The more milk your baby takes (or you remove through milk expression), the more milk you make. Some mothers with ample milk may “think” their supply is low when in fact it is not. So before you take steps to improve your milk supply, talk with you health care provider to make sure it is indeed low.
Many mothers assume that they are “losing” their milk because their let-down reflex is less noticeable and their breasts seem softer than they did in the first weeks after their baby’s birth. It’s easy to confuse “soft breasts” with “empty breasts.” Soft breasts are a natural progression of your body’s adjustment to your baby’s feeding patterns, and indicate that your body is making just the right amount of milk at just the right time.
While improper positioning, poor latch, or inadequate suckling can lead to low milk supply, a sudden increase in the number of feedings can simply signal a “growth spurt.” Fortunately, more frequent feedings together with a good latch will usually ensure an ample supply of milk.
Breast massage and skin-to-skin contact are effective low-tech strategies for increasing a mother’s milk supply. (See more on skin-to-skin contact here and breast massage here.) There are several common foods that have traditionally been recognized as beneficial for breastfeeding mothers who fear that they are losing their milk. However, there are few studies to support the lactogenic (milk-inducing) properties of various foods or products.
That said, the following foods may help (or at least not hurt) a mother’s milk supply:
- Oats. Some mothers claim a beneficial effect from a bowl of oatmeal or from oatmeal cookies, which often contain not only oatmeal but brewer’s yeast, another traditional galactagogue.
- Vegetables. Hilary Jacobson, author of Mother Food: A Breastfeeding Diet Guide with Lactogenic Foods and Herbs, sees a lot of potential in the produce aisle. Fennel and fennel seed may boost a mother’s supply, according to Jacobson, as well as reddish vegetables like beets, carrots, and yams which are rich in beta-carotene and other vitamins and minerals. Dark green, leafy vegetables like collard greens, kale, and beet leaves may also be helpful. Why these foods boost supply is unclear, but Jacobson points to nutrients like iron and calcium as possible causes.
- Barley. Mariah Carey may be the most famous person to drink a beer to boost milk supply, but she is certainly not the only one to do so. Barley, an ingredient in beer, may trigger the release of prolactin—a hormone that stimulates milk production. While there is no evidence to show that beer actually increases a mother’s milk supply, mothers who opt to drink a beer to increase their supply should choose a non-alcoholic beer. Alcohol passes readily into breast milk, and even small amounts of alcohol can negatively affect milk production and milk release. Hilary Jacobson recommends barley in its other forms: grains or porridge, beverages (often marketed as a coffee-alternative), or homemade “barley water.”
Perhaps the best thing mothers can do, nutritionally, to maintain a good milk supply is to eat a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of healthy foods each day and enough liquids (water and unsweetened fruit juice) to satisfy their thirst. If you have particular concerns about your nutritional needs, talk with your health care provider or a registered dietitian.