Yes, there are proven strategies to boost breast milk production naturally.
Although breastfeeding is undoubtedly a natural phenomenon, the initial learning curve can be frustratingly steep. As I’m sure you’ve heard, “breast is best.” Yes, there are powerful proven health benefits to breastfeeding. However, many mothers suffer excruciating personal guilt and judgment from other moms when they can’t or don’t breastfeed exclusively. There are a variety of reasons for this, including legitimate biological impediments that make breastfeeding impractical if not impossible as the sole source of nutrients for an infant. Whatever decision you make that’s right for you and your family, rest assured that your baby will be fine. You will be fine. And you’re giving your child the best you can. Love for your baby and grace for yourself are even more important to a healthy family than breast milk. That said… don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You don’t have to figure everything out on your own! There are experienced professionals available for free who can help you overcome problems that might feel insurmountable right now.
Most women benefit from experienced coaching to get the milk flowing well for baby’s nourishment and mom’s comfort. Traditionally, guidance has been handed down to new moms from grandmothers, aunts, mothers and midwives. In our modern world, many of those generational sources of wisdom have been interrupted. The good news is that we have other resources we can turn to who offer effective, research-based solutions. If you are encountering serious problems, seek out a board certified lactation consultant for professional help (click here to find one in your area) and contact a local La Leche League group (free!) for mother-to-mother support. If you or your baby is suffering from breastfeeding difficulties, do not wait to see if things improve on their own. The sooner you get help, the better for both you and baby.
Get a lactation consultant – free!
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all insurance companies are required to cover the services of a professional lactation consultant and to provide breastfeeding equipment, including pumps, in conjunction with each birth. Contact your insurance company to find out how you can utilize their lactation benefits for completely free breastfeeding support –they are prohibited from charging coinsurance, copayments or a deductible when you choose an in network provider. Since time is usually of the essence when it comes to breastfeeding, and navigating insurance bureaucracy can take time, ask how you can get help immediately and be reimbursed later. Depending on the company, they might also offer coverage for out of network providers, allowing you more options. You will probably be required to share part of the cost if you choose an out of network provider.
Boost breast milk production in 5 simple steps
Below, I’ve highlighted five simple suggestions to boost breast milk production so your baby can feast as well as you do over the holidays. Please note that the following tips are not a substitute for professional help.
1. Empty the tanks often
To increase milk supply, experts recommend completely emptying both breasts 8-12 times per day. Avoid dropping under 7 as an absolute minimum. If baby is sleeping long stretches at night, consider pumping or offering one late night feeding at around midnight and then again around 6:00 am. The rest can occur during daytime hours. Feeding/pumping sessions do not need to be evenly spaced – feel free to cluster them to accommodate your baby’s needs and your schedule. The most important factor is that you completely empty both breasts 8-12 times during every 24-hour period.
If you are able to completely drain both breasts 8-12 times per day through breastfeeding alone, great! Most women will find it helpful to incorporate pumping in addition to breastfeeding. If you do pump, make sure you’re using a high quality, fully automatic pump that cycles between 48 and 60 times a minute. When establishing or increasing your milk supply, it’s usually worth renting a hospital grade pump for a month or two (insurance should cover the rental). When your milk is flowing abundantly and consistently, you are ready to transition to a more portable pump supplied by your insurance company. Order your personal use pump as soon as possible so it’s delivered by the time you need it.
If your baby empties one breast at a feeding and is too full for the second, you may wish to pump the second breast to ensure both breasts are fully drained. An empty breast signals your body to make more milk – this is why frequent emptying of both breasts is crucial to boost your supply. For efficiency and maximum output, you might even regularly pump one breast while the baby nurses from the other. When doing this pump/nurse combo for multiple feedings, alternate sides for even emptying (usually either the baby or the pump is more efficient than the other).
2. Eat and drink well!
It is vitally important to eat nutritiously and to drink abundant water. While breastfeeding, your body needs an extra 500 calories on top of your normal food intake. In practical terms, that’s like adding a light meal or a couple healthy snacks to your typical pre-pregnancy diet. If you are someone who likes to count things, eat an absolute minimum of 1800 calories per day (more is better). Pregnancy exercise researcher Dr. James Clapp demonstrated that breastfeeding moms would naturally make up for the calories they burned from activity, but they did not naturally increase their water intake. Pour yourself a large glass of water and drink it down every time you breastfeed or pump. Make it a habit. Also drink water when thirsty between feedings, especially during and after any exertion, such as a brisk walk with the baby. It you satisfy your natural thirst and your urine is clear to pale yellow, rest assured that you are sufficiently hydrated.
Excellent foods to nourish mom and baby include homemade soups and broths (these also promote optimal hydration!), natural meats and fish, eggs, coconut oil, butter, olive oil, vegetables, fruits, avocado and some grains. Avoid trans fats (anything deep fried, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated), sugar, and anything the baby seems to react to. Food sensitivities vary from baby to baby, so do your best to identify a pattern and adjust accordingly. If you tolerate dairy well, include full fat dairy in your diet and adjust if the baby seems to have digestive trouble. Other foods that are sometimes troubling (but often totally fine!) include beans, nuts, chocolate, citrus fruits and other acidic foods, gluten, garlic, onions, spicy foods, caffeine and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and Brussels sprouts), which can cause gas. Aim for as varied and nutritious a diet as possible, so only cut out a food if it clearly does not agree with your baby.
3. Milk-boosting foods: oatmeal and others
Many traditional cultures ascribe lactation-boosting power to various foods, and countless mothers swear by them. I consider this wisdom valid and you certainly have nothing to lose in giving these foods a try! Some of the more commonly available lactogenic (milk boosting) foods include oats, quinoa, flaxseed, brewer’s yeast (also called nutritional yeast) and coconut oil.
For a balanced, milk enhancing breakfast, I suggest 2 eggs served any way you like with a side of this lactogenic porridge:
Milk-boosting porridge (4 servings)
1 cup rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 cup warm water + 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
The night before, mix the oats with warm water and lemon juice or vinegar, cover (not airtight), and allow the mixture to soak at room temperature overnight. This helps neutralize the anti-nutrients in the grain and makes the oats more digestible. In the morning, bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil with sea salt. Add the soaked oats, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, until creamy. Then remove from heat, and stir in the coconut oil, ground flax seeds and nutritional yeast.
Serve with full fat milk or coconut milk and add a touch of maple syrup or honey. Garnish with chopped nuts and/or fruit (berries or apple & cinnamon taste great).
The above recipe delivers four servings. Make one pot and eat it for breakfast four days in a row… see if you notice a difference! If so, it’s worth the small effort of making a pot of porridge once or twice a week.
4. Herbal boost: fenugreek and friends
Fenugreek has received the most attention lately as an effective herb to boost milk production. It can be taken as a tea, in capsule form or as a tincture. Studies suggest it’s most effective when taken as a tincture. Many mothers notice a boost in milk production after 48 hours of taking fenugreek three times daily.
There are several other herbs and aromatic spices known for boosting lactation: blessed thistle, goat’s rue, shatavari, alfalfa, nettle leaf, fennel, anise, caraway, coriander, cumin and dill. Marshmallow root improves absorption of many of these herbs. For an excellent source of high quality tinctures that combine fenugreek with other milk boosting herbs, visit www.motherlove.com. When choosing an herbal remedy, it’s wise to seek the advice of a lactation counselor because some herbs address specific causes of low milk supply. For example, goat’s rue has been shown to help mothers dealing with challenges related to previous breast surgeries.
Of course always check with a doctor or medical professional before introducing an herbal supplement, especially if you’re currently taking medications. In addition to herbal remedies, there are also a few prescription drugs on the market that can further enhance your milk supply. If interested in a prescription strength boost, discuss the possibility with your doctor and lactation counselor.
5. Cheers! Treat yourself to a Guinness float.
Many of my clients insist that their milk production directly and immediately increases in response to drinking dark beer, particularly Guinness. It doesn’t take much – just ½ a small bottle – and the results are reportedly dramatic. If you’re in the mood for a delicious splurge, try a Guinness float:
1 scoop vanilla or coffee ice cream
½ bottle of chilled Guinness
Pour the beer over the ice cream, and enjoy.
A small amount of alcohol is considered safe during breastfeeding, assuming you don’t have any personal restrictions for health reasons. And contrary to popular opinion, there is no need to pump and dump after consuming an alcoholic beverage. The alcohol circulates through your milk just as it circulates through your blood. If you wish to minimize the alcohol your baby gets, nurse right before you have a drink. Your milk will be alcohol free again within 2-3 hours, in time for the baby’s next feeding.
All that to say, relax and indulge now and then.
Once you’ve got your breast milk supply booming, and you’re ready to turn your attention to self-care, a great place to start is our safe, efficient and effective postnatal fitness program. It’s a comprehensive fitness program that includes core workouts and express total body workouts with exercises proven to resolve diastasis recti in just 10 minutes a day. We have a very supportive community of moms, and we offer fun, motivating fitness challenges and a nutrition plan safe for breastfeeding. Join us!