2 August 2018Tips for boosting breast milk supply in women who may or may not be trying to lose weight

I recently joined the ranks of new mothers! Throughout my pregnancy I was looking forward to having the opportunity to breastfeed my baby. As a dietitian I have known for years about the numerous benefits breastfeeding offers to baby and mom. Yet it did not come as naturally as I had expected. I struggled to ramp up my milk supply which added to the overall stress of being a new mom. Thus began my journey to find natural ways to increase my milk supply. Below are a few foods that may serve as galactagogues or substances that increase the production and flow of milk as well as a few tips to increase supply.

Calories

In order to feed your baby you will need to eat more. In fact you'll need to eat an extra 400-500 calories a day above your general caloric needs. This is about 100 calories more than needed during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy. I found that eating 2 reasonably portioned snacks in the middle of the night was all it took for me to get in these extra calories. I was up at night breastfeeding my baby, so it was not difficult to incorporate a snack into our routine. My favorite snacks included: plain Greek yogurt + fresh berries + almonds or oatmeal chocolate chunk lactation cookies (see recipe from Epicurious here) and milk. Even though your body may look and feel quite squishy after giving birth, this is NOT the time to focus on extreme weight loss. A weight loss of greater than 4.4 pounds is not advisable within the first month after giving birth. Simply making the commitment to breastfeed your baby for 6 months has been shown to assist with losing the weight gained during pregnancy. If you cut back on calories too much you may jeopardize your ability to produce enough breast milk, and leave yourself with little energy to deal with the round the clock demands of a newborn. You can figure out how many calories you are eating a day by tracking your intake using MyNetDiary. While I lacked the time or focus to track diligently I found I could track one meal a day which kept me in the routine of paying attention to my what and how much I was eating. My favorite saying being, "it is all about progress, not perfection!"

Whole Grains

Whole grains are said to support the hormone prolactin which, in addition to oxytocin is responsible for making breast milk. The most widely recommended whole grain to increase milk supply is oats, which contain a high amount of beta-glucan. This polysaccharide has been shown to increase the production of prolactin. Eating cooked or raw oats may help support an increased production by increasing the mineral content of the diet. Consuming oats has also been said to have a calming effect. As a new mom who was trying to learn the art of breastfeeding, I was happy to try anything that would calm my nerves. In fact high levels of stress have been shown to diminish milk supply, so finding a way to destress is even more important. Consider enjoying oats as a traditional breakfast food (make sure to eat them whole, avoiding instant flavored packets which contain a lot of added sugar), or in granola, mixed into smoothies or in the form of a lactation cookie (see link above).

Barley is another whole grain that is rich in beta-glucan. I like to prepare mushroom and barley soup in the winter and in warmer months I will cook and then chill the barley to use in a salad along with other veggies. It is also great in casseroles or versatile dishes such as stuffed bell peppers.

Brewer's Yeast

Brewer's yeast is a dried powder similar to nutritional yeast and in most cases is produced as a byproduct of beer-making. It is rich in B vitamins, contains some protein (6.5 grams in 1 tablespoon) and some minerals. There is much debate around the effectiveness of brewer's yeast to increase milk supply. The mechanism of action is unknown. Adding some brewer's yeast to your diet might be worth a try. I found it quite bitter so I mixed 1 heaping tablespoon of it with 1/4 cup milk + 1/2 frozen banana + 1 medium kale leaf and then blended briefly in the blender. Even with adding the banana to mask the flavor I would drink it quickly and chase it with a big glass of water. Finally, brewer's yeast can also be mixed in with oatmeal, breads and lactation cookies.

Garlic

If your baby is not feeding very long you might want to try eating garlic. One study showed that babies stayed on the breast longer when mother's consumed garlic regularly in their diet, positively affecting the taste and smell of breast milk. It should be noted that a mother's garlic consumption may cause gastrointestinal irritation for baby, thus it is something to keep in mind.

The most important thing you can do to increase supply

Pumping after and in-between feedings is a critical strategy to increase milk supply. I would suggest getting in touch with a lactation specialist about the best time/duration of pumping to increase supply. I found it helpful if I pumped 45 min-1 hour after a feeding. This additional breast stimulation signaled my body to produce more milk, which I then stored for future use.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there is not concrete evidence that specific foods or dietary supplements have been proven to increase breast milk supply. Thus the best thing you can do is to eat a well rounded diet, stay hydrated and feed your baby often and/or pump often. Eating a well rounded diet includes lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. This in addition to a prenatal vitamin/mineral supplement will help to ensure you and your baby are meeting nutrient needs.

References

Breastfeeding Medicine ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of Galactogogues in Initiating or Augmenting the Rate of Maternal Milk Secretion (First Revision January 2011)

Medscape Human Milk & Lactation

Today's Parent 10 reasons for low milk supply when breastfeeding

Note: This article does not address any physical or medical issues that may be inhibiting milk supply. To learn more about these factors please contact your local lactation specialists. You can also visit La Leche League.

Joanna Kriehn is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator with a passion for supporting individuals as they move towards a healthier lifestyle. You can learn more about Joanna by visiting her LinkedIn page

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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