If breastfeeding, can foods increase breastmilk supply?
I want to start by saying, hand on my heart, however a parent choses to feed their baby/babies is perfect. Breast, bottle, formula, mixed-feeding, a nourished baby is a happy baby.
Breastfeeding is very personal. It can be an incredibly easy journey, or filled with challenges and heartache. Trauma, pain, mastitis, cracked, sore nipples and supply concerns are just the tip of the iceberg. So however you fed or are feeding your baby, you are doing an outstanding job.
Research shows self-perceived milk insufficiency is a major cause of breastfeeding cessation. It comes up a lot in clinic and I am often asked what ‘one food’ can increase breastmilk supply. While I can assure you there is no one ‘superfood’ that will make more milk, a whole diet approach may be beneficial.
More calories will help, and I will discuss this, but your first step, the most important step, is to speak to your GP or paediatrician and see a lactation consultant -a qualified IBCLC (Internationally board certified lactation consultant) to improve self-efficacy (confidence) in breastfeeding and address underlying issues. Non-nutrition based strategies should be addressed with a qualified professional first – especially if baby is not latching, not feeding, experiencing faltering growth, not gaining weight, dropping centiles on their growth chart or their formally fitting clothes feel loose. But there are some nutrition strategies you can try alongside working with your healthcare team.
“See a lactation consultant, a qualified IBCLC (Internationally board certified lactation consultant)”
- Adequate calories
Postnatal is not a time to be cutting calories, especially if you are breastfeeding. It takes a lot of metabolic energy to make milk for a baby.
Carbohydrates, protein, fats and micronutrients form the foundation of breastmilk and the whole process takes about 1,500-2,000kJ per day.
Current nutrition guidelines recommend breastfeeding women require more serves of key food groups like veggies and grains than women who are pregnant. And considering new parents are awake through the night, swaddling, cuddling and changing nappies and so forth, this period can be physically more active than before baby -or less so, this depends on activity levels prior to baby’s arrival.
2. Micronutrient intake
Just because baby is here, does not necessarily mean you should cease taking a prenatal supplement. If nutrient levels are depleted, it might be worth a conversation with your healthcare provider or dietitian to assess if a supplement may be beneficial in the first 6 months and/or beyond. Some nutrient requirements like folate, iodine, omega-3, vitamin B12, zinc, vitamin A, choline and selenium increase for pregnancy, and then increase again for breastfeeding. And while dietary requirements do not increase for vitamins and minerals such a calcium, vitamin D and iron, ensuring you are eating enough dietary sources is crucial.
If the diet is nutrient-suboptimal, the breastfeeding parent’s body can break down internal stores or baby may not receive enough via breastmilk. Now I say that delicately because it can be an overwhelming statement, especially when we talk about individual nutrients.
But take away this – we don’t eat a single nutrient, we eat foods – which (mostly) contain a bunch of nutrients. So this is more a comment on taking care to eat enough food and not to drastically cut food intake postnatally.
Breastmilk is about 80% water, so i’ll leave it with you to do the maths. Suffice to say, enough water needs to be consumed to replenish the breastfeeding person and provide the foundation for 80% of all that milk being made.
4. Societal barriers to breastfeeding
WHO (the World Health Organisation) recommend and support breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of baby’s life, then concurrently with solid foods until 2 years and beyond.
In Australia we live in a society where this just isn’t always possible. Work commitments, financial stress, stress in general, travel commitments, caring for other children or family members and so forth can be barriers to breastfeeding which can not be easily solved. While these are out of scope for nutrition, research shows these barriers to breastfeeding play a huge role in a parent’s breastfeeding journey.
Galactagogues are molecules which induce and support the production of milk. They can be pharmacological, dietary or made by the body.
Sticking to dietary sources here, you will find lactaction cookies and supplements claim to promote breastmilk production, and while there is some (thin) evidence to support some of their claims, mostly you can obtain what you need from a nutrient dense diet -throwback to my comment about eating enough food-
- See a lactation consultant and your healthcare team if supply issues arise
- Eat! Make sure you are regularly eating nourishing and nutrient dense meals and snacks. Accept offers for home-cooked meals, batch cook when there is time, load up on veggies and fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, plants and lean protein, legumes and healthy fats like avocado, oily fish and extra virgin olive oil.
- Drink water. Leave water bottles all over the house as prompts.
I hope this was helpful. Going through my own breastfeeding journey twice (one of which is still ongoing) I know the challenges it brings, and the doubts it can trigger. If you are concerned email me or DM me and we will work on a plan together to help.