If I am asked the same question more than 3 times in one week, then I take it to mean I need to write a blog on the subject. Ensuring or restoring breastmilk production is a common conversation in our office! Here are some foundational bits to get you started.
Herbs that encourage milk production are called “galactagogues”.
There are lots of “Mother’s Milk” herbal teas out there and I think they are great, but I find you need to guzzle them constantly to achieve a therapeutic dose if you are looking for more than general support. There are also some supplements available that combine a few different herbal ingredients for a synergistic effect, like More Milk Plus by Motherlove. Some important galactagogues include:
- Galega officinalis (goat’s rue) – Stimulates both the production and flow of breast milk and may also stimulate development of mammary glands. Has a hypoglycaemic effect, so monitor blood sugars if diabetic or sensitive to blood sugar swings.
- Foeniculum vulgare (fennel seed) – Increases milk flow in nursing mothers. Can also relieve some stomach distress while stimulating digestion and appetite.
- Silybum marianum (milk thistle) – Promotes milk secretion. Also has traditional and modern applications as a liver and gallbladder tonic.
- Sip – Hydrate, excessively. No excuses. Most moms will notice that they feel immediately thirsty as soon as they start nursing. Dehydration is a relatively easy issue to avoid when it comes to milk supply, so start sipping! The first while after increasing your water intake you will likely be taking frequent trips to the toilet, but it will settle down after a couple days. Coconut water, herbal tea, kombucha, and water infusions can be helpful to add in if you are getting bored.
- Sleep – Do not underestimate the impact that chronic sleep deprivation (and chronic stress) can have on your milk supply (and overall health)! I know the amount uninterrupted sleep you get is not 100% in your control right now – for real, I get it! – but that doesn’t mean you should throw the towel in. Go to bed early, nap during the day, have family or friend take a shift with baby so you can catch up. The health benefits of adequate sleep know no bounds, and milk supply is on that list!
- Stimulate – Your nipples that is. Actually, it’s best to let baby do this, as in feed frequently and on demand. A good latch is very important to maintain the appropriate physical stimulation to tell you body to continue producing and letting down milk. If there are any issues with baby’s latch or feeding patterns, get them taken care of! This is a common reason for milk supply to begin to diminish around 2-3 months. Check in with your lactation consultant, post-natal doula, public health nurse, or paediatric practitioner ASAP.
Foods have medicinal properties too. On one side, if you are eating foods that do not agree with your chemistry, you will have increased inflammation and your body will be using its precious resources to deal with that immune response. On the other side, nourishing your body helps ensure not only that you are healthy and have the building blocks to make milk, but that your milk will be stock full of all the nutrients your baby needs to thrive too. Here are some helpful foods:
- Green Beans
- Sweet Potatoes
- All Leafy Greens
- Grains (good ones! as in not processed, bleached crap)
Honourable Mention: Fat!
Breast milk if a very fatty substance and baby needs a lot of healthy fats to grow and thrive. The nervous system is practically needy when it comes to fats. You will probably notices that your cognition, mood, and mental space will be impacted by a lack of fat in your diet and this is exaggerated when pregnant and breastfeeding. 2-4 grams of an omega-3 essential fatty acid supplement high in EPA and DHA is recommended to cover the basics, as well as food sources of healthy fats (fish, avocados, coconut, olive oil, nuts, & seeds).
Feeling like your milk supply is diminishing or that you are not able to provide for you little one (or little ones) can be a very stressful event. The stress will have the opposite of your desired impact. It’s best to focus on filling up your cup, taking care to nourish yourself physically and emotionally, and enjoy your time loving on your baby.