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How to Increase Breast Milk Supply: 7 Foods to Eat

There’s no magic potion that will increase your breast milk supply, but some of these foods may help (and the last three certainly will not).

How to Increase Breast Milk Supply: 7 Foods to Eat

Photo: iStock Photo

Is my baby getting enough milk? Am I producing enough? How did that Instagram mom pump so much?! For new moms, breastfeeding can feel entirely displacing—you’re dealing with two new bodies—yours and your baby’s. You’re also wracked with uncertainty, stress and self-doubt. If you have more questions than answers (which is totally normal, first of all), or you or your baby are still trying to get the hang of breastfeeding (again, normal!), the first thing to do is to see a lactation consultant—they can help assess whether your supply is indeed low. It may not be—looks can be deceiving and most women make just enough and, if it is, can offer constructive solutions on how to increase breast milk supply.

After that, you may be tempted to raid your nearest health store for foods to increase breast milk. That could cause more problems than it solves though, according to Alicia C. Simpson, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and a registered dietitian based in Atlanta, Georgia. In her book, Boost your Breast Milk, Simpson cautions that herbal supplements and lactation teas should be treated like medication. They may be “natural,” but they aren’t automatically side-effect-free. Simpson offers a robust list of the most well-established lactogenic foods and herbs (aka: galactagogues), based sometimes on research, but most often on anecdotal evidence, that may help increase both the quantity and quality of the breast milk your body makes.

Barley

You may have heard that a tall glass of Guinness is the key to healthy breastmilk supply, but Simpson notes that research has shown alcohol can actually inhibit milk production. It’s actually barley, a component of beer, that may be lactogenic. “Barley is the richest dietary source of beta-glucan, a polysaccharide that has been shown to increase prolactin [known] levels in both humans and animals,” Simpson writes.

How to use it: Add whole barley to soups, stews, salads and even risotto. Use barley flakes to make milk, or add it to your homemade bread recipe.

Barley water in glass with raw and cooked pearl barley wheat/seeds. selective focus Arundhati Sathe/ Getty Images

Barley malt

When grains are germinated, they release malting enzymes, which convert barley into a sweet, syrupy malt, which also contains lactogenic beta-glucan. Barley malt syrup can be found at health and specialty stores, but make sure it’s 100% pure—high-fructose or regular corn syrup is often added to dilute and sweeten it, Simpson writes.

How to use it: Add barley malt to sweeten chocolate milk made with unsweetened cocoa, or substitute for maple syrup in baked goods. This barley malt powder is a bestseller thanks to its mild flavor and ease of use. Work it into your favorite recipes.

barley malt zmurciuk_k/ Getty Images

Fennel + fenugreek seeds

Fennel is a vegetable with a white, sweet, licorice-flavored bulb and thin green fronds. Both the plant and its seed, fenugreek, contain phytoestrogens, Simpson writes, which have long been believed to help milk production. Fenugreek the herb is kind of a big deal for breastfeeding moms (surely you’ve heard of Mother’s Milk tea) in North America, but it’s also been used for centuries by women in India and parts of the Middle East.

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Simpson recommends going slowly with fenugreek to increase your milk supply, though: “While it is an incredibly popular herb, it is often misused, at the wrong dose, and with disregard for its side effects. Clinical studies have tried to identify the exact dosage that exerts therapeutic effects as well as the mechanism by which this herb works to increase milk production, but the evidence is still inconclusive.”

She continues that people with type 1 or 2 diabetes, heart disease or nut/legume allergies should consult with their doctor before using fenugreek. The most common side effects are “Diarrhea and a (harmless) maple syrup smell to sweat and urine.”

How to use it: Go for the whole food! Fennel is delicious raw, tossed simply with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It also pairs well with refreshing grapefruit, orange and mint. Its licorice flavor mellows when cooked—it’s really good with roast chicken and fish recipes. Can't stand the taste? Try these easy-to-swallow fenugreek capsules.

Genuine and fresh raw fennel on a rustic background Sabinoparente/ Getty Images

Oats

Oats are likely the most well-known breast milk makers. “After barley,” Simpson writes, “oats have a higher concentration of dietary beta-glucan than any other food.”

How to use them: Oats are pretty easy to work into your diet—cooked and topped with fruit, in muffins, cookies or crumbles. These affordable steel-cut oats are a favorite among lactation consultants.

Rolled oats in a bowl Creativeye99/ Getty Images

Other whole grains

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Aside from barley and oats, whole wheat and brown rice are also rich in beta-glucan, but have been routinely overlooked in research on lactogenic foods simply because they’re both such obvious dietary staples, Simpson writes. It’s important to note that white flour and white rice simply don’t have the same benefits.

How to use them: Swap in whole wheat flour where you can—in breads, pancakes and muffins—and opt for brown rice anywhere you would use white.

Cooked Brown Rice side view vm2002/ Getty Images

Brewer’s yeast

High in B vitamins, iron, protein, chromium and selenium, brewer’s yeast is routinely used as a nutritional supplement. But unlike beer-related barley and malt, brewer’s yeast has not yet been studied as a lactogenic food, Simpson writes. Nevertheless, it is commonly recommended as a breast milk booster and is often found in trendy lactation cookies. One caveat: As brewer’s yeast is super bitter and passes readily into breast milk, it may cause gas and fussiness in some infants.

How to use it: Small amounts can be used in baked goods; in her book, Simpson offers a pancake recipe with ¼ cup of brewer’s yeast. We like this powdered brewer's yeast formula that can easily be worked into foods and smoothies.

mixing brewers yeast flakes in a glass of water towfiqu ahamed/ Getty Images

Papaya

This sunny fruit has been used—both raw and cooked in soups—as a galactagogue in Asian cultures for centuries, though it’s only recently been studied, Simpson writes. We still don’t know exactly if, why or how papaya increases breast milk supply.

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How to use it: Eat papaya raw with yogurt, cereal and other fruit. It’s very good in Thai-inspired soups, salads and noodle dishes.

papaya slice on wood sommail/ Getty Images

Other foods that can increase breast milk production:

  • Dill
  • Apricots
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Red beets
  • Sesame seeds
  • Poppy seeds
  • Caraway seeds
  • Anise seeds
  • Coriander seeds
  • Lactation snacks like these dark chocolate chip bites
A bunch of fresh organic dill on a black vintage rustic background, tied with green twine and kitchen scissors. Freshly cut greens. Maryna Iaroshenko/ Getty Images

Antilactogenic foods

It's all well and good to note all the foods that may help boost milk production, but it's also worth getting to know the short list of items considered anti-lactogenic—plants, herbs and medications that can decrease milk supply.

Alcohol

You may have been advised to have a beer before nursing to relax, help bring your milk in and improve the quality and quantity of your milk. However, Simpson cautions that alcohol “can block the release of oxytocin, which results in…a decrease the number of letdowns a nursing mother will have in a session.”

Don't panic, an occasional glass of wine won’t dry up your supply—Simpson cautions against chronic, long-term alcohol consumption or even one night of heavy drinking, which has been known to result in a rapid drop in supply. But even traces of alcohol in your breastmilk can disrupt your baby's health and your best sleep training methods.

Amber Ale LauriPatterson/ Getty Images

Sage, parsley, peppermint, and menthol

You would have to consume large quantities of any of these herbs in order to see an effect on your milk supply, Simpson writes, but keep in mind that sage is used freely in roasts and holiday meals, parley is spread liberally through salads like tabbouleh, and peppermint can often be found in teas, gums and candies.

Small bottle of essential mint oil kazmulka/ Getty Images

Chasteberry

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Available in supplement form, chasteberry may already sound familiar—it’s a common treatment for PMS symptoms, endometriosis and menopause. It's also often recommended to breastfeeding mothers who have painful swelling and engorgement.

“However, chasteberry...acts directly on the pituitary glands and inhibits the secretion of prolactin,” Simpson writes. When prolactin levels drop, milk supply typically tanks with it, she continues. Turmeric, on the other hand, is an herb that can help with inflammation due to engorgement without affecting breastfeeding. Or you could try good old cabbage leaves.

Vitex agnus-castus, also called vitex, chaste tree (or chastetree), chasteberry, Abraham's balm, lilac chastetree, or monk's pepper, is a native of the Mediterranean region. Rupendra Singh Rawat/ Getty Images

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This article was originally published on Feb 01, 2020

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