As I mentioned in my Breastfeeding 101: Why and How post, the number one excuse I hear from women who gave up on breastfeeding was that they weren’t producing enough milk for their baby. Many times, a nurse or pediatrician even recommended they supplement with formula as a result.
Lactation works through supply and demand, so if you supplement with formula, your body will respond by producing less and less milk until you stop lactating altogether!
Imagine what mothers did before formula was invented. Instead of giving up and buying a powdered mix, they had to stick with it and figure out ways to increase their milk supply to feed their babies. In this post, I’m sharing a list of ways that can help you achieve and maintain an adequate milk supply. Follow this list, and before you know it, you’ll keep up your milk supply without having to think about it!
How to Boost Lactation:
1. Maintain a nutrient-rich diet (mostly plant-based). Giving your body the proper balance of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats allows it to easily produce enough milk for your baby. Excellent sources of nutrients include nuts and seeds, leafy greens, avocados, legumes, berries, and other colorful fruits and vegetables. Additionally, if you do an internet search for foods that increase lactation, you will notice that most of the results occur naturally in a plant-based diet. As long as I’m hydrated, my milk supply is always adequate. I give credit to my diet!
2. Consume enough calories. It’s tempting to want to lose those extra pregnancy pounds right away, but your top priority should be to establish your milk supply. This means no calorie restrictions until the baby is at least four months old. Additionally, while light exercise is encouraged during the postpartum period, you don’t want to work out so much that you create a calorie deficit or dehydrate yourself. Both of these will decrease your milk supply. Instead, listen to your body when it tells you it’s hungry. Breastfeeding burns anywhere from 300 to 1000 calories per day, depending on how old your baby is and how much milk she’s consuming. So don’t feel guilty about snacking, because it’s essential!
3. Stay hydrated! The only times I noticed my milk supply was low was when I had exercised or been in a situation in which I sweated excessively. Eating a very salty meal will also dehydrate you, so avoid canned/restaurant soups, processed meals, Asian sauces, fast food, etc. One way to remember to drink enough water is to drink a full glass every time you nurse your baby. Eating watermelon is another great way to stay hydrated in the summer!
4. Nurse or pump frequently. Babies’ stomachs start off very small, so your milk production will start low and gradually increase as the baby’s needs change. Sometimes, especially when the baby is still working on the proper latch, you need to encourage more milk production by putting the baby to your breast more frequently or pumping a few minutes between feedings. Again, this tells your body there is more demand, so it produces more supply.
5. Change or go off of your birth control pills. I’m personally opposed to any form of birth control that contains hormones, but if you are using contraceptives that contain estrogen and progestin, you need to stop if you want to breastfeed. Progestin-only birth control is fine, but combined contraceptives can reduce your milk supply.
6. Manage stress. Stress can block the let-down reflex, preventing the flow of milk. Figure out ways to manage your stress, such as taking baths, meditating, using relaxing essential oils (but avoid peppermint, because it will actually decrease your milk supply!), doing yoga, etc.
7. Eat lactation cookies! There are many recipes online, but I have my own, which I love. Most recipes contain oats, flax, brewer’s yeast, and/or fenugreek, which are all known to increase milk supply. You could also make granola or a bowl of oatmeal, but those aren’t as fun or convenient as cookies!
8. Take lactogenic supplements. I never needed anything extra, but I know many mothers who purchase supplements from their health food stores to increase their milk production. Common supplements include Mother’s Milk Tea, fenugreek capsules, alfalfa, brewer’s yeast capsules, blessed thistle capsules, and a product called More Milk Plus. I’m not an expert on herbal supplements, so make sure you consult your doctor before taking anything questionable.
Also, many mothers report a boost in milk supply after drinking beer (thanks to brewer’s yeast). Obviously, don’t drink alcohol right before you nurse your baby, but one beer at least one hour before nursing or pumping is fine. After all, you deserve it!
I listed these tips in order of importance, so you may not need to do anything past points 3 or 4. Many women experience dips in their milk supply for various reasons, so keep this list on hand just in case you need an extra boost.
Also, check out my lactation cookie recipe, even if you’re not lactating. They’re vegan, gluten-free, and even my husband loves them! 🙂