The information on this page helps improve milk supply naturally, and increases the quality of your milk – research shows that what you eat directly impacts your milk.
Remember, if you're truly struggling with supply issues there are many other strategies you can use along with the suggestions on this page – such as increasing frequency of nursing.
Mention you're struggling with milk supply and you'll hear “oh my friend used (insert food, drink, or herb here) and it really helped her milk supply!”
There are some things that have been shown to boost supply, and you can use them as a supplement to your diet.
Though the above supplements can work, if you're suffering from low milk supply you should examine your diet. Experts say poor nutrition doesn't cause low milk supply. However, poor nutrition can eat up your own nutrient reserves, causing stress and exhaustion for you.
You have heard that it really doesn't matter what you eat, you'll still make milk for your baby (and it's still better than formula!) Well, that's true – but a higher quality diet makes higher quality milk. And a high-quality diet can help you to have abundant milk. There may really be times when milk supply can't be boosted – but improving diet is one of the most basic steps to try and will benefit you no matter what the outcome.
The first step to take is to examine your fat intake. No, I'm not going to tell you to cut out the fat. In fact, I'm telling you the opposite. Make sure you're getting enough fat. Be sure you're eating good fats – “good fats” are traditional fats like coconut oil, butter, olive oil, tallow, and lard. Avoid new “industrial” oils (such as corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated oils) like they're a plague… they are!!
Use butter liberally to enhance the flavors of your foods. Select full fat dairy products and don't trim all the fat off your meats. Drizzle olive oil on your salad greens. Use coconut oil and red palm oil in your cooking. Get a LOT of fat.
Next up… are you eating enough? Read through my nutrition pages to be sure that you're eating well. The late Dr. Brewer, the Weston A. Price Foundation, midwives, and other professionals all advise continuing your pregnancy diet during lactation. Don't obsess over pounds – just be sure you're getting what you need for your baby.
Pregnancy and nursing do cause nutritional stress on your body. You're growing a new person. You're not going to be able to eat as if it were just you. You left those days behind when you conceived your child! Farmers know that the most critical time to feed animals well is when they're nursing a new baby – the same is true for humans. You need plenty of food to make milk.
Cut out unhealthy foods. Processed foods, sugars, excessive carbs. Get rid of those things if you feel like you need to “cut back” on something. But eat healthy foods liberally – to satisfaction. And don't lie to yourself. If you're still hungry after supper, have a small snack at bedtime. If 3 meals a day aren't cutting it for you (they don't for many nursing mothers!) have snacks between your meals.
Eating plenty of food, and getting plenty of fluid, boosts your milk supply. You would not believe how many mothers I have ask me about milk supply who admit, when I ask them about what they ate that day, “oh, I had coffee for breakfast, and a small salad for lunch. I'll probably have a little bowl of pasta for supper. I just don't have time for anything else.”
Mama, make some time to eat! I confidently tell my babies “Mama needs to eat, or you don't eat!” There are lots of foods that can be easily prepared while your baby is in a carrier, in a bouncy seat, on a blanket on the floor, or being entertained by someone else. I know it's important to be attached to your baby – but your babe will not suffer because you've taken 10 minutes to prepare a meal!
You should prepare your foods properly. This is primarily talking about grains, legumes, and seeds, which are hard for your body to digest if you just eat them “as is,” or simply cooked. A soaking overnight makes them more digestible, which in turn makes it easier for your body to utilize them and leaves more energy for milk production.
Things you should soak are: wheat, oats, rye, and other grains. Nuts, seeds, and beans (legumes) should also be soaked (quinoa is a seed and should be soaked or sprouted). This is as simple as dumping your food into a glass bowl, adding some whey (the watery stuff that collects in your yogurt) or lemon juice, and setting the bowl in a warm place overnight. Just add salt to nuts. For flours (wheat, rye, etc.) you can soak with part of the cooking liquid. The next day just pick up where you left off in the recipe. After your nuts have cooked overnight re-dry them in a warm (not hot) oven. It's pretty easy and helps improve your digestion and may help a fussy baby.
Also enjoy some foods raw. Easier-to-digest vegetable salads are great with olive oil and raw wine vinegar drizzled over them (some veggies, like spinach, are best served cooked). And enjoy at least some of your animal products raw. In our world the easiest way to do this is to eat raw milk cheese, which is legal to buy at stores. You can also make a number of raw meat appetizers (please use grass-fed animal meat) or enjoy soft-boiled eggs (please use pastured poultry eggs). Or if you have access to it you can drink clean raw milk, or have raw milk yogurt or kefir.
That brings me to raw, cultured foods – which are very good for you. I noticed the absolute biggest boosts in my milk supply after I began to add extra cream to my milk, added yogurt with live cultures and lots of butter to my morning oatmeal, and began having a fermented vegetable condiment consistently each day.
Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and chutneys are all cultured condiments when prepared traditionally. You can find many of these items at your normal grocery store – make sure they say “raw” or “live cultures.” These foods aid your digestion.
These dietary improvements are all beneficial to your overall health. They're not a miracle cure for low milk supply. But by taking steps to improve your nutrition you are well on the way to creating better health for you, and good diet often directly correlates with the quality of milk you make for your baby. I know when we committed to a better diet I noticed within the first week that my milk supply became more abundant and my milk was much richer. Galen could hardly keep up! At the time of this writing I'm nursing baby #6 and eating a high-fat, whole-foods diet and my milk supply is higher than I have ever experienced (and I've still lost all my “baby weight”).
When I had my first baby I lived far, far below the current poverty lines and I couldn't afford expensive organic foods. I could, however, learn about nutrition and cook basic, healthy foods. My baby thrived on my milk. So even if you feel that you have little money to spend for food, know your milk is tailor-made for your baby. Breastfeeding is best no matter where you are in relation to the poverty line.
Study nutrition and do what you can to improve your family's nutrition. Enhance inexpensive foods like beans and quinoa by soaking and adding in small amounts of high-quality foods like butter, raw cheeses, and meat. There is a wealth of resources at your fingertips for the best price out there – free. Ask your librarian to help you get Dr. Weston A Price's book to get started.
Want step-by-step tips and natural techniques for nursing your baby? Click Here for our 7 Steps to a Great Latch quick-reference guide and our How to Boost Milk Supply Naturally report (plus get our email mini-course on natural baby health, conscious parenting, and enjoying motherhood!). Opens in a new tab.
Photo by olivier hodac