The best way to increase your milk supply is to nurse, nurse, nurse. Your baby is better than any other method of helping your body make more milk — the stimulation of the nerves with breastfeeding, as well as the removal of milk, signal to your body to ramp up production.
If you are doing all the nursing you can and feel your supply still needs a boost, consider adding these galactagogues (foods that promote milk production or flow) to your diet to help increase your supply:
Breastmilk Making Food #1: Fenugreek
Fenugreek seed is a common herb for increasing milk production. Used around the world in cooking and baking, fenugreek is a good source of protein, iron, vitamin C and more. Taken in tea or in capsule form, this herb generally increases milk supply within a few days.
There are some cautions — if you are prone to asthma or allergies, use fenugreek with caution. If you have low thyroid hormone levels, are hypoglycemic, or are taking blood thinners, you may want to avoid fenugreek.
Breastmilk Making Food #2: Oats
Some people think it's an old wives' tale, but eating oats can help to increase milk supply. Saponins — which oats are full of — are antibiotic and anti-inflammatory, supporting the immune system. But they also impact the milk-making hormones produced by the pituitary gland. So add a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or bake some oatmeal cookies and enjoy this simple addition to your diet. Check out our lactation cookie recipe here.
Breastmilk Making Food #3: Brewer's Yeast
Many moms have heard that drinking a bottle of beer may help with milk supply. This old wives' tale may have some basis in fact. Sometimes called nutritional yeast, brewer's yeast contains phytoestrogens – which may be the root of its success as a galactagogue — as well as protein and iron. Women taking nutritional yeast often say they have more energy and feel happier. You can find brewer's yeast supplements in health food stores. (In addition, the hops in beer are thought to improve milk ejection — so your grandma might be right in recommending a drink to help with breastfeeding!)
Breastmilk Making Food #4: Alfalfa
Alfalfa leaf is an herb with many beneficial vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Alfalfa is estrogenic, and promotes pituitary function, which is thought to be the way it works for increasing breastmilk supply. Consider adding alfalfa sprouts or seeds to your salad, or on a sandwich. Alfalfa also comes as a supplement in capsule form.
Breastmilk Making Food #5: Garlic
Cultures all over the world use garlic for its medicinal properties as well as its culinary flavoring. Used in moderation, garlic may have a lactogenic effect — but this may be because babies like the flavor. One study found that babies nursed more often and took more milk when mothers took a garlic supplement before nursing. So, the increased breast stimulation helped to increase milk supply. Go ahead and enjoy a garlicky meal. If you don't especially like the flavor, consider taking garlic in capsule form.
Breastmilk Making Food #6: Sesame Seeds
High in calcium, sesame seeds are one of the best seeds for increasing milk supply. Look for large black sesame seeds or husked, light-colored seeds. Eating the seeds crushed is important, as seeds still in their husk simply pass through the digestive tract. Try tahini — a sesame seed paste– in hummus or salad dressing, or as a spread on crackers or vegetables.
Breastmilk Making Food #7: Dandelion
Yep, the weeds in your back yard might help with your milk supply. Chinese as well as Native American medicine used dandelion to promote postpartum recovery and help build milk supply. All parts of the dandelion are edible — the leaves and roots can be sautéed or added to a salad raw. Or you can drink dandelion tea. If you are on diuretic medication, do not use dandelion.
Breastmilk Making Food #8: Fennel
Whether eaten as a vegetable or seed, the phytoestrogens in fennel are likely the source of its milk-making properties. Taken in too high a dosage, however, fennel seeds have to opposite effect of decreasing supply, so they should be used with caution. An added benefit is that improves digestion and reduces gas. Taken as a tea by a mother, it may mitigate colic symptoms in baby. Sauteed some fresh fennel with other vegetables and noodles for a quick dinner.
Breastmilk Making Food #9: Nuts
High in proteins and essential fatty acids, nuts are the perfect compliment to any diet. The amino acids in nuts are building blocks for serotonin, which is a necessary neurotransmitter for lactation. The best nuts for improving milk production are almonds, whether by the handful raw or through almond milk, maybe even some marzipan if you're looking for a sweet treat.
Breastmilk Making Food #10: Teas
In most parts of the globe, you can find commercial lactation teas marketed especially for increasing milk supply. These are usually combinations of galactagogues, and should be used according to package directions. Specific ingredients might include anise seed (thought to ‘bring down the milk' in ancient Greece), black tea, fenugreek, alfalfa, blessed thistle, red raspberry leaf, marshmallow root, goat's rue, and more. The best teas are made from fresh and organic ingredients.
Breastmilk Making Food #11: Lactation Cookies
BellyBelly has a very popular lactation cookies recipe which you can find here. Not only are the cookies completely and utterly delicious (be careful that your partner doesn’t eat them all before you do – and no, he wont start lactating!) but a whopping 90% of our forum members who consumed the lactation cookies reported that it increased their supply. Start with just a few cookies and increase if need be, as you don’t want to be dealing with oversupply issues!
While you're working on trying to increase your milk supply, it’s a great idea to get in touch with a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) or a breastfeeding counsellor in your area – try The Australian Breastfeeding Association if you’re in Australia, or La Leche League if you’re in the United States. The expertise of a qualified lactation consultant could go a long way towards helping to improve the amount of milk you can make.
Want to learn more? The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West and Lisa Marasco is a very useful book, as is the book, Mother Food by Hilary Jacobson.