Nutrition

How to Naturally Increase Your Breast Milk Supply

If you're struggling to breastfeed your newborn, here are some things you can do
BY Ashley Turner TIMEAugust 7, 2022 PRINT

Are you a new mom working around the clock to establish a strong milk supply for your growing babe? Or perhaps you’ve established your breastfeeding routine but have recently returned to work, or your little one has started on solids?

It’s normal to have some minor fluctuations in milk supply throughout your breastfeeding season. Try not to stress about small decreases, as breastfeeding is all about supply and demand.

Many women experience dips in their supply if they return back to work and transition to pumping during part of the day. Similarly, you might notice a decrease in supply when your baby starts eating solids more regularly.

If you’re noticing your supply isn’t as robust as usual, don’t fret! There are many natural tools that can help boost your milk supply.

Hydration

Hydration is one of the most essential keys to increasing and maintaining a healthy breast milk supply. Your body is working nonstop to provide essential nutrients to you and your baby, so supporting it with proper hydration is vital.

As a general rule, you want to aim to consume half your body weight in ounces or more to maintain and boost your milk supply. Adding trace minerals to your drinking water is important to ensure you don’t deplete your body with the added water. The Original Quinton Hypertonic supplement is an excellent way to ensure you are supporting your body with enough electrolytes and trace minerals.

Additionally, bone broth is an incredible way to nourish your body. It’s a powerhouse of beneficial nutrition, packed full of healing, hydrating nutrients. As a bonus, bone broth is not only good for you, but it’s also an incredibly delicious, comforting beverage to sip on as you rock your little one.

Diet

Whether you’re a new mom or have added another little one to your family, you’re likely working hard to make sure every need of your sweet new babe is met right away. At times, this can cause you to forget to take care of yourself. While it’s important to meet the needs of your family, you also need to ensure you’re supporting your postpartum recovery and milk supply by eating nourishing meals regularly throughout the day.

Breastfeeding mothers typically need to consume about 300 to 500 additional calories to maintain pre-pregnancy weight. However, it’s important to listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry, rather than aiming for a specific number of calories. Your body will tell you what it needs. Focus on making sure your meals are nutrient dense in order to nourish your body most efficiently.

As mentioned earlier, in addition to hydration, bone broth is a nutrient-dense superfood that will provide your body with both micronutrients and macronutrients. Warming up a mug of bone broth is a quick and easy way to get beneficial nutrients when you’re short on time.

Oats are another way of supporting a healthy milk supply. Many breastfeeding moms find a bowl of warm, comforting oatmeal to be a great way to support their milk supply for the day. Oats are an excellent source of iron, which many moms are deficient in, especially in early postpartum. They also contain a type of fiber called beta-glucan, which is thought to have a positive effect on prolactin, the hormone released after childbirth that stimulates breast milk production.

It’s best to consume oats in the form of oat groats, as they are the least processed and have the most nutrients available. However, steel cut or rolled oats are beneficial as well. Soaked or sprouted oats are the easiest for your body to digest and offer the most bioavailable nutrients.

A great way to add some extra nutrition to oatmeal in the morning is to add ground flaxseed, which is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Galactagogues

Now that’s a fun word, isn’t it? Galactagogues might sound like a race of alien beings, but according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, they’re “medications or other substances believed to assist initiation, maintenance, or augmentation of maternal milk supply.”

In other words, galactagogues are a variety of foods and herbs that will assist with naturally increasing your breast milk production.

A few common galactagogue foods include:

  • Almonds and other nuts and seeds
  • Dark leafy greens (kale, alfalfa, beet greens, spinach, etc.)
  • Fennel
  • Ginger
  • Papaya
  • Whole grains (oats, barley, brown rice, quinoa, millet, etc.)

If you aren’t sure where to start with that list of ingredients, MamaNatural.com has a recipe for lactation cookies. These cookies are packed with galactagogues and other nutrient-dense ingredients. Plus, they are delicious and an easy snack to grab as you head to the rocker for another breastfeeding session.

Another way to consume galactagogues is through herbs, in the form of herbal teas, tinctures, or supplements.

Galactagogue herbs include:

  • Anise
  • Blessed thistle
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Red raspberry leaf
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Marshmallow root
  • Nettle

You can often find a breast milk-boosting tea blend at your local grocer or market. A popular one is Organic Mother’s Milk tea, which contains a long list of galactagogue herbs, primarily fenugreek and fennel, which are both considered to be milk-making super herbs.

We do want to note that there’s some anecdotal evidence that some moms experience a decrease in breast milk supply while taking fenugreek. This is likely due to the fact that fenugreek seeds have estrogenic properties. Increases in estrogen can impact a mother’s milk supply, so you might want to pay extra attention to your body’s response if you begin consuming fenugreek.

Sunflower Lecithin

If you’ve ever experienced a clogged breast duct before, you know how miserable it can be. Many breastfeeding mamas struggle with clogged ducts, especially in the early days as they and their baby are working hard to establish and maintain supply. As your body is working to adapt, and your baby is learning to drain your breasts with each feeding, sunflower lecithin can be a helpful supplement to keep your ducts clear and the milk flowing easily.

Sunflower lecithin works to decrease the viscosity (or the stickiness) of your milk, allowing the milk to flow freely. Legendary Milk has a relatively inexpensive sunflower lecithin supplement that’s popular with breastfeeding moms.

Calcium

Another piece of the milk-making puzzle is calcium level. It’s recommended to get your calcium level tested, as low calcium can significantly hinder milk production in women, particularly during times of ovulation and/or menstruation.

Working to incorporate calcium-rich foods can help to ensure your calcium level is where it should be.

Calcium rich foods, some of which are also galactagogues, include:

  • Seeds: Sesame, celery, chia, and so on.
  • Dairy: Cheese, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and so on. (preferably raw dairy from grass-fed cows)
  • Canned salmon
  • Sardines
  • Almonds
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Figs

Stress Management

If you’re a breastfeeding mama, you likely have a growing list of stressors running through your mind. Those first few weeks and months postpartum are some of the sweetest yet can also be quite overwhelming. You and your family members are trying to adjust to a “new normal” with the arrival of your new baby. As happy as you are, you might also feel the pressure of the sink full of dirty dishes or the growing pile of dirty laundry in front of the clothes washer.

It’s also common to experience anxiety or worry as you’re adjusting to this major life change and your hormones are working to balance out (more on that later).

The adrenaline pumping through your body when you’re feeling stressed can directly affect lactation. Adrenaline impairs the release of oxytocin, the hormone that allows your milk to begin flowing. Essentially, adrenaline from stress is a roadblock that impairs the “letdown” of milk to your baby.

Accepting help from friends and family members can help to alleviate a lot of stress in the early postpartum weeks. As difficult as it is, try not to worry too much about your house.

It’s also important to talk to someone about how you’re feeling if experiencing feelings of stress or anxiety. Find a listening ear, whether it’s your husband, your birth team, a friend, or family member. Accepting help and vocalizing your feelings and emotions can be incredibly freeing. This act can open up “brain space” and let your body release the stress so it can focus on the important job of making milk to feed that new little life.

Sleep

The irony is not lost here. Telling a new mom to make sure she’s getting enough sleep might seem a bit tone-deaf. You’re probably saying, “Well, of course, I wish I were getting sleep!” You’ve heard it said before, but to sleep when the baby sleeps truly is vital.

As your body is working to heal after giving birth, as well as providing milk to keep your little one alive, it’s important to sleep as often as possible. When you can, after a breastfeeding session, give the baby to your husband or a family member there at home so you can nap. They can waken you when the baby is ready for the next feeding.

Prioritizing your rest and recovery in those early days will allow your body to renew itself and have the energy to develop a robust milk supply.

Pumping

Pumping is a great way to increase your supply quickly. Since breast milk supply is based on supply and demand, pumping is a great short-term way to increase that demand and cue your body to provide the supply.

In the early days of breastfeeding, your infant might not be super efficient at emptying your breasts completely with each feeding session. This can cause your body to not realize you need to continue producing. Once you’ve finished a nursing session, pump each breast until you don’t see milk flowing, and then continue for several more minutes. This typically takes about 10 minutes total, but it certainly varies for each mom.

Hormone Imbalances

As your hormones work to stabilize in the first few weeks and months postpartum, it’s easy to see a hormone imbalance as “normal.” However, if you lack an essential balance of breastfeeding hormones, including prolactin, cortisol, and insulin (the “drivers” of breast milk production), and oxytocin (the hormone that allows the milk to “letdown”), you might experience milk supply challenges.

If you have Type 2 diabetes or had gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, your body’s insulin resistance can interfere with milk production. Additionally, if your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, your prolactin and oxytocin levels might be imbalanced, causing issues with both supply and milk flow.

It’s best to work with your health care provider to address the root cause of any hormonal imbalance. Identifying the cause and developing a treatment plan will be an improvement to your overall health and, in turn, will improve your breast milk production.

Tongue and Lip Ties

Awareness of tongue and lip ties in infants is becoming increasingly widespread, which is good news for many breastfeeding moms and babies. If you are experiencing a painful latch, chronic plugged ducts, or your baby never seems to be getting enough to eat and isn’t draining your breasts, they might have a tongue and/or lip tie.

Tongue and lip ties are caused by the connective tissue between the lip and gums (lip tie) or under the tongue to bottom of the mouth being too short and/or thick. This can inhibit the baby’s ability to establish a strong latch, causing them to be unable to suck properly and to efficiently empty the breast. This can result in a variety of issues for the baby, such as hunger, colic, and reflux issues. At the same time, this can be extremely distressing to a mother who’s likely experiencing soreness or clogged ducts, or feeling like she is failing at feeding her baby.

It’s strongly recommended to reach out to a local international board-certified lactation consultant if you’re experiencing these challenges. Lactation consultants can be an invaluable resource to help to fix breastfeeding issues, often through simple adjustments and movements. They also can often identify if a tongue or lip tie is the source of your struggles, or point you in the direction of a provider who can help.

If you suspect a tongue or lip tie to be the source of your milk supply issues, a reputable pediatric dentist trained in tongue and lip tie revisions can help resolve the ties with a relatively minor procedure. Your lactation consultant can likely recommend a reputable doctor in your region, or there are many tongue and lip tie support groups to access online via social media to help locate a practice.

Some Additional Thoughts

As moms, it’s easy to beat ourselves up if we’re having breastfeeding struggles, but often we simply need the proper tools for success.

The first few weeks of breastfeeding can be incredibly difficult. Just because it’s natural doesn’t always mean that it will be smooth and easy. If you’re experiencing painful, raw skin in those very early days, don’t lose heart—you aren’t alone. Many women experience this as their body adjusts to these new demands.

Remember to be patient and kind to yourself, as your body is working overtime to recover from childbirth and simultaneously supply nourishment to that growing baby of yours.

So take a moment to pour yourself a cup of bone broth, put your feet up, and soak in those sweet baby cuddles. Breathe deep, close your eyes for a moment, and be rest assured that your body will be able to feed the little one you love so very much.

Ashley Turner
Dr. Ashley Turner is a traditionally trained naturopath and board-certified doctor of holistic health for Restorative Wellness Center. As an expert in functional medicine, Dr. Ashley is the author of the gut-healing guide “Restorative Kitchen” and “Restorative Traditions,” a cookbook comprised of non-inflammatory holiday recipes.
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