Breastfeeding your new baby can be both rewarding and nerve-wracking. While the physical and mental benefits of breastfeeding encourage many moms to shun the bottle for the boob, things don’t always go as planned.
One of the major obstacles many new moms face is being unsure of whether they’re making enough milk. Unlike with formula feeding, where it’s easy to measure out just how much a baby is eating, there’s no easy way of knowing exactly how much milk a baby is getting.
Sure, you could pump all the time and bottle feed your baby. But if you’ve ever pumped before, then you’ll know just how tiring, and sometimes even painful, constant pumping can be. Not to mention losing out on the bonding benefits of oxytocin release for both mom and baby that happens during a nice, snugly feeding session.
So what’s a prospective breastfeeding mom to do? Well, for thousands of years, wise midwives and herbalists have taken advantage of the medicinal effects of plants to help guide moms through pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
Not only is there a long tradition of certain foods that can stimulate milk production, but modern science has actually studied and validated the value that these foods, called galactogogues, have for breastfeeding moms. So whether you’re still pregnant and want to have a strong milk supply for when your baby comes or you’re already breastfeeding and want to give your milk production a boost, here are some natural options for bulking up your supply.
Oats are one of the most widely used and effective foods for increasing milk supply. That’s thanks to high levels of beta-glucan, a natural sugar that’s been shown to boost the “breastfeeding hormone” prolactin. Many of the commercially available milk-boosting foods, like popular “lactation cookies” found in many health food stores, are primarily made with oats.
One of the best things about oats is how easy it is to incorporate them into a meal. You can make your own lactation goodies, sprinkle granola on your yogurt and cereal, try out this tasty and protein-rich meatloaf recipe or simply enjoy a filling bowl of oatmeal and fruit. Oats also blend well into smoothies, and you can use oat flour in place of other flour types in some recipes. Best of all, this diverse and wholesome food is cheap and readily available.
It used to be common folklore that a tall glass of beer was the key to boosting a new mother’s milk supply. Now that we understand that alcohol can actually reduce milk production and inhibit the let-down response, not to mention its detrimental effects on a developing baby, it’s no longer recommended for moms to down a pint. Instead, it’s been discovered that it’s actually the barley in beer that is responsible for its lactogenic effect.
Barley has high quantities of beta-glucan and is fairly easy to cook with. Simply add whole barley to soups, stews, salads and even pasta sauce. You can also pick up 100 percent pure barley malt syrup at most health food stores and add it to smoothies or as a maple syrup substitute.
Another whole grain, quinoa is not only a great source of beta-glucan but also gluten free. Quinoa has high levels of complete protein, fiber and iron, making it a breastfeeding superfood. It’s also rich in magnesium, an essential nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium – a crucial process during breastfeeding.
Quinoa is easy to prepare and versatile to cook with. It can be used as a rice substitute in most meals, made into a quinoa salad, combined with lentils into delicious and protein-packed veggie burgers or added to pretty much any other food you’re preparing. If you’re not an oatmeal fan, you can also dress up quinoa like you would other hot grain cereals, maybe even incorporating pure barley syrup as an added benefit.
Other Whole Grains
Most other whole grains, such as whole wheat, brown rice, amaranth and even popcorn, have significant levels of beta-glucan and can be very helpful at boosting your milk supply. It’s important to keep in mind that only whole grains have this effect. White rice or white flour won’t provide this milk-boosting benefit. Simply swap whole grain flour for white when baking and brown rice for white rice to easily boost your daily intake of whole grains.
This sweet and tasty tropical fruit has been used for centuries in Asian cuisine as a way to increase milk production and get a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals in a new mom’s diet. A juicy and ripe papaya is one of the best sources of vitamin C, with one cup of the fruit providing around 144 percent of the daily recommended dose for an adult – even more vitamin C than an orange. This essential nutrient is a powerful immune booster that will help to strengthen your immune system and pass on more antibodies to your breastfeeding baby.
Papaya is also rich in vitamin A and anti-inflammatory enzymes, which can help promote healing and pain relief in a new mother. Note that papaya should be avoided during pregnancy, however, as some evidence exists that it contains phytonutrients, which can cause uterine contractions.
Although not the most well-studied of the lactogenic foods, brewer’s yeast has a long history of use by breastfeeding moms looking to boost milk production. It’s often found in many commercially available lactation snacks and is commonly used as a nutritional supplement. Brewer’s yeast is high in B vitamins, iron, selenium and protein, making it a great way to get some of that extra nutrition that breastfeeding moms require.
Brewer’s yeast can be added to smoothies or baked goods in small quantities, but be careful. It is super bitter and can pass easily into breastmilk, so use it with care.
This might seem obvious, but water should be your drink of choice when breastfeeding – and you need more than you might realize. Staying hydrated is crucial to having a healthy milk supply. Many new mothers are unaware of the importance of drinking sufficient water for milk production. Soda, juice, coffee and other caffeinated or sweetened beverages just won’t do, as caffeine or too much sugar can actually dehydrate your body and tank your milk supply.
Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Keep a water bottle handy if it makes it easier for you to drink. Thirst is generally a sign that you’re becoming dehydrated, so go with how you feel. But if it’s been a while since your last swig or you’re about to feed your baby, pour another glass (or two) to stay on top of your intake.
Other Foods and Herbs
There are a variety of other foods, herbs and supplements available that may boost milk production. Common natural options include:
- Sesame seeds
- Poppy seeds
- Red beets
However, most of the reports on their efficacy are anecdotal, so use these and other products at your own discretion – and with a doctor’s guidance. When it comes to herbs and supplements, it’s important to keep in mind that while some of these are known to boost milk production, such as blessed thistle and alfalfa, herbal supplements may have unintended side effects and may even adversely interact with medications you’re currently taking. Be sure to consult with your doctor about any supplements you want to take before starting.