Breastfeeding is an opportunity to not only nourish your baby, but to bond at a deep, emotional and spiritual level. The bond that develops between mom and baby while breastfeeding is intense and lifelong. Some moms may ease into breastfeeding with little to no difficulty; while others may struggle with latch, let-down, milk production and nipple pain. There are many aspects to successful breastfeeding, which include the foods you eat, your stress levels, your lifestyle, in addition to herbs and supplements that can help support milk production. Together, each of these facets works to enhance your breastfeeding success.
What you eat is, essentially, what your baby will eat. While your doctor might tell you after giving birth you can eat anything you want including sushi, unpasteurized cheese, and deli meats, the truth is everything you put into your body as well as your mental and emotional health directly affects your breastmilk. The better a mother’s diet, stress levels, and hydration, the more nutritious her breast milk will be and the easier it is to produce and feed.
Below you will find nutritional, lifestyle and supplemental advice that will help support your body’s breastmilk production efforts. And remember: the more you breastfeed (or attempt to breastfeed) your baby, the greater your milk supply will be!
Before diving into the breastfeeding tips, you might even be wondering if breastfeeding is for you. For some women, at times it can be painful, seem time-consuming and stressful, which might turn some mothers off. However, if you are able to make it work while maintaining your well being, it is worth the long-term health and vitality it will offer your child.
Benefits for Mother
Valuable bonding time. Breastfeeding is the beginning of your lifelong relationship with your child. While breastfeeding, and especially while skin to skin, hormones are released, such as oxytocin, that lowers stress levels and reduces the risk of postpartum depression.
Postpartum weight loss. Breastfeeding promotes greater weight loss than mixed breastfeeding and formula feeding and those moms that solely formula feed. This occurs even when mixed feeding moms workout more than exclusively breastfeeding moms.
Reduced risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers. The longer a mother breastfeeds her child, the more protection from the most common cancers she gets. This is due to maintained levels of estrogen as breastfeeding does not allow it to spike.
Reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes. Breastfeeding reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome.
Blood pressure. The act of breastfeeding can lower blood pressure in the short-term and long-term.
Hormonal health. Breastfeeding activates the pituitary to release all hormones, balancing them naturally.
The knowledge. That you are providing your child with all the nutrients, uniquely designed for him/her for vibrant health.
Benefits for Baby
Optimal Nutrition. Human breast milk is designed for a newborn. It contains all essential macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in the proper ratios as needed. Breast milk also contains specially designed compounds that support the immune system, contribute to growth and development, reduce inflammation and help establish a healthy gut microbiome.
Smart sugar. The predominant sugar in breast milk is lactose, which breaks down into glucose and galactose. Galactose is a valuable nutrient for brain tissue development.
Supports Eye health. The DHA found in breastmilk is one of the prime structural components of the retina.
Better breathing. Breastfed babies develop a larger nasal space and a larger u-shaped dental arch that does not infringe on the nasal passages above.
Immune support. There are two immune-system complexes (immunoglobulins) that can only be passed from mother to baby through breastmilk. The first is immunoglobulin A (IgA), which serves as a mucus barrier to any foreign substance (virus, bacteria, yeast, etc.). The second is Immunoglobulin M (IgM), the largest antibody that fights infection. Due to this immune and anti-inflammatory support, breastfed babies have fewer respiratory and gastrointestinal infection in the first several months of life. The effects are long-term and these children also have fewer allergies, atopic dermatitis, and asthma
Leaner adults. Breastfed babies become leaner adults.
GI health. Breastfeeding helps cultivate healthy gut flora by providing healthy bacteria. A balance of good bacteria is essential for digestive health, immunity, and mood.
Brain health. The nutrients in breast milk helps babies with cognitive development. This further leads to a higher IQ, brain volume, and intelligence.
Calming effect. The skin-to-skin contact, suckling, and breastmilk itself release hormones and opioids that have a calming and analgesic effect on babies.
The primary focus when optimizing breastfeeding is to consume a variety of whole foods, ensure essential fatty acids get into the milk supply, stay well hydrated, and get an abundance of fat and protein to increase and maintain energy levels, nourish your developing baby’s brain and reduce the risk of postpartum depression. Eating a well-balanced diet will not just assist with breastfeeding, it will have sustained effects on your child later in life, such as reducing picky eating and developing allergies.
Consume foods known to increase milk production. These are oats, carrots, seaweed soup, garlic, fennel, fennel seed, cashews, alfalfa, asparagus, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, coconut, fennel, chaste tree fruit, bone broth, cilantro, papaya, pumpkin, dates, and ginger.
Essential fatty acids. Especially omega-3 fatty acids and DHA have an overall anti-inflammatory effect and are needed for brain health and development. These healthy fats also help address depression and anxiety symptoms. Great food sources are eggs, ghee, pastured beef, chicken, game, organ meats, nuts and seeds and their oils, coconut products (oil, butter, yogurt), and wild-caught cold water fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. To ensure you digest the healthy fats in flax seeds, make sure your flax seeds are freshly ground immediately before consuming.
Oats. Rich in fibre and B-vitamins, which help nourish the nervous system and boost energy levels.
Dark leafy greens. High in antioxidants, calcium for bone health, and iron for energy levels.
Brewers yeast. High in B-vitamins and trace minerals like selenium and chromium.
Kombucha. A rich source of beneficial probiotics for gut and immune health.
Alfalfa. Is great for increasing breast milk production while providing the body with many vitamins and minerals. It is particularly high in Vitamin K, which helps the body’s blood clotting abilities. It also helps avoid hemorrhaging and helps the body recover from the birth.
Avoid foods that reduce milk production. These include excess caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, broccoli, beans, and too many high fiber foods.
Supportive Herbs & Supplements
Some effective lactation herbs include:
Fenugreek- A common component in many herbal lactation teas, Fenugreek is one of the most common and effective herbs to increase milk production. It is a galactagogue that supports prolactin secretion. Fenugreek is easy to find and can be incorporated into cooking, or it can be used as a supplement.
Capsule form is best. 3 capsules, 3 x per day until the milk starts flowing.
Blessed Thistle- Helps to elevate mild forms of postpartum depression, which is linked to difficulties breastfeeding. Another galactagogue herb that boosts milk production in a short amount of time. This herb is best combined with Fenugreek.
Capsule form is best. 3 capsules, 3 x per day until the milk starts flowing.
Goats Rue: Helps to boost milk supply. It can be taken as a tincture (up to 5mL 3x/day), in capsules (up to 2 caps 3x/day) or in a tea blend (up to 3 cups per day).
Raspberry Leaf: Helps mothers who have just given birth recover from all aspects. It can be found in many tea blends or as a stand-alone tea. It is absolutely delicious as an individual herbal tea. Try 3 cups per day.
Fennel: Helps to increase milk supply, as well as relaxing the muscles in the digestive tract. Fennel seeds can be used to make a decoction - add 1 tsp of fennel seeds to 1 cup of filtered water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for 15-20, still covered. You can also make a larger batch (up to 3 tsp in 3 cups of water) for a full day’s supply.
Hydration is absolutely essential to making milk. To get adequate amounts of water in every day, drinking filtered water is essential. Other ways to get water is through bone broth, herbal teas, coconut water, and fresh, organic vegetable juices. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water, broth or fresh vegetable juice, every day.
Get adequate rest and reduce stress. Easier said than done with a newborn! However, allowing your body to feel more calm and relaxed does not require huge time commitments. Whether you decide to do a 5-minute meditation, take a 10-minute shower, go for a 20-minute walk or do a 30-minute restorative yoga practice all by yourself … try your absolute best to squeeze something in daily. Also, as much as possible, aim to get as much sleep as you can - including napping while your baby naps. Breast milk will not be produced in sufficient amounts if your body does not feel rested.
Skin-to-skin contact. After giving birth, mother’s are meant to be skin-to-skin with their newborns as often as possible. The oxytocin released when doing so triggers the body to produce more breast milk.
Acupuncture and massage. These both help improve lymphatic drainage, allow your body to rest and feel restored.
Breast pumping. If done in addition to nursing, it can be a highly effective way to increase breast milk supply. To do so, pump after each nursing session, add an extra pumping session or two during the day, cluster pumping (pumping every half hour for a couple of hours) and take ‘nursing vacations’ (spending 2-3 days relaxing, nursing and pumping as often as possible). Increasing the demand for milk will increase the supply.
Ensure all beauty products are chemical free. Chemicals are fat soluble and can land up in your breast milk.
More Tools to Support Breastfeeding Mothers
Nipple cream. Breastfeeding may cause nipples to hurt, get chapped and even bleed. To reduce the pain, begin using a nipple balm right away at the first sign of discomfort. Try to avoid lanolin as it is made from sheep which can be exposed to chemicals, pesticides, and hormones. When choosing a product, make sure your baby is able to safely ingest it, because he will be.
Breast pads. This will help women experiencing leaky breasts and women with sensitive nipples. Look for ones made from organic cotton or bamboo. They can be used as heating or ice pads as well. Dropping them in warm water and using as a compress pre-nursing is great to increase the flow. Soaking and freezing them to use as ice packs post nursing to help with the pain.
Nursing Bra. It is best to find an organic cotton bra with no wiring, in case you need to sleep in it. Something you feel comfortable in.
Latex mattress for baby. If there is one thing you are going to splurge on, let it be the mattress your baby will be sleeping on (if you choose crib sleeping). In the first year, most babies spend more time asleep than awake, so what they are sleeping on is very important. Mattresses are often loaded with toxic chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors. Find one made from pure wool or natural latex mattress.
Red lights. When breastfeeding needs to be done in the middle of the night, it is best to keep you and your baby’s hormones as undisturbed as possible. Using red lights at night preserve melatonin and will help everyone fall back to sleep much faster - which will assist in milk production.
Yoni spray and padsicles. These help reduce inflammation and promote healing of your vagina and its tissue that have been extremely stretched. Padsicles are made by taking a normal postnatal pad and soaking it in a blend of alcohol-free witch hazel and essential oils (for example, lavender and peppermint) and freezing them.
Seek Support from a Lactation Consultant - Lactation Consultants are nurses who have received specialized training to support women with breastfeeding. They are well versed and experienced with supporting new moms through all of the challenges of breastfeeding - including difficulties with milk production. They offer a warm, supportive and non-judgmental environment to new moms, allowing the relationship between mom and baby guide the process.
Milk Banking - If you are struggling with breast milk production and need to supplement, or if you have been unsuccessful in producing breast milk, consider contacting your local Human Milk Bank. Breast milk banks collect donations of breast milk from mothers who have: an overproduction of milk, have stopped breastfeeding but want to donate their milk to help other babies/moms in need, lost their baby but are producing milk. The breast milk is often pasteurized but maintains its bioactive components, like enzymes, hormones, and nutrients that optimize a baby’s development.