Throughout history, breastfeeding women have looked for ways to help increase their breast milk supply naturally.
For centuries, women have used foods and herbs to help boost breast milk production.
These foods and substances are referred to as galactagogues, or lactogenic foods.
Lactogenic foods claim to increase milk supply; however, there is little scientific evidence to back up these claims.
Read on to find out how breast milk is made in the body, what causes low milk supply, and ways you can make more milk, naturally.
How to increase breast milk supply naturally
To understand how to increase breast milk supply, it helps to understand how breast milk production works.
When you are pregnant, your body produces hormones that stimulate the production of milk making cells in your breasts. Colostrum is the first milk your body makes and it is present in your breasts in the second trimester of your pregnancy. Colostrum is mother nature’s superfood and is perfectly designed for your newborn baby’s tiny tummy. Your body makes colostrum for your baby whether you choose to breastfeed your baby or not.
You can read more about the importance of colostrum in BellyBelly’s article: Colostrum – 5 Important Ways It Helps Your Baby.
When your baby is born, your supply of breast milk is triggered by the changes in hormones that occur when you give birth.
Once your milk supply is established, breast milk production is no longer hormonally driven, but instead works on the the principle of supply and demand. This means that your body replaces whatever milk has been removed – either from breastfeeding your baby or pumping milk, using a breast pump.
When you understand this principle, you will understand that to increase breast milk production, you need to remove more milk from your breasts.
The more milk that is removed from your body (i.e. the more your baby feeds), the more milk your body will replace.
Therefore, the most natural way to increase your breast milk is to breastfeed your baby more often.
Foods that increases breast milk production
We have seen that the most effective and efficient way to increase breast milk supply is by increasing the demand for milk.
There are also many different foods and herbs that nursing mothers can use to help boost milk production.
In a large contemporary survey of Australian women, galactagogue use was reported by 60% of women at some stage during their lactation. Women often reported using more than one type of food or herbal supplement at a time.
Some of the commonly used supplements for increasing milk supply include:
- Fenugreek seeds
- Blessed thistle
- Brewer’s yeast
- Brown rice
- Sesame seeds.
Let’s look at some of these lactogenic ingredients more closely.
Fenugreek is one of the most commonly used galactagogues. Fenugreek contains phytoestrogens, which are similar to the estrogen hormone that is naturally formed in the body. It is believed that fenugreek works to increase breast milk production by increasing estrogen in the body.
Fenugreek seeds can be added to other foods in cooking, or fenugreek can be taken in supplement form. It’s important to note that fenugreek is not suitable for everyone. In some breastfeeding women it can potentially decrease milk supply.
If you are interested in learning more about the use of fenugreek to make more breast milk, you can refer to BellyBelly’s article: Fenugreek And Breast Milk Supply – Does It Help?
Similarly to fenugreek seeds, fennel is thought to contribute to making more breast milk by increasing estrogen in the body.
Research has shown some promising results in the use of fennel to increase milk production; however, the studies have been too small to be able to draw any significant conclusions.
Brewer’s yeast is a common ingredient in commercially marketed lactation cookies. Brewer’s yeast has a strong and bitter taste, which is why large amounts of sugar or chocolate chips are often added to lactation cookies to disguise the taste.
Brewer’s yeast contains various B vitamins that can contribute to improved nutrition. Brewer’s yeast also contains chromium, which naturally lowers blood glucose. Elevated blood glucose levels have been linked to low milk supply.
Although brewer’s yeast might have shown other health benefits, there is not enough current evidence to show that brewer’s yeast has any direct effect on lactation.
Barley, oats and brown rice
Barely, oats and brown rice all contain high levels of beta glucan.
Beta glucan is a sugar that raises levels of prolactin in the body. Prolactin is one of the hormones involved in breast milk production. Having raised levels of prolactin in the body is thought to have a positive effect on milk supply.
Lactation cookies and lactation teas
There are many different companies now marketing lactation cookies or lactation teas that claim to increase breast milk supply.
Some breastfeeding women claim to have found these products helpful; however, any evidence that eating or drinking certain foods can help you make more breast milk is anecdotal.
There is no current scientific evidence to show that lactation cookies or lactation teas actually work to increase milk production.
Most of the anecdotal evidence suggest that lactation cookies and teas might help boost milk supply after a temporary drop in production.
There is no harm, though, in trying these products to help boost your supply.
You can find a recipe for lactation cookies in BellyBelly’s article Lactation Cookies – 90% Of Our Fans Say Our Recipe Works!
Low milk supply
The most common cause of low supply is insufficient emptying of the breast. No matter what you eat, if your breasts are not frequently and adequately drained, your body will start to make less milk.
Other causes of low milk supply could be:
- Having your baby born early, as premature babies sometimes require tube feeding
- Having a sleepy baby
- Having a baby with tethered oral tissue
- Not breastfeeding on demand, or scheduling feeds in the first few weeks postpartum
- Not offering the second breast after your baby has finished feeding on the first breast
- Introducing bottle feeding before breastfeeding has been properly established
- Previous breast surgeries
- Insufficient glandular tissue
- Other medical conditions.
If you suspect you have low milk supply, the first thing you should do is to get in touch with a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant will take a thorough history of you and your baby, as it relates to breastfeeding, watch you breast feed your baby, perform an oral assessment of your baby and devise a personalized plan to help increase your breast milk supply.
Reliable ways to tell whether your baby is getting enough milk
It’s common for breastfeeding mothers to worry about whether or not their babies are getting enough milk.
The most reliable ways you can tell your baby is getting enough breast milk are:
- There are at least 5 heavily wet nappies every 24 hrs
- Your baby is meeting all growth and developmental milestones.
If you have any concerns about your baby’s growth and development, seek advice from your family doctor or healthcare provider.