For centuries women have relied on foods to support and enhance their milk supply. I'm sure you've met plenty of mums who swear certain foods are to thank for their robust milk production (like the woman in your mother's group whose grandma suggested she eats apricots with every meal.) Likewise, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence out there to prove that certain foods and herbs can promote milk production, but what's the science behind it?
Foods, herbs, and medications that are known to support milk production in breastfeeding women are called galactagogues—the medical definition being: an agent that promotes the secretion of milk. Galactagogues typically work by increasing prolactin levels. (Prolactin is the hormone responsible for milk production).
Galactagogues can be very effective, but only when breastmilk is successfully and regularly removed from the breast. Why? Because the most effective way to increase your milk supply is through supply and demand. The more milk effectively removed from your breast, the more you will make.
So, if you're confident you're breastfeeding well and often but still need a little boost, it might be time to look at adding a variety of galactagogues into your diet.
Below are 12 top foods used to support milk production.
Oats are one of the top-rated foods when it comes to increasing milk supply. Half a cup of oats has around 2mg of iron which is 20 per cent of the daily requirement for breastfeeding mums. Low iron levels have been linked to low milk supply, so prioritising intake of this vital mineral is key. The best thing about oats is they’re super versatile; you can have them with milk, as porridge, baked in cookies or muffins, or even thrown into a smoothie.
Protein is essential for breastfeeding mums and babies, and eggs are one of the most protein-rich foods. Protein assists women in healing after childbirth and is vital for a newborn’s growth. The good news is, it passes through breastmilk to the baby when breastfeeding. So what could be a better one-handed snack than a boiled egg?
That’s right; the well-known superfood quinoa is also a milk-boosting superstar. Quinoa is an excellent source of magnesium, fibre, and protein and has a higher iron and calcium content than wheat products. You can incorporate the nutty-tasting grain into salads, cakes, muffins, soups and stews.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a type of Omega-3 fatty acid vital for a newborn’s development, particularly in their brains and nervous system. DHA passes through breastmilk, allowing your little one to reap the benefits. So, try to incorporate oily fish like salmon or sardines into your diet twice a week. But don’t worry, if fish isn’t your thing, you can take a good quality supplement instead.
It’s recommended that lactating women consume 1-2 serves of leafy green vegetables every day. Spinach, kale, and fenugreek leaves will all do the trick as they’re high in iron, calcium, folate, and vitamin K which are all minerals that support lactation.
Lean red meat
I’m sure you’re starting to pick up on a theme here - protein and iron are two of the most important nutrients required for breastfeeding women. Lean red meat is an excellent source of both and does wonders for milk supply. A tip, every time you consume iron-rich foods, pair them with something high in vitamin C, like a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, so essentially, you get more bang for your buck.
Legumes and beans
Just like lean red meat, legumes and beans are fantastic sources of protein and iron, plus they’re nutritional powerhouses. Both are full of fibre which is incredibly important for breastfeeding women as it help to keep their digestive systems running smoothly. Plus, beans and legumes like chickpeas and lentils are some of the most affordable galactagogues available.
Avocados are made up of around 80% monounsaturated fat (the good fat). This type of fat supports healthy immune function, bone health and helps you to produce rich breastmilk. A bonus is it also keeps you feeling full. Breastfeeding mothers often complain of feeling hungry all the time, and foods high in healthy fats will help to keep you feeling satiated.
Nuts are jampacked with all the key breastfeeding supportive minerals including iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin K. The amino acids found in nuts are also the building blocks for serotonin (the happy hormone). Serotonin is linked to improved milk production, because when we are happy and relaxed the let-down reflex comes easier.
Apricots and in particular dried apricots contain phytoestrogens which help to balance the hormones involved in milk production. They’re also high in tryptophan which can increase prolactin levels. In addition to this, apricots are high in fibre and are a great little one-handed snack.
Breastfeeding is thirsty work and staying hydrated is key. Increasing your water intake won’t necessarily boost your supply, but not drinking enough can inhibit it. An easy rule to follow is to keep a reusable water bottle on you and rehydrate every time you nurse and throughout the day.
In Shape Mummy Health Shake
The In-Shape Mummy Health Shake for Breastfeeding Mums is jam-packed with galactagogues, including organic milk thistle and organic fenugreek. Both herbs have been used for centuries to support milk production in breastfeeding women all over the world. Women have reported seeing an increase in their milk supply as soon as 24-72 hours after consuming these herbs.
Many studies on fenugreek conclude it has a positive impact on breast milk production. For example, one study broke women into two groups; one group was given fenugreek tea, and the other group a placebo. The group who consumed the placebo pumped 34ml of breast milk on average, and the group who received the fenugreek tea pumped closer to 73ml.
The second galactagogue present in In Shape Mummy Health Shake is milk thistle, a flowering herb that tastes like a mild dandelion tea. One study on milk thistle found that the women who took the supplement had an 85% increase in milk supply. The two herbs are best taken together to enhance the effects.
In Shape Mummy Health Shakes also contain 25 essential minerals, probiotics, and organic vegan protein to nourish you and your little one. These shakes are an easy and effective way to not only get the nutrients you need but also boost your milk supply naturally, especially when you're short on time.
Foods that inhibit milk supply
Although you might find you need to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding because they disrupt your little one, most foods are safe when it comes to protecting your supply.
However, cold medications containing pseudoephedrine can decrease milk production. So it’s best to avoid these medications while you’re nursing and instead try herbal remedies like lemon and ginger tea. Plus, Paracetamol and Nurofen are safe while pregnant and breastfeeding when you need something a little stronger.
If you’re looking for extra support while on your breastfeeding journey, head to Facebook and join our support group. The In Shape Mummy Breastfeeding Support Group – where you’ll meet like-minded women.
Shevi is a qualified nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences. As a new mum herself, she is passionate about postnatal-related nutrition. Shevi has worked alongside some of the most famous leaders and celebrities in the fitness industry throughout Australia and the UK.
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