If you’re breastfeeding your infant, chances are you’ve wondered and worried about your milk supply. It’s normal to worry that your baby isn’t getting the nutrition they need because you’re not making enough milk. The good news is, that often isn’t the case.
Breastfeeding works on the supply and demand system, which means the more often you feed your baby, the more milk you’ll produce. Read on to learn about foods that promote milk production and what to avoid to help your breast milk supply.
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Foods That Promote Milk Production
Many vegetables, whole grains, and herbs are high in plant estrogens and other compounds that may increase milk supply. They’re called galactagogues. New mothers in many cultures have used these foods for centuries to optimize breastfeeding.
Some popular galactagogues include:
- Whole grains, especially oats and barley.
- Protein-rich foods like fish, chicken, meat, or tofu.
- Legumes or beans like chickpeas and lentils.
- Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and arugula.
- Fennel or fennel seeds.
- Alfalfa sprouts.
- Fenugreek seeds.
- Sesame seeds.
- Brewer’s yeast.
- Blackstrap molasses.
Many breastfeeding moms swear by these foods, but it’s important to note that there is little research to support their breast milk benefits. Still, all of these are nutritious options, so it’s wise to include them in your diet. An easy way to do that is by combining them into healthy recipes like:
- Oatmeal with ground flaxseeds, almonds, and berries.
- Vegetable, bean, and barley soup.
- A stir-fry with tofu or chicken, leafy green vegetables, garlic, ginger, and fenugreek seeds.
- Lactation cookies made from oats, brewer’s yeast, flaxseeds, and molasses.
Galactagogue foods aside, eating a healthy diet is really the best way to support a healthy milk supply. It will also make you feel better and give you more energy to take care of your new baby. Make sure you eat a wide variety of these throughout the week:
- Whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley).
- Proteins (eggs, Greek yogurt, tofu, chicken, low-mercury fish like salmon, lean beef).
- Healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados).
What to Drink to Increase Breast Milk
Food gets all the attention as a way to increase your breast milk, but beverages are essential too. Breast milk is 87% water, so it’s crucial to drink enough fluid to support breast milk production. If you find yourself more thirsty than usual when breastfeeding, it’s nature’s way of telling you to drink more.
Nursing moms need about 100 oz of fluid each day from beverages and foods (like the juice in fresh fruit). That’s about 13 cups of fluid daily, so make sure you keep your water bottle nearby.
Water is the best thing to drink, but milk (regular or fortified plant milk alternative) and juice are also good options. They’re both hydrating and will provide important vitamins and minerals that your body needs. And caffeine-free iced or hot herbal teas can contribute to your daily fluid goal.
You can also buy or make lactation tea. These herbal teas feature galactagogues like fenugreek, ginger, fennel, and other herbs thought to boost milk supply. Lactation teas are safe but check with your doctor to ensure the ingredients don’t interact with any medications or supplements you’re already taking.
Try to limit caffeine-rich beverages like coffee or regular tea. Too much caffeine might affect your or your baby’s sleep, and can lead to irritability and fussiness in some babies.
What to Avoid
There aren’t specific foods that decrease milk supply when breastfeeding. But eating or drinking “empty calories” will keep you from feeling your best. It’s best to limit these foods and beverages that are high in calories but low in nutrition:
- Snack foods like chips.
- Desserts and sweets like cakes, pie, or cookies.
- Fast foods like burgers, fries, and pizza.
- Soda or soft drinks with added sugar.
While you do not need to expressly avoid alcohol, you should limit your consumption. Having a single drink and waiting two hours before you feed or pump will be safest for your baby. Remember that the things you eat and drink pass onto your baby through your breast milk.
While spicy foods or cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower might make you gassy, they are unlikely to cause the same for your baby. If you’re worried that something you have eaten is bothering your baby, avoid the possibly offending food for a few days and see if it helps. You can always try them again later when your baby’s digestive tract is more mature.
Occasionally, babies are truly allergic to something in your diet. The most common culprit is cow’s milk protein. If your baby is fussy and gassy, isn’t gaining weight well, has reflux or blood or mucous in their stool, discuss the possibility of allergy with your child’s healthcare provider.
If you’re worried, ask your doctor for a referral to a lactation consultant. They can make sure your baby is latching on and nursing properly.
Breastfeeding Medicine. ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of Galactogogues in Initiating or Augmenting Maternal Milk Production, Second Revision 2018. LINK
Frontiers in Pediatrics. Human Milk: An Ideal Food for Nutrition of Preterm Newborn. LINK
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nursing Your Baby? What You Eat and Drink Matters. LINK
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