards the baby’s upper lip/nose rather than the middle of their mouth. For specific lactation techniques, ask your doctor or your child’s pediatrician. She can refer you to a specialist or a local lactation group for help.
If you’re still not able to produce enough milk to meet your baby’s needs or you decide that breastfeeding isn’t right for you, it’s perfectly acceptable to introduce formula. Just know that even a small amount of breast milk can have nutritional and developmental benefits for your baby. You might even be able to accept donor milk if your area has a breast milk bank available. If your concerns persist, it never hurts to talk to your doctor or look into a lactation consultant.