Boosting Breastmilk Supply Through Nutrition
By Whitney Crouch, RDN
The World Health Organization (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommend that infants should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months, and breastfeeding should be continued in addition to complementary feeding for 1 and up to 2 years.1-3
The beneficial effects of breastfeeding for the infant and mother are well recognized, and the #breastisbest campaign has made its impact on moms across the nation.2,3 Research suggests benefits to a healthy term baby includes reduced risk for numerous health conditions. These benefits extend to the mom as well.
New mothers, mothers who are going back to work, mothers whose babies are experiencing a growth spurt, and moms who are further in their nursing journey often have one thing in common: the desire to increase their milk supply. Sometimes this is because baby isn’t gaining weight well enough, other times mom wants to create a freezer stash of breastmilk, or maybe mom just feels like she can’t keep up with baby’s growth spurt demands.
What’s a mother to do?
There are many possible issues that should be explored with the support of a trained healthcare professional to rule out problems with mom and baby that could be getting in the way when trying to establish an adequate milk supply and a healthy breastfeeding relationship, and we’ll touch on these later. Let’s explore some studied nutrition to increase mama’s milk supply.
Breastfeeding entails producing large amounts of nutrient-dense fluid for baby’s nutrition. The average baby consumes 19-30 ounces of milk per day, but mother’s additional hydration needs exceed the amount of milk produced.4 According to the Dietary Reference Intakes set forth by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), lactating moms need around one extra liter of water, or 10 cups, each day.5 This amount may increase in dry or hot conditions, and when exercising, when mom is losing more water through sweating.
Calorie needs for breastfeeding moms depend on how much energy mom is exerting daily, plus how much milk she is producing. On average, an exclusively breastfeeding mother needs an additional 500-640 calories per day than she did prepregnancy.6-7
One potential option to discuss with your healthcare practitioner is the use of galactagogues. Galactagogues are synthetic or plant molecules used to induce, maintain, and increase milk production.8 A study looking at three groups of 25 new moms observed the effects of fenugreek, palm dates, and no galactagogue (control group) on breast milk production.9 They found that consuming 10 palm dates (100 g) three times per day provided the largest increase in milk supply, but the group consuming fenugreek tea (2 tablespoons per cup of tea, 3 cups of tea per day) also saw improved milk output during the early postpartum period.9
Milk supply depressors
Peppermint, sage, parsley, and monk’s pepper are herbs found in some teas and women’s preparations. When consumed routinely or in large amounts, these herbs are shown to decrease milk supply; in culinary amounts found as seasoning in a meal, no such effect is expected.10
Other factors to consider
When it comes to babies in general, parents are often left with so many unanswered questions. If mom believes she is having low milk supply issues, before embarking on a routine of consuming any of abovementioned herbs and strategies or baby using formula milk, mom and baby should meet with a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). An IBCLC can weigh baby before and after eating to check for proper milk transfer; check mom and baby for proper latch, and baby for tongue or lip tie, which can affect how efficiently baby removes milk from the breast; and recommend other tools to improve the breastfeeding relationship.11 Ensuring mom and baby practice skin-to-skin contact and that breasts are emptied of milk at regular intervals (when baby nurses) will also help mom’s body increase supply for her baby’s demand.12
For more information on supplements to support increased milk production, stay tuned for part 2 of this series: Supplements to Boost Breast Milk Supply. See additional blog posts on pregnancy and general wellness.
This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
1. Sim TF et al. The use, perceived effectiveness and safety of herbal galactagogues during breastfeeding: A Qualitative Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015;12:11050–11071.
2. Mathur NB et al. Breastfeeding. Indian J Pediatr. 2014;81:143–149.
3. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3):e827-841.
4. Dewey KG et al. Milk and nutrient intake of breast-fed infants from 1 to 6 months: relation to growth and fatness. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1983;2(3):497-506.
5. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate” at NAP.edu. National Academies Press: OpenBook, 2005, www.nap.edu/read/10925/chapter/1.
6. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrition During Lactation. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1991. 9, Meeting Maternal Nutrient Needs During Lactation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235579/
7. Kominiarek MA et al. Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016;100(6):1199–1215.
8. Mortel M et al. Systematic review of the efficacy of herbal galactogogues. J Hum Lact. 2013;29(2):154-162.
9. Sakka AE et al. The effect of fenugreek herbal tea and palm dates on breast milk production and infant weight. Journal of Pediatric Sciences. 2014;6:e202.
10. Romm Aet al. Breastfeeding and botanical medicine. In Humphrey S and Romm A, Botanical medicine for women’s health. St. Louis, Missouri: Churchill-Livingstone; 2010;(18)433-454.
11. Scope of Practice for International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant® (IBCLC®) Certificants. (2018). [ebook] Available at: https://iblce.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/scope-of-practice-2018.pdf [Accessed 2 Jul. 2019].
12. Kent JC et al. Principles for maintaining or increasing breast milk production. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2012;41(1):114-121.
|Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT
Whitney Crouch is a Registered Dietitian who received her undergraduate degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of California, Davis. She has over 10 years of experience across multiple areas of dietetics, specializing in integrative and functional nutrition and food sensitivities. When she’s not creating educational programs or writing about nutrition, she’s spending time with her husband and young son. She’s often found running around the bay near her home with the family’s dog or in the kitchen cooking up new ideas to help her picky eater expand his palate.