I receive many emails and phone calls from clients who ask “What should I be eating/drinking/taking to make sure I have enough milk?” The problem with question is twofold:
1. It means that somewhere along the way this mother got the idea that they need to do something special to make enough milk for their babies and,
2. For every one mom that asks me this question, there are probably two more moms who just started taking supplements or other fancy tinctures without asking whether they need it or not.
Galactogogues (something that increases milk supply) have their place. Sometimes galactogogues can save a nursing relationship and keep a mom from having to supplement her baby. For many centuries herbs have been used to increase milk supply. Prescription medications can be prescribed in some cases for moms who are really having difficulty making enough milk. Many different cultures have different remedies and foods that are supposed to increase milk supply. Research is not always done on these remedies and I suspect that many of them are very effective but lack research to support their claims. Some things can decrease your milk supply and some probably have no effect at all.
The very best thing you can do for your milk supply is nurse your baby often. Breastmilk is very easily and quickly digested so a newborn will want to nurse at least 10-12 times in 24 hours. Usually this spaces out to about every couple of hours but it’s common for babies to nurse every hour or so in the evening. This is called cluster feeding. When your baby nurses and removes milk from your breast, it tells your body to make more milk. Similar to the Law of Supply and Demand, if the customer requests the product someone will make it. If you are feeling like your baby isn’t getting enough milk, first try nursing more frequently. One time-tested way to increase milk supply is the “Back to Bed Weekend.” This is a nursing vacation where all you do is stay in bed and nurse your baby. If you are still having difficulties, it’s a good idea to call a lactation professional.
So why not just take herbs and medications just in case? Well, for starters, you don’t want to have to deal with unnecessary side effects. Some commonly recommended herbs can be harmful to people with blood sugar issues and one of the frequently prescribed medications can cause depression and mood issues in some women. Dealing with these side effects is not what you need while caring for your infant.
Secondly, if you already have a supply that meets your baby’s needs trying to make more milk you might give you a case of oversupply. Having too much milk sounds like it might be a good thing. Overabundant milk supply can cause issues for both mom and baby. Moms can deal with uncomfortable fullness, engorgement, plugged ducts or mastitis. Babies can have gas, stomach aches, reflux and even gastritis. Frothy green or blood-streaked stools are sometimes the byproduct of a baby nursing from a mother who has oversupply. Oversupply can be treated but it takes time and work on the mother’s part. It’s better not to put yourself in this situation in the first place.
If you go to a natural foods store, you’ll likely find several formulations of milk increasing supplements. These are found in the form of capsules, teas and tinctures. All supplements are not created equal. Sometimes these products contain galactogenic herbs but don’t contain enough to actually increase milk supply. Some formulations contain extra ingredients that are unnecessary and may cause stomach problems in your baby. Also, usually the supplements you can buy online or in a health food store are very expensive. Why spend the money if you don’t have to? If you find that you really do need supplements, ask your health professional or lactation consultant which brands they have seen work for other mothers.
Most mothers are able to produce plenty of milk for their babies. Let your baby decide how often he wants to eat and be waiting and watching for his feeding cues. If you watch the baby and not the clock, you will be more likely to have just the right amount of milk for your child.