The benefits of breastfeeding and breastmilk are well known for both baby’s and mom’s health (see this post). There are many ways to help improve milk production through dietary changes that are actually tasty! A food or substance that is known to improve milk production and flow is referred to as a galactogogue.
For many women choosing to breastfeed, galactogogues are not needed to stimulate milk production to feed their newborn; however, when focusing on healthy and nutritious foods and herbs that also serve the purpose of increasing milk supply, it’s a win-win situation.
Foods to increase milk supply:
Nuts/seeds especially ground flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts
Brewer’s yeast and hops (historically Guinness beer was recommended… Not so much a recommendation now!)
Herbs: fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel.
Foods that may contribute to low supply:
Caffeine (sorry to say tired mama!)
The herb sage
And some sources say pineapples.
For a great snack that can help improve milk supply, check out this lactation cookie recipe.
What does the Research Say?
A 2014 study compared fenugreek tea with the consumption of dates to a control group with no galactogogue. The authors found that consuming 300g of dates per day in the first seven days postpartum significantly improved birth weight recovery compared to the fenugreek and control groups (Sakka, et al. Journal of Pediatric Sciences).
That is a lot of dates to eat though so may not be a practical suggestion! Therefore, many new moms may find consuming 2 tbsp of fenugreek tea three times per day more appealing. A 2011 study found that this dose of fenugreek tea in the first two weeks postpartum: doubled the volume of pumped milk, that babies did not lose as much of their birth weight, and babies recovered their birth weight quicker versus placebo (apple tea) and control groups (Turkyilmaz, et al. Journal of CAM).
Keep in mind that galactogogues are the most effective when combined with diligent stimulation, either frequent feeds or pumping, and ensuring correct latch is occurring (see the attached PDF for info on proper latching).
Other considerations include mom’s hydration (aim for at least 3 litres/day), nutritional status, and level of rest.