I had a client come and see me last week; she's a newly breastfeeding Mum, and wanted me to check over her diet. She was also concerned that her milk supply may have been slightly low, and wanted to discuss ways to increase it. Breastfeeding is something I am super passionate about - it provides your child with all the nutrition they need, it supports your babies immune system, and it helps establish and feed an optimal gastrointestinal microbiome in your child. But it's hard work, and unfortunately; it is not always successful. You should always consult your babies doctor if you have concerns about your milk supply and your babies growth, but along with demand feeding and feeding your baby more often, there are a few dietary and lifestyle tips you could use to increase your supply of breastmilk.
A breastfeeding woman has increased requirements for her daily calorie intake over a non-breastfeeding woman - but don't get hung up on counting calories; instead, be more concerned with listening to your body (hungry? eat!) and with the nutrient content of the food you're eating. You need to ensure you’re eating enough of your macro’s – aim to make each meal a well balanced plate of carbohydrates (vegetables, wholegrains), proteins (meat, eggs, tofu, fish) and fats (olive oil, oily fish, avocado, coconut, nuts & seeds). But you also need to ensure you’re eating enough of your MICRO nutrients, too – think zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron, iodine, folate, B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Focusing on a diet made up of a wide variety of whole foods will help you to meet all your micro nutrient requirements. I recommend to all my clients, breastfeeding or not; avoid eating processed food whenever you can. Hunger can come on quickly when you're breastfeeding, so keep a well stocked supply of healthy snacks you can grab at a pinch and eat with one hand! (Think nuts & seeds, bliss balls, fruit, boiled eggs.)
Are you taking any supplements? The amount of omega-3 fats in breastmilk has been consistently shown to vary according to maternal dietary consumption, and because it is so important for a babies developing brain, I recommend a quality EPA/DHA supplement to every breastfeeding client. Along with a probiotic targeted for breastfeeding, and usually a good quality broad spectrum breastfeeding support supplement for good measure, too. They won't increase your milk supply, but they will ensure that your body has enough nutrients to put in the milk as well as looking after your own needs as well. (Post-natal depletion is real!)
The biggest consideration with making enough breastmilk, is - are you drinking enough water? You need to hit your own bodies daily requirement for water, plus all the water required to make the breastmilk. There is no one single figure to drink each day, as your individual requirement will vary depending on the weather, your activity level, and also the age of your baby affecting the volume of milk. But, it's safe to say - it’s a lot! For every breastfeed, aim to drink at least one big glass of water. Listen to your body and have a drink of water whenever you feel thirsty. If you really need a number to work to - aim for a minimum of two litres each day.
Another important thing that is often overlooked – rest! Milk supply is often (or, at least, can feel) low in the late afternoon/early evening – often when a baby is fussiest and you’re feeding the most. Having a dedicated time in the afternoon to just enjoy a spell of rest can help your body to make some milk. I read somewhere once that a breastfeeding mother who is lying down is doing as much work as a person climbing a mountain – give your body a break so it can do it’s job!
There are lots of different teas and biscuits on the market designed to increase milk supply, too. There is really good research supporting the effectiveness of fenugreek, silymarin (milk thistle) & moringa in increasing milk supply, so look for these ingredients in any product you purchase.
If your milk supply is low – consider getting your iron levels tested, as low iron can negatively affect milk production. You could also consider getting your thyroid checked, as thyroid issues can also negatively affect milk production.
Always seek help if you need it – the Australian Breastfeeding Association is an incredible resource and has a fantastic free 24hr hotline you can call for advice, or there are private lactation consultants you could engage for help, also. Prescriptive medication options are available - your GP will advise if medication is an option for you.
If you’re a breastfeeding or expectant Mother, and you’d like me to check your diet – get in touch. Consultations available online, or in clinic now.