What Foods Increase Breast Milk?

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When I was a new first-time mom, I worried about my milk production constantly. I wondered how much water I needed to drink and what foods increased breast milk quality and quantity.

If you’re in the same position I was in, I want to help put your mind at ease. There are foods you can eat that will help boost your production level. There are also foods that can help make your milk better quality—and more filling for your little one’s growing needs.

Does What You Eat Really Impact Your Milk Supply?

If you’ve been wondering if what you eat actually matters, the answer is of course it doesWhat you put into your body will fuel you—this includes your milk supply. Before we get into too many of the details about what foods increase breast milk supply, let’s cover the basics:

  • Drink more water: Producing milk is a huge strain on your body. If you’re worried about your milk supply, increase your water intake. You should be consuming 32 more ounces of water than usual while you’re nursing.
  • Eat whole grains: Whole grains are chock full of beta-glucan. It can be easy to overlook whole grains but they should be a regular component of your diet. Make sure to choose the whole grain option whenever possible.
  • Continue taking your prenatal vitamin: Don’t overlook the importance of continuing to take your prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding. This will help keep you healthy and your milk supply on track.
  • Get more sleep: Producing milk takes a lot out of you. Schedule in more sleep to keep your production levels where they should be.
bottled water

Foods Your Milk Supply Will Love

Once you’ve made sure you’re taking care of the basics, you can turn to your food choices. Wondering what foods increase breast milk? Here are some great options for foods that increase breast milk:

  • Oatmeal: Oats are a great grain for boosting your milk production. Have a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, a yogurt parfait with fruit and oats, or oatmeal cookies. Just bulk up on oats.
  • Garlic: Garlic has long been touted as a way to increase breast milk supply. In fact, it’s a popular food for the healthcare industry in general. If you don’t care for the taste of garlic, you can buy a garlic supplement in pill form instead.
  • Carrots: It’s no surprise that carrots are good for you—they’re packed with beta-carotene. It’s a good thing, too, because that’s in demand when you’re producing milk. They’re also water-dense, which helps you get the hydration you need.
  • Fennel: Not sure you’ve ever encountered fennel? It’s what gives licorice its distinctive flavor. This is a vegetable that’s great in soups, sauteed, and served raw. You can take fennel as a supplement in capsule form. 
  • Green papaya: Okay, green papaya is just papaya that has yet to ripen. It’s popular in Thai food and can be served raw as well as cooked. Don’t have access to the whole fruit? Green papaya is also available as a supplement. 
  • Sesame seeds: You don’t need to eat these by the handful for them to be effective, try sesame seed bagels and sandwiches or burger buns topped with sesame seeds. Tahini and Middle Eastern foods are another great way of getting in sesame seeds. An extra perk of the sesame seed—they’re high in vitamin C.
  • Ginger: Ginger is another superfood you can turn to for your supply needs. It’s great for soothing nausea as well. Even better—you can find it in all kinds of foods, from the very sweet to the savory, to help mix up your diet.
  • Nuts: Cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts are a great choice for giving your milk supply an extra little boost. They’re packed full of nutrients, including antioxidants, fats, and proteins.
  • Barley: Barley is another great source of beta-glucan. This polysaccharide increases the hormone referred to as the breastfeeding hormone—prolactin. This works to give your body the signal to produce more milk.
  • Chicken: Chicken is a great source of choline and protein—two things your body needs plenty of while nursing. Chicken stews, baked chicken, or chicken-topped salads are a great way to up your chicken intake.
  • Brewer’s yeast: Brewer’s yeast is a superfood you probably haven’t considered. It’s high in protein, vitamin B, iron, selenium, and chromium. Brewer’s yeast is commonly found in lactation cookie recipes—just be aware it can cause gas and fussiness in some young babies.

What Foods Should Be Avoided?

Now we know what foods increase breast milk supply, there are also some foods to avoid if you’re looking to increase your supply. If you want to boost production, skip the following:

  • Caffeinated beverages: Just like when you were pregnant, you’ll want to keep tabs on your caffeine consumption. A little bit of caffeine won’t be a problem, but too much can lead to dehydration for you, and a drop in production. You might also find it keeps your baby awake.
  • Carbonated beverages: The biggest reason to avoid carbonated beverages is that it can make it difficult for you to recognize thirst. You don’t want to compromise your water intake because carbonated beverages are making you feel full.
  • Excessive amounts of fish: When you were pregnant, you probably cut back on fish to help avoid mercury exposure. You’ll want to do the same while nursing as well. Babies’ systems are small, which means they’re even more susceptible to toxins.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners don’t need to be totally cut from your diet, but you’ll want to limit your intake.
  • No smoking: Smoking cigarettes while nursing isn’t healthy for your baby. In general, exposing your little one to cigarette smoke (yours or someone else’s) should always be avoided. Cigarette smoke exposure has been correlated to both asthma and an increased risk of SIDS

Always make sure any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you take are approved for use while nursing. Avoid excessive exercise or exposure to the sun that may encourage dehydration.

Taking weight-loss supplements or diuretics while nursing is not advised. You will also want to stay away from drinks that contain excess amounts of vitamin B or vitamin C.

How You Can Tell Your Milk Supply Is Lagging

If you aren’t sure your baby is getting all the nutrition they need, there are some signs you can look for. You may not be producing the quantity you need if you’re experiencing the following:

  • Your baby is losing, or not gaining, weight.
  • Instead of nursing happily, your baby cries during meals or seems unsatisfied.
  • Your baby doesn’t swallow while nursing.
  • Breasts don’t feel softer or less firm after meal time.
  • You never feel uncomfortably full breasts, even if going long periods between meals.
  • Your baby is not producing frequent or very wet diapers.

If you’re concerned about your baby’s growth or your milk production, touch base with your healthcare provider. They can help you come up with a plan to increase your breast milk supply, which may include a pumping or supplementing regimen.

Eating The Right Foods To Increase Your Breast Milk Supply

Make an effort to eat the foods that will make your milk better quality. Add in the foods that are known to increase breast milk supply. This way, your milk will satisfy your baby for longer periods.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have an easy road to nursing. Fortunately, knowing what foods increase breast milk supply can help you get the most out of your breastfeeding experience.

Cristin is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.