Many new mothers find themselves filled with uncertainty over whether or not they are producing enough milk for their child's needs. This is an entirely common concern. If it is your first time, it is normal to have more questions than answers.
Many new mothers will respond by running out to the nearest health food store to stock up on whatever supplements the clerk says might help. While it is true that some supplements might help promote lactation, they are not always necessary, and in certain cases can cause more problems than they solve.
A mother's ability to lactate is heavily influenced by their diet. So if you are concerned that you are not producing enough milk, your first step should be integrating more lactogenic foods into your diet.
What Are the Best Lactogenic Foods?
Lactogenic foods are exactly what they sound like: foods known to promote ample milk production. They are good options to keep in mind when setting out to create your breastfeeding meal plan.
While simply ensuring that there is an abundance of calories and vital nutrients in your diet are itself a great help in promoting healthy lactation, these foods also contain substances that help support the chemistry of lactation. They also contain vital minerals and healthy fats that are vital to the process.
Some of the best lactogenic foods include the following:
1. Fennel and Fenugreek Seeds
Fennel is a white vegetable with a sweet, licorice-flavored bulb and thin, green fronds. Fenugreek seeds are just the seeds of the fennel plant.
Both the seeds and the plant contain phytoestrogens, which have long been thought to help promote lactation. Fenugreek, in particular, is popular for this purpose. If you have ever seen so-called "mother's milk" tea on the store shelves or in the supplement department, it is usually fenugreek.
Fenugreek has been used for its lactogenic properties throughout the Middle East and India for centuries. However, many people often take too high of a dose, which can cause side effects like diarrhea. People with diabetes, heart disease, or nut and legume allergies should consult their doctor before using fenugreek.
The fennel plant itself can act as a gentler form of support if you are advised not to take the seeds. It can be eaten raw, tossed in a green salad with oil and balsamic. Its flavor is also well-complimented by mint, orange, and grapefruit.
Fennel is also delicious when caramelized, and is a classic accompaniment to chicken and fish.
2. Leafy Greens and Reddish Vegetables
Leafy greens should be a cornerstone of any diet. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that support lactation. Many also contain the aforementioned phytoestrogen.
Dandelion greens and stinging nettle are two of the best greens for lactogenic purposes. They can also fight edema and fatigue, which is great if you have just given birth.
Both of these can be readily harvested in a spring garden. You can eat them whole as a part of a salad, but their somewhat bitter flavor will probably necessitate a good vinegarette to make them more palatable.
Alternatively, you can cook them much as you would spinach, collards or any other green. Other good greens include arugula, beet leaves, kale, Swiss chard, and chicory, spinach, and collards.
At the same time, you will want to include plenty of reddish or orange vegetables like yams, beets, and carrots in your diet. These veggies are full of beta carotene, which you will need in abundance during lactation.
Carrots also contain phytoestrogen. Beets are a great source of iron and other minerals. Many mothers suffer from low iron after giving birth, so beets are a great way to help get back to a healthy level. Buy whole beets with the tops still attached to saute as one of your greens.
3. Barley and Barley Malt
A tall pint is a long-touted folk remedy for increasing milk production. There is a grain of truth to that, in that barley and malt are both great lactogenic foods. The catch is that alcohol inhibits milk production, and more importantly, a portion of it can be passed on through breastmilk to a child.
A safer and more efficient way to reap the lactogenic benefits is to just consume the barley directly. Barley is one of the richest dietary sources of beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is a polysaccharide that has been shown to increase prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactation.
Barley is traditionally used in beef or vegetable soups and stews. It can also be used in salads, with roasted vegetables, or most obviously, integrated into your homemade bread recipe.
Barely malt is just barley grain that has been allowed to germinate. When this happens, the barley turns into a sweet syrupy malt that also contains a lot of beta-glucan.
You can use barley malt as a substitute for maple syrup or other sweeteners in baking. Just make sure that you buy pure barley malt. Some brands will cut their malt with high-fructose corn syrup to make it sweeter.
In addition to barley, oats should be one of the primary staple grains in your diet. They have almost as much beta-glucan as barley, helping to promote the production of prolactin.
Oats are one of the easiest lactogenic foods to integrate into your diet. There's a good chance you were already having oatmeal as a breakfast staple, though you could always double-down on its benefits by adding a little barley malt to your oatmeal in the same way you would honey.
Either that or swap out your lemon poppyseed muffing for an oat bran muffin.
5. Garlic and Spices
Garlic is well-known for its positive health benefits and has long been used to promote lactation.
However, while many people love garlic and eat it all the time, some aren't accustomed to eating very much of it. If the latter describes you, but you would nevertheless like to reap its benefits, start by introducing it slowly into your diet. Introduce it into your diet slowly and observe your baby's reaction.
If your child does not take to it, there are other herbs and seasonings that can help promote lactation. Marjoram, basil, anise, dill, caraway, and black pepper can all promote lactation when used in moderation and can be readily mixed into many recipes.
6. Brewer's Yeast
Brewer's yeast is high in B vitamins, iron, protein, chromium and selenium, and for that reason is often used as a nutritional supplement. It also has probiotic properties, which some suggest helps promote milk production.
The vitamins and minerals it contains also help increase a mother's energy levels, helping to keep the baby blues at bay.
Brewer's yeast is best used as an additive to baked goods, pancakes, and the like.
Spirulina is a type of non-toxic, blue-green algae. It has been farmed in lakes and ponds for use a food source for thousands of years. In recent times, it has become popular as a dietary supplement because of its many notable health benefits.
The abundance of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids all contribute to overall better health and can help promote milk production.
The only caveat is to ensure that your spirulina is from a reputable supplier who can guarantee that their product is farmed in waters free from heavy metal contaminants
8. Healthy Oils and Fats
Fats play a key role in neural and cellular metabolism, and the types of fats that a mother consumes will influence the fat content and composition of her breast milk. So, while these do contribute to increased milk production by way of better overall health, their main utility is to increase the quality of mother's milk.
This means mothers are advised to do two things.
One is to cut out as many unhealthy fats as possible. Hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans fatty acids will be the two major culprits. These fats will find their way into a mother's milk, and eventually to her child.
Replace them with healthy fats like coconut oil or cold-pressed virgin olive oil. Butter is another good, all-purpose product that you can use. A good way to get these healthy fats into your diet is to just drizzle a spoonful of cold-pressed olive, sesame, or flaxseed oil over your food at meals.
It is also important to make sure that you get plenty of essential fatty acids in your diet.
Incorporate These Foods as Part of a Well-Rounded Diet
Increasing your consumption of lactogenic foods can be a great way to help increase your natural milk production. However, it is important to remember to view them as just a part of a complete diet.
Simply ensuring that you are eating a surplus of calories and drinking plenty of water are the two most important dietary guidelines that you can follow. Take at least one hot meal per day that includes a protein, greens, a grain, and a cooked vegetable like yams, carrots, or beet. And make a point of avoiding hard-to-digest foods, specifically fried or extremely fatty offerings.
If having adjusted your diet, you are still struggling with your ability to lactate, check out some of our other tips for increasing a low milk supply.