Anyone who has breastfed a new baby knows how worried you can be about your breast milk supply. It is completely normal and something that we get a lot of phone calls about. It is reassuring to thing that millions of mothers across the world have been breastfeeding their babies successfully for thousands of years.
You can do it too. There are some key things to understand about your milk supply that will make it easier, especially that the more milk you remove from your breast, the more milk you will make. Even if you aren't removing much milk from your breast, the very act of breastfeeding or pumping helps to stimulate your nipples and send messages to your body to make more milk!
It is normal and natural to feel as though you are breastfeeding 24/7 with your newborn baby. To be honest, this is establishing your milk supply for the future, especially in the early days and weeks. It is important to take it easy and understand that the most important thing in your life right now is bonding with your baby. Everything else can wait.
In this article we will address some of the other key things you need to know about food for increasing your Milk Supply.
Do I have low breast milk supply?
There are certain times in a babies development when mothers naturally worry about their milk supply.
The first is after birth, when you're waiting for your milk to come in, and in the first 7 days when you're normally monitoring your babies weight closely. This is when your brain is setting up receptors that will govern your milk supply in the future, so it is important to breastfeed or pump at least 8 times every 24 hours during this stage in particular.
The second time women worry is at around 7 or 8 weeks after birth. This is when your body has worked out how much milk it needs to produce and becomes very efficient at producing just enough. The feeling of engorgement and having huge boobs fades away, and your breasts don't feel as 'full'. At this stage your baby may also be feeding a lot and waking up often, and so many mums worry about their milk supply. This is completely normal and is not a sign of low milk supply.
You may also worry about your milk supply when baby goes through a development leap or growth spurt and suddenly seems to want to breastfeed ALL. THE. TIME. This is also normal and is just a stage that will pass. Your baby is sending signals to your body that they need more milk for their growth spurt, and you will discover over the next 24 to 48 hours that you suddenly have more milk! You may then find you have that engorged or full feeling once baby's growth spurt is finished. This is all normal and is part of the beautiful communication between your body and your baby.
How to tell if you have low milk supply
There are three key things to be aware of:
- keep a track of your babies output (how many wet or dirty nappies every 24 hours),
- check if they are latching properly at the breast - you should be able to hear them swallowing as they nurse
- monitor baby's weight gain. You can check the weight gain charts and information available on the Australian Breastfeeding Association here.
If your baby is not putting on enough weight, or if the number of wet and dirty nappies has decreased, or you feel that they aren't latching and swallowing properly then always get help from a qualified Lactation Consultant (find one near you on this directory) or call the breastfeeding hotline (1800 686 268) to sense check your concerns with someone.
How can I boost my milk supply?
The key way to boost your milk supply is to breastfeed or pump your milk more often. Milk removal and nipple stimulation sends signals to your body that it needs to make more milk. The more you breastfeed or pump (even if you don't get much milk out), the more milk your body will start to make, within the next 24 hours.
Try these ways to boost breast milk supply:
- Try Breast Compressions: Gently squeeze the breast (like a hamburger) when breastfeeding or pumping to help get more out
- Remove milk more often to encourage your body to make more. You can offer the breast more often to baby, or try pumping after baby has finished feeding to help send signals to your body to make more milk!
- Try different feeding positions for you and your baby. Football hold works better for some women, or lying on your side with baby breastfeeds might be more relaxing. Even try breastfeeding in the bath to help you and baby relax. Just make sure you have someone to help you both get out of the tub afterwards!
- Take a deep breath and relax your shoulders when you are breastfeeding and pumping and focus on your baby. The love hormone oxytocin helps your milk letdown, and the more you can relax and feel the love the more milk will come down.
- Have your baby skin to skin on your chest as much as possible to help with bonding, relaxing and milk boosting hormones
- Drink lots of water and eat a varied diet with lots of veges and fruits
- See a qualified lactation consultant - if you are worried about your milk supply a qualified lactation consultant will be able to identify any underlying issues and can also tell you if you need to take medication to boost milk supply.
What are galactagogues?
You may have heard of the word "Galactagogues" or "Lactogenic Foods", but what are they? Galactagogues are simply foods or herbs that promote lactation or breast milk supply. There are quite a few available, which are identified as galactagogues either through their traditional use, or in some cases, through scientific evidence.
Although no-one knows exactly how they work, it is thought that galactagogues increase the prolactin levels in a mother's body, which is the hormone responsible for breast milk production. In addition, foods rich in phytoestrogen (plant based estrogens) can lead to an increased production of prolactin, and therefore may help increase breast milk.
There aren't many studies done on breastfeeding women and their babies though, so the scientific evidence is quite light on.
These are the most popular galactagogues in use:
1. Brewers Yeast - this nutritional supplement is used in the production of beer and bread, and is also added to most lactation cookie recipes. It is a good source of many vitamins, including B vitamins which help us deal with stress, and contains chromium which helps regulate blood sugar levels. It is also associated with enhancing the immune system and boosting energy levels. Brewers Yeast is considered a probiotic and can help with digestive upset. On the other hand, in some people it can cause bloating and an upset tummy.
2. Oats and oatmeal - Oats contain phytoestrogens and beta-glucan that can increase prolactin levels in the body, and increase milk supply. Oats are also high in iron, protein and help to keep you feeling satisfied for longer. They are also antibiotic and anti-inflammatory, supporting the immune system.
3. Nuts and Flaxseeds - especially almonds which are rich in calcium and magnesium. Nuts also contain protein, healthy fats, and tryptophan, which stimulates the release of prolactin. They also improve the quality of breast milk by increasing the healthy fat in your milk. Flaxseeds also contain omega-3 fatty acids which are great for you and your baby.
4. Fenugreek Herb - This herb is often included in breastfeeding tea. It has been used for years in India, and there is some scientific evidence that Fenugreek can help increase milk supply. Use this with caution, especially if you have other health conditions, such as diabetes or blood pressure issues, as this powerful herb can have other effects that may interfere with medication.
5. Dried Fruits like Dates and Apricots - These are high in calcium, fiber, vitamins A and C as well as potassium and tryptophan. Dates are given to women in some middle eastern cultures after birth to help with recovery and milk production.
6. Sesame seeds or Tahini - used in Chinese medicine to help breastfeeding mothers to make more milk, these seeds are high in calcium as well as fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese
7. Moringa Leaf - there are some small studies in the Philippines showing that this is an effective galactagogue. Used as a traditional supplement for years throughout Asia, Moringa is rapidly growing in popularity around the world as a nutrient dense supplement, especially for breastfeeding mothers. It is also associated with reducing blood pressure and is high in vitamin A, so avoid this one if you're on medication or already taking a supplement that contains vitamin A. Unfortunately it is not authorised for sale as a food in Australia at this time.
8. Garlic - garlic has been used around the world for medicinal benefits for years, including increasing milk supply. There are some studies that suggest that babies prefer the taste of garlic, so it may be that eating garlic causes your milk to taste more garlicky and therefore your baby nurses more.
9. Fennel - this lovely aniseed tasting herb contain phytoestrogens which are associated with increasing milk supply. Too much of it though can decrease milk supply, so don't go overboard! Another benefit to fennel and anise seeds are that they can reduce bloating and settle the tummy. Including this in your tea could help with your tummy and your babies tummy through your breast milk.
10. Lactation Cookies and Breastfeeding Tea - there are many lactation cookies and breastfeeding tea options on the market today that use popular galactagogues to help boost milk supply. These are great to have as a snack and try them out to see if they help your milk supply. You can shop lactation cookies here and breastfeeding tea here.
Other popular galactagogue herbs include Blessed thistle, Goats Rue and Stinging Nettle which are often included in breastfeeding tea blends.
Will galactagogues boost my milk supply?
We have many great reviews from women who have found lactation cookies and breastfeeding tea helpful in boosting their milk supply, however if you are concerned about your milk supply then you should always see a lactation consultant to help you identify any underlying problems.
Lactation cookies can't help if you have attachment issues or some other issue, and these types of issues are best addressed early before they become more serious, so if you're concerned, we recommend finding a lactation consultant near you. Find one through the Lactation Consultant Directory here.
About the Author
Corryn is a lover of coffee, hugs and sunshine. Mum of 3 and founder of Milk and Love, Corryn loves chatting to new mums and pregnant mums. She has extensive breastfeeding experience, and is an advocate for gentle parenting, cosleeping and looking after Mum's mental health... read more about Corryn here