Foods to help you with lactation. Are there lactation foods you should be eating? Here’s what the research says about foods to increase milk supply.
The experience of breastfeeding is rarely what you probably expected it to be, regardless of whether it’s the first or the fifth baby.
In addition to things like plugged ducts and leaking, one of the most common breastfeeding challenges for new mamas is a waning milk supply.
Not producing enough milk is incredibly frustrating, and we’ve been there.
Because this is such a common obstacle, there’s also been plenty of experimentation done, especially around foods and herbs that can purportedly increase milk production.
Do they work? Are they safe? Here’s what you need to know.
Commonly Recommended Foods for Milk Production
For any mama who has faced challenges establishing their supply and producing enough breastmilk for their babe, there’s a long list of foods, herbs, and beverages — called galactagogues — that you have likely been pointed to.
Just a quick internet search brings up countless articles around specific foods or preparations that some moms have found success with.
Some of these include:
- Whole Grains
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Sesame Seeds
- Ginger Root
- Blessed Thistle
Okay, so these are all pretty inoffensive foods that can even offer health benefits. And they may or may not have worked for the person shouting it from the rooftop.
But the question remains: are there are really foods that are known to boost milk supply on a more evidence-based level? There are plenty of anecdotal reports, but we always recommend looking to the science.
What Does the Research Say?
Let’s get right to the point.
While we wish a certain food or drink could simply solve all your supply woes, unfortunately, enough science to recommend anything specific here is lacking.
A 2020 meta-analysis and Cochrane review examined 41 randomized controlled trials including 3005 mothers and 3006 infants from at least 17 countries, to look at the effects of galactagogues for boosting milk production in non-hospitalized breastfeeding mamas.
Substances included herbs, spices, and foods like banana flower, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, ixbut, levant cotton, moringa, palm dates, pork knuckle, shatavari, silymarin, torbangun leaves, and a variety of natural mixtures as teas or soups.
Overall, the authors concluded that while there’s some evidence that natural milk-boosters may be effective for some mothers, it’s limited… and there’s a lack of convincing supportive data.
Furthermore, there’s too much uncertainty around the safety of using many of these items, for mom and baby, to suggest anything specific for naturally boosting milk production.
As such, they recommend more high-quality studies on this topic before galactagogues can become more of a standard prescription for new mamas.
So in the meantime, feel free to responsibly enjoy that stout — and some of the healthy foods often recommended as galactagogues — just not for the purpose of improving your milk supply.
More on Herbs
As stated in the review above, the majority of herbs have not been proven safe for breastfeeding.
Of course, the absence of safety doesn’t mean they’re not safe — it just means that many have not been clinically tested in breastfeeding moms. And therefore we don’t feel good about suggesting them to you.
Still, the one herb that we do feel comfortable recommending is fenugreek.
In one study, fenugreek tea increased milk volume more than a placebo.
While the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine states that there is insufficient evidence to support using fenugreek as a galactagogue, we say that for most people, it can’t hurt to try.
As with any change to your diet during pregnancy or lactation, it’s best to talk to your doctor before incorporating any supplement into your routine.
PBJs Bottom Line on Boosting Milk Supply
Currently, the best, safest way to support your milk production (and overall health) naturally is to include plenty of whole foods in your diet — and adequate calories — and make sure you stay hydrated.
For instance, you know we love oats! And these are often suggested as natural lactation boosters. Many women report seeing benefits after incorporating oats, so again, it can’t hurt to try. They’re a nutrient-dense food that we’d want you eating anyway!
Additionally, many moms find success in boosting their supply by adding pumping and/or frequent feeding to their routine.
And always consult an IBCLC for individualized support.
At the end of the day, we know that mamas who are having trouble producing milk want all the help they can get, so our stance on galactagogues is this: As long as the food or herb has shown to be safe during breastfeeding, it can’t hurt to give it a try.
Human Donor Breastmilk
If you’re experiencing challenges with milk production, below are some resources for human donor breastmilk:
- Human Milk For Human Babies: HM4HB is a global milk sharing network that facilitates real-life connections between women sharing breastmilk, using social media platforms.
- Human Milk Banking Association: Founded in 1985, HMBANA is an organization that works to accredit nonprofit milk banks in the US and Canada, as well as set international guidelines for pasteurized donor human milk. There are currently 31 HMBANA member milk banks.
If you’ve ever had trouble with milk supply, there are always people suggesting foods to help you with lactation. But are there lactation foods you should be eating? When it comes to foods to increase milk supply, true research is lacking, particularly around safety. While that doesn’t mean certain foods and herbs don’t work, we recommend playing it safe until the research is clear — and seeking support whenever you need it.
Chime In: What other milk-boosting tips have you heard? Have you found anything else to be helpful for supporting your own milk supply? Share in the comments!
If you found this post helpful, we suggest reading these too:
- How to Wean Baby to Plant-Based Milk
- How to Choose a Good Baby Formula
- Plant-Based Milk and Weaning: How to Make the Transition
- DHA Needs for Kids
P.S. For more info and guidance around all things pregnancy, grab a copy of The Plant-Based Juniors Pregnancy Guide here!