Your diet can affect how much milk you produce.
Can nutrition and your diet have much of an effect on milk production? Surely, if you are healthy and follow a sensible eating regimen, our body should produce milk when it needs to? Many new mom's discover that this isn't always the case. Newborns are voracious drinkers and unfortunately it’s not that simple - making milk takes time, and your body needs to adapt to being a milk factory at first. Many nutritional requirements change during pregnancy and impending lactation, as this special state of the body makes different demands on your organs and glands.
The role of nutrition in milk production is vital in increasing and maintaining a new mother's milk supply. Is it a matter of calorie intake, the balance of nutrients or something more complex? We give you the facts on how nutrition can affect your milk production.
At first Lactogenesis is automatic
Your body starts making colostrum, the highly nutritious first milk your breasts produce to feed newborns, late in your pregnancy. Colostrum is very important for a newborn as the components of this first milk are unique, and have been custom designed by your body to meet your newborn's specific needs. Also, getting your baby to feed well, will empty your breasts, and milk removal is the primary control for determining your milk supply.
The emptying of your breasts through feeding and milk removal is determined by your baby’s appetite. These first two stages of lactation are hormonally driven and calorie intake and diet do not play a huge role in refilling your breasts in the early days of breastfeeding. But then lactogenesis moves beyond this hormonally driven automatic process, and the mother's health and diet start becoming more important in milk supply.
To produce milk your breasts must make prolactin. The walls of the milk producing cells of the alveoli in your breasts contain prolactin receptor sites. These usher in prolactin from your bloodstream to the lactocytes to make breastmilk.
Prolactin is positively regulated by several hormones, including thyroid-releasing hormone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide. Stimulation of the nipples and breast during nursing, leads to release of prolactin.
Nutrients that you need
Your basic vitamins, both lipid-soluble and water soluble, should be included in plentiful supply. Remember, your body has been through most of a year of intense physical and hormonal changes, and giving birth is a major health event.
Adding a prenatal vitamin is essential to your nutrition and any Ob-Gyn will suggest that you start a prenatal vitamin as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.
Keep your liquid intake high
Every new mother is told that she needs to drink more. Drink more of what? That depends on who is giving advice. Old wives' advice can suggest you drink more water, blackcurrant juice, beer, ginger tea, fenugreek tea, the list goes on, but the advice to drink more is consistent. Your obstetrician, pediatrician or midwife will tell you to keep yourself hydrated.
Successful lactation is determined by a complex hormonal cocktail, including the reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone, placental lactogen, prolactin, and oxytocin) and metabolic hormones (insulin, growth hormone, glucocorticoids and thyroid hormone).
Keeping your fluid intake as high as possible enables you to have more water in your system, and good levels of hydration will give you the first building blocks of the complex process of making milk, or lactogenesis.
The other advice that hold true is to nurse your baby often. Never skip feeds even if your baby's last feed was a good one and she doesn't seem hungry, with milk production, you need to make, and lose milk, for your body to make more. And the more you lose, the more your mammary glands will produce. It's a simple matter of supply and demand – or demand and supply.
How much you eat is even more important
Calorie intake is probably the most important next step in making more milk. Where possible opt for nutrient dense foods like almonds, cashews, pecans, other nuts and flaxseeds.
Beans also fall into this category of highly nutritious foods. A lactating mother needs to increase her calorie intake to between 1800 - 2200 a day to produce a steady and plentiful milk supply and consuming fewer than 2200 calories a day can lead to a drop in your supply.
Foods high in antioxidants
- Oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel. Also a source of protein, salmon and mackerel are rich in vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids
- Beef and shellfish. These deliver high levels of zinc into your diet
- Eggs. Egg yolks contain selenium and choline, both important nutrients for producing breastmilk.
- Leafy greens and vegetables
- Legumes and beans
- Nuts and seeds
Foods that make you sweat and lose water
Fenugreek, Fennel and Blessed Thistle made into teas, or taken as tablet or liquid supplements contain chemical compounds that can load your body with a host of vital nutrients, and some not so common, but highly beneficial ones. Both fenugreek and Blessed Thistle contain high levels of anti-oxidants, and saponins which are important for producing milk.
Foods that contain saponins
- Legumes. beans, soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans, navy beans and haricot beans are among the most abundant sources of saponins.
- Garlic contains antioxidant acting saponins
- Sea cucumber, and other edible sea invertebrates
If you can find a way to drink or eat hops minus the alcohol in a glass of beer, then this tough plant from the. The compounds in hops have weak effects similar to the hormone estrogen, and makes it a favorite for stimulating milk production.
Long touted for its effects as a galactagogue, it's primary action in the body helps 'letdown' and flow, promoting easy milk release. Breastfeeding mothers can consume ginger as part of their diet in meals, in teas or in ginger ale.
- an anti-inflammatory
- relieves muscle pain
- is a carminative and settles the stomach
- helps regulate blood sugar
- prevents heart disease and cancer
- reduces risk of diabetes in pregnancy
With all these benefits, add it to your diet without hesitation. The muscle relief and calming effects of the plant, whether fresh or in powder form, will benefit you generally.
Combination of nursing and eating
Adequate milk supply is a combination of breast stimulation by your baby's feeding, and supplying your body with the right nutrients for your mammary glands to produce milk.
If the right combination of reproductive and milk producing hormones are present, your body will be able to meet your milk producing needs. Throw in some lactogenic foods, and your baby's first words might be "Got milk?"