Here’s a fun fact: a GALACTAGOGUE is a food or drug that promotes or increases milk production. When you’re breastfeeding or learning about breastfeeding, this is something that comes up A LOT: you want to know how to increase your milk supply.
Your Milk Supply
It’s a very mysterious thing to most people. Our bodies just suddenly know to start making milk when a baby is born. Some people go into it with no concerns and just assume everything will work out. Usually, it does!
Other people worry a lot about being able to develop and maintain a milk supply. They may hear about other people’s struggles to make milk and assume it will be the same for them. Luckily, it does work out just fine most of the time.
The basics of milk production were covered in part 1, and if you’re following those guidelines everything should be fine.
Some people make too much milk! If that’s the case, you might pump less if you’re doing that while also breastfeeding. Some people just need a little time to let their bodies adjust and things will level out. If you have excess milk, consider making a donation to a milk bank!
Of course, sometimes things come up that interfere with our ability to follow these guidelines or interfere with the physiology of milk production and we don’t make enough. When this happens, we may like to know what to do to increase milk production.
You may hear or read about some things that claim to increase milk production. While most of these things are not harmful, and may even be healthy, there are actually very few foods or herbs that are scientifically proven to work. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t depend on those things to do the job.
Things to Focus on to Increase your Milk Supply
Most effective and proven ways to increase milk production:
- Feed often! Pumping can work too, but babies are best. Increasing feeds can help your supply pick up.
- Complete milk removal – Make sure that your baby or pump completely drains the breast at each feeding or pumping session. Sometimes a baby has trouble latching on to the breast or doesn’t get good suction for some reason. If you suspect that your baby is having trouble getting milk out effectively, see a lactation consultant!
- Skin-to-Skin Contact – Plenty of time with your baby’s bare skin on your bare skin can help increase some of the hormones that are involved in milk production and can help stimulate the baby to want to feed more often.
Some myths or less effective methods:
- Fenugreek – This herb has been used as a galactagogue for a very long time, and many people claim that it helps. Research has shown mixed results and the doses usually need to be pretty high. You should NOT use Fenugreek if you’re taking certain medications or other supplements, or if you notice any negative side effects like digestive upset for you or fussiness, gas, or green watery stools for the baby. Talk to your doctor before using it, especially if taking medications.
- Moringa – This superfood has plenty of health benefits and is not harmful, but the data about its effectiveness as a galactagogue is mixed. There are some studies that show a positive benefit for milk supply, but it probably needs to be studied more to know for sure.
- Oatmeal – This is often recommended to help increase milk supply. While there is not much scientific evidence to back this up, it won’t hurt, and some people claim to have success with it. Oatmeal is a healthy thing to eat, a comfort food for many people, and high in iron, which is often needed during pregnancy and postpartum.
- Other foods and herbal supplements – There is a very long list of foods and herbal supplements that you may hear claims about. Most of those things are just healthy foods and aren’t harmful, so go ahead and have them! Just because the scientific evidence is not there to back up the claims doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be helpful. However, it’s very important to treat herbal supplements as medication, as some can be very powerful. Talk to your care provider about using supplements especially if you are taking other medications since there could be problems with drug interactions.
- Eat healthy foods – Even if specific things on the list of healthy foods don’t actually increase milk supply, it can be helpful to a healthy milk supply to eat healthy foods.
- Drink lots of water -Breastfeeding women lose a significant amount of fluid through their milk, so make sure to drink when you’re thirsty and watch for signs of dehydration, such as dark yellow urine, infrequent urination, and a dry mouth.
- Drug treatment to increase milk supply – There are medications that might be prescribed to help with low milk supply, but they are not effective in all cases and can carry risks, so be sure to follow the proven ways to increase your milk supply before talking to your care provider about medication. If medication is needed, create a treatment plan under the care and guidance of your doctor and a lactation consultant for best results.
If you are having an ongoing struggle with your milk supply, please reach out to your primary care provider or schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant.