Galactagogues are foods and herbs that are believed to increase milk supply. There is mixed evidence of their effectiveness, however some studies that have found certain herbs to be effective. If you are interested in using herbs to increase your milk supply, please consult a qualified professional to make sure the dosage is correct for you and your baby.
When it comes to food, most of the evidence is anecdotal. Whether the food below actually increases milk supply or simply supports a healthy postpartum diet is up for debate. Either way, they are all whole foods that are packed with nutrients.
The most commonly recommended galactagogue is oats. Oats are high in nutrients like protein and fiber that mamas and baby need. They also contain important minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins like B1 and folate (the B vitamin you took while pregnant). It is common to experience iron deficiency or anemia after giving birth so eating foods high in iron is helpful. Iron is a great energy booster.
The reason oats are recommended as a galactagogue is because they are really high in a fibre called beta-glucans. Beta-glucans can increase levels of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production.
It is really easy to incorporate more oats into your diet. They are delicious in oatmeal, cookies, muffins, smoothies, pancakes, granola, granola bars, the list goes on. It can be hard to find time to bake with a newborn, so if you are buying products listed above make sure you check the sugar content.
Another helpful whole grain that contain beta-glucans and is used as a galactagogue is barley.
Often people recommend beer as a way to increase milk supply. The reason for this isn’t because of the relaxing effect of alcohol (alcohol will actually inhibit milk production), it is because of the brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast is a by-product of making beer. It should not be confused with the yeast used to make bread (baker’s yeast) or nutritional yeast. It is a separate product all together that is high in fibre, protein, and B-vitamins. Brewer’s yeast is traditionally used as a milk stimulant.
This may be a little harder to incorporate into your diet. It can be dissolved into water and added to smoothies. There are lots of lactation cookie recipes online that incorporate Brewer’s yeast.
Flaxseeds are rich in healthy Omega 3 fats which are important for your brain fog and baby’s growing brain. They are also high in fibre to keep you regular and help avoid constipation. Flax seeds contain estrogenic properties that can help produce more milk.
Whole flax seeds are difficult for the digestive system to breakdown so flax seeds need to be ground before you incorporate them into your diet. Ground flax gives smoothies a really nice thickness. It can be sprinkled over salads, soups, oats, pretty much everything. One tablespoon of ground flax mixed with three tablespoons of water can be used as a substitute for an egg in most baked goods.
Other nuts and seeds that can help with milk production include sesame seeds and almonds.
Garlic has incredible antibacterial properties that will keep colds and flus away. It is also used as a galactagogue. Frequent nursing is one of the best ways to increase milk supply. Eating garlic can change the flavour of your milk and it is believed that babies like the taste of it. Babies who like the taste of garlic will latch on and continue to nurse for longer thus increasing milk supply.
Garlic is an aromatic herb that can be incorporated into so many savoury meals. You can add raw garlic to salad dressing for a spicy kick, blend it into sauces and dips, and throw it into stir fries or roasted veggies.
Fennel is known for its digestive properties and can be really helpful if you have a colicky baby. It also has phytoestrogens that can help increase milk supply. Fennel seeds and fenugreek are both herbs that are traditionally used to boost milk supply.
Whole fennel has a licorice flavour and is delicious roasted with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper. You can also enjoy it thinly sliced in a salad or throw it into a smoothie.
- Papaya – helps with relaxation and lactation
- Asparagus – helps with hormone stimulation
- Dark leafy greens – contain phytonutrients that promote lactation along with calcium and iron
Foods that inhibit milk supply
Oxytocin is a hormone that makes you feel good and helps the breast push the milk out. Alcohol can decrease the number of letdowns in a feeding because it reduces oxytocin. This makes it more difficult for babies to get milk which can reduce milk supply over time.
Sage, peppermint and parsley
Sage, peppermint and parsley are three herbs that have been said to adversely affect milk supply. You would have to consume a large quantity to see a significant reduction in supply. An occasional peppermint tea or tabbouleh is safe but you don’t want to consume them on a daily basis. High concentrations from essential oils or peppermint extract should be avoided.
One the flip side, these herbs can be helpful to those with an over-supply of milk or when weaning.
Postpartum is not an ideal time to diet. Calorie restriction can reduce milk supply and it liberates toxins that can transfer into breast milk. It can be challenging getting used to your postpartum body. Just remember, it took 9 months to grow a baby, so it will take at least 9 months for your body to reach it’s new normal. You need to be gentle with yourself and patient. You may not look the same as you did before having your baby, but you created a small human which is simply a miracle.