Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers!
Low milk supply seems surprisingly common in modern societies. There is heated debate about whether this was so in more traditional societies – I haven’t seen any answer convincing enough to allow me to weigh in on any side of the issue.
(Note: please allow me to clarify that “seems” means that it appears common when you talk to many women. However, professionals believe, and I tend to agree, that low milk supply is actually quite rare in our present day, even among mothers who are not getting good food. I have participated in a lot of heated debate about this issue and I’ve known this issue to come between women before. The reality, I think, is that it is not common – however many women worry – needlessly – about the fact that it does *seem* common. )
However, a few women struggle with low milk supply and I do know some ways you can boost your milk supply through nutrition. Others may want to boost supply so they can pump and store extra milk or donate to a milk bank. Remember, if you’re truly struggling with supply issues there are many other strategies you should be trying – such as increasing frequency of nursing. Get more ideas from Dr. Jack Newman.
One of the first things you’ll hear when you mention struggle with milk supply is “oh my friend used (insert food, drink, or herb here) and it really helped her milk supply!”
There are some things that have been shown to boost supply, and you can use them as a supplement to your diet.
- Oatmeal has been known to boost milk supply. A bowl of oatmeal daily, or even oatmeal cookies, may give you a greater supply.
- Quinoa, a grain, has been used by traditional societies during lactation and is said to boost milk production.
- There are various milk teas on the market. No, these aren’t teas made with milk. They’re made with herbs that are supposed to boost milk production.
- Fenugreek is an herbal supplement you can take which many women have found helps boost milk production. You know you’re taking enough when your sweat smells like maple syrup.
Though the above are nutritional strategies that can work, I believe if you’re suffering from low milk supply you should examine your diet. Experts say poor nutrition doesn’t cause low milk supply. However, poor nutrition can eat up your own nutrient reserves, causing stress and exhaustion for you.
You have heard that it really doesn’t matter what you eat, you’ll still make milk for your baby (and it’s still better than formula!) Well, that’s true – but a higher quality diet makes higher quality milk*. And a high-quality diet can help you to have abundant milk. There may really be times when milk supply can’t be improved – but improving diet is one of the most basic steps to try and will benefit you no matter what the outcome.
Fats are Vital
The first step to take is to examine your fat intake. No, I’m not going to tell you to cut out the fat. In fact, I’m telling you the opposite. Make sure you’re getting enough fat. Be sure you’re eating good fats – “good fats” are traditional fats like coconut oil, butter, olive oil, tallow, and lard. Avoid new “industrial” oils (such as corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated oils) like they’re a plague… they are!!
Use butter liberally to enhance the flavors of your foods. Select full fat dairy products and don’t trim all the fat off your meats. Drizzle olive oil on your salad greens. Enjoy your food will full flavor.
How Much are You Eating?
Next up… are you eating enough? Read through my nutrition pages to be sure that you’re eating well. The late Dr. Brewer, the Weston A. Price Foundation, midwives, and other professionals all advise continuing your pregnancy diet during lactation. Don’t obsess over pounds – just be sure you’re getting what you need for your baby. Pregnancy and nursing do cause nutritional stress on your body. You are growing another being. You’re not going to be able to eat as if it were just you. You left those days behind when you conceived your child!
Cut out unhealthy foods. Processed foods, sugars, excessive carbs. Get rid of those things if you feel like you need to “cut back” on something. But eat healthy foods liberally – to satisfaction. And don’t lie to yourself. If you’re still hungry after supper have a small snack at bedtime. If 3 meals a day aren’t cutting it for you (they don’t for many nursing mothers!) have snacks between your meals.
Eating plenty of food, and getting plenty of fluid, will help boost your milk supply. You would not believe how many mothers I have ask me about milk supply who admit, when I ask them about what they ate that day, “oh, I had coffee for breakfast, and a small salad for lunch. I’ll probably have a little bowl of pasta for supper. I just don’t have time for anything else.”
Mama, make some time! I confidently tell Galen “Mama needs to eat, or you don’t eat!” There are lots of foods that can be easily prepared while your baby is in a carrier, in a bouncy seat, on a blanket on the floor, or being entertained by someone else. I know it’s important to be attached to your baby – but your babe will not suffer because you’ve taken 10 minutes to prepare a meal! Take a look at my pages on managing motherhood for more meal tips.
Eat Properly Prepared Foods – and Eat Some Raw
This next advice could get really broad, so I’m going to keep it to a summary. You should prepare your foods properly. This is primarily talking about grains, legumes, and seeds, which may be hard for your body to digest if you just eat them “as is” or simply cooked. A soaking overnight may help make them more digestible, which in turn will make it easier for your body to utilize them and leave more energy for milk production.
Things you should soak are wheat, oats, rye, and other grains. Nuts and beans (legumes) should also be soaked. This is as simple as dumping your food into a glass bowl, adding some whey (the watery stuff that collects in your yogurt) or lemon juice, and setting the bowl in a warm place overnight. Just add salt to nuts. For flours (wheat, rye, etc.) you can soak with part of the cooking liquid. The next day just pick up where you left off in the recipe. After your nuts have cooked overnight re-dry them in a warm (not hot) oven. It’s pretty easy and could help improve your digestion and help a fussy baby.
Also enjoy some foods raw. Easier-to-digest vegetable salads are great with olive oil and raw wine vinegar drizzled over them (some veggies, like spinach, are best served cooked). And enjoy at least some of your animal products raw. In our world the easiest way to do this is to eat raw milk cheese, which is legal to buy at stores. You can also make a number of raw meat appetizers (please use grass-fed animal meat) or enjoy soft-boiled eggs (please use pastured poultry eggs). Or if you have access to it you can drink raw milk, or have raw milk yogurt or kefir.
That brings me to raw, cultured foods – which are very good for you. I have noticed the absolute biggest boosts in my milk supply after I began to add extra cream to my milk, added yogurt with live cultures and lots of butter to my morning oatmeal, and began having a fermented vegetable condiment consistently each day.
Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and chutneys are all cultured condiments when prepared traditionally. You can find many of these items at your normal grocery store – make sure they say “raw” or “live cultures.” These foods aid your digestion.
An Overall Effect
These dietary improvements are all beneficial to your overall health. They’re not a miracle cure for low milk supply. But by taking steps to improve your nutrition you are well on the way to creating better health for you, and good diet often directly correlates with the quality of milk you make for your baby (even if you’re not at a place where you can make dietary changes right now, your milk is still better than formula). I know when we committed to a better diet in January of this year I noticed within the first week that my milk supply became more abundant and my milk was much richer. Galen could hardly keep up!
Enjoy the benefits of improved nutrition for both you and your baby. For more information on cooking techniques or the “whys” of what I have recommended check out the books listed at the bottom of this article.
*If you pay no attention your nutrition whatsoever you are still going to make milk for your baby and it is still going to be the best choice for your baby. When I had my first baby I lived far, far below the current poverty lines and I couldn’t afford expensive organic foods. I could, however, learn about nutrition and cook basic, healthy foods. My baby thrived on my milk. So even if you feel that you have little money to spend for food, know your milk is tailor-made for your baby. Breastfeeding is best no matter where you are in relation to the poverty line.
I still strongly recommed that all mothers study nutrition and do what they can to improve their family’s nutrition for their own health’s sake and that of their children. There is a wealth of resources at your fingertips for the best price out there – free.
Get more great breastfeeding how-to’s from these other bloggers participating in the Motherwear Carnival of Breastfeeding:
- Motherwear’s Breastfeeding Blog: How to help your baby kick the nipple shield habit
- Marketing Mama: How to pump successfully at work
- Mama Saga: How to breastfeed (or just look like you know what you’re doing)
- BabyReady: How to get baby to take a bottle
- Strocel: How to get breastfeeding off to a good start
- Baby Carriers Down Under: How to breastfeed hands-free
- Blacktating: How to treat a cold while breastfeeding
- Breastfeeding Moms Unite: How to become a breastfeeding support professional
- Breastfeeding Mums: How to wean a breastfed toddler
- Mama Knows Breast: How to get a spouse to help with breastfeeding
- Breastfeeding 1-2-3: How to teach your baby nursing manners
- Zen Mommy: Using YouTube to stop nosey questions!
- Happy Bambino: How to deal with unsupportive family members
- The Bee in your Bonnet: How to be comfortable around nursing mothers
- MoBleez: How to naturally increase your milk supply – try seaweed
- Milk Act: How to care for a sick nursling
- Maher Family Grows: How to to increase milk supply using supplements
- Tiny Grass: Tandem Nursing – how to do it without driving yourself and your nurslings crazy!