One of the issues likely to come up in any group of breast-feeding mothers is low milk supply.
And once the topic has been voiced, quick on its heels are often suggestions about how to boost breast milk production. These might include foods, herbs, even prescription medications. All of these qualify as galactagogues.
The La Leche League defines galactagogues, which comes from the Greek “galacta,” meaning milk, as something that increases the production of breast milk. While a galactagogue won’t boost your milk supply alone, and not at all if you aren’t nursing or pumping regularly, some women may find them helpful.
Unfortunately, there’s no medical evidence that any galactagogues, aside from a small number of pharmaceutical options, are truly effective at increasing a mother’s milk. Still, many women will tell you that certain foods made a world of difference for them.
Before You Try a Galactagogue
If you’re concerned about your milk supply, the first step is to contact a certified lactation consultant or someone from the local chapter of La Leche League.
In some cases, you may find that you are worrying unnecessarily, and that both your milk supply and your baby are just fine. If your supply is on the low side, a lactation consultant will be able to make recommendations for improving production.
These might include:
- skin-to-skin contact, which will release prolactin and stimulate oxytocin, two hormones that can help milk production
- breast compression, a method of gently squeezing the breast as you nurse to encourage milk glands to let down more milk
- comfortable positioning during breast-feeding
- frequent feedings or regular pumping sessions
Most women will find that these methods are enough to improve milk production. It’s also important to avoid habits and behaviors that can inhibit your milk supply, such as:
- wearing bras, tops, or slings that bind your breasts too tightly
- certain allergy medications
Some of the most well-known and anecdotally effective galactagogues are herbal. La Leche League notes that there are more than 30 herbs that are believed by some to increase breast milk for nursing mothers.
Many of these herbs stimulate mammary growth as well as providing hormonal support. Fenugreek, one of the most well-known galactagogues, is a Middle Eastern spice. Nettle and blessed thistle are other popular herbs that are thought to improve milk production.
Note: Taking certain herbs while breast-feeding can have adverse effects. Before adding them to your diet in the hopes of increasing your milk supply, it’s important to consult your doctor.
10 Foods to Increase Milk Production
According to La Leche League, nursing mothers don’t need special diets to produce milk for their babies. Instead of worrying about incorporating certain foods, La Leche advises following a healthy, sensible diet. Try to include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- a variety of whole grains
- protein sources from animals and plants
- high-quality fats
As it happens, some of the foods anecdotally believed to be galactagogues fall in line with a healthy diet. Although there’s little medical evidence to support the idea that any single food can boost milk production, these foods are often suggested from one nursing mother to the next.
In addition to their reputed antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties, oats are a well-known comfort food. It is thought that eating something associated with comfort may cause a woman’s body to release oxytocin, which is a hormone involved in the production of milk. Other grains associated as possible galactagogues include millet, brown rice, and barley.
2. Chickpeas and Lentils
Legumes have long been associated with milk-boosting properties.
3. Brewer’s Yeast
Also known as nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast has phytoestrogens, which may help with breast tissue health and lactation, as well as protein and iron.
4. Fennel and Fennel Seed
While the seed is widely considered to increase milk production, the vegetable, which can be eaten raw or cooked, is also traditionally thought to help.
5. Yams, Beets, and Carrots
The beta carotene in these red and orange vegetables is considered to be important for the production of breast milk. They have the added benefit of supplying iron and minerals.
6. Dark, Leafy Greens
Kale, arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, and collard greens, among other dark, leafy green vegetables, are a wonderful source of important enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. They also supply phytoestrogen, which may support lactation.
Raw nuts, including cashews, walnuts, and macadamia nuts, are also believed to support the production of milk.
8. Green Papaya
This is a popular galactagogue in Asia for its enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. Note that green papaya is the unripe fruit, and it must be simmered until it’s soft enough to eat.
9. Sesame Seeds
Another Asian galactagogue, sesame seeds are a vegetable source of calcium. Black or light-colored sesame seeds will work, as will tahini, a creamed version of the seed.
10. Lactation Cookies
A wildly popular recipe at Belly Belly combines flaxseed, brewer’s yeast, oats, and other purported milk-boosting ingredients for a tasty cookie that’s endorsed by many nursing mothers.
Remember, breast-feeding your baby consistently is the best way to increase your milk supply. No foods or herbs have been reliably shown to increase milk production. But most of the foods listed above are nutritious and safe to add to your daily diet.
Be sure to discuss the safety of adding specific galactagogues with your doctor before adding them to your diet.