With its tons of surprising benefits for both mom and baby, breastfeeding is definitely amazing—and yet so incredibly hard, too! From the first latch through to weaning, moms go through a lot while in the milk-making gig. And if you’re like me (and like so many other moms before us), then chances are you've been worried about your milk supply at one point.
Questions such as, “ Is my baby getting enough milk?,” “My breasts are no longer leaking. Are they still producing milk?” or “Hey, how did that Instagram mom get a fridge full of pumped milk?” may haunt you. And I’m not going to lie, these questions WILL haunt you and even cause you to panic. But that’s the last thing you want to do since stress can undoubtedly slow the flow. So what’s a breastfeeding mama (with milk supply concerns) got to do? The answer may be there sitting in your pantry.
Yes, you read that right. Some foods may help boost your milk supply, and in the milking mama world, these are known as galactagogues or lactogenic foods.
Hold On, Don’t Raid Your Pantry Just Yet!
But wait—before you raid your pantry or go grocery shopping, it’s important to set the record straight first: is your milk supply really low?
If you asked me this question when I was three months postpartum and preparing to re-enter the workforce, I’d probably answer a teary-eyed “yes.” You see, I was so determined to continue breastfeeding my little human after returning to work that I got myself a hospital-grade double pump...but nothing was coming out. It was downright frustrating, and I was probably one pumping session close to giving up!
Fortunately, my breastfeeding tribe from Facebook (one of the upsides of social media) rallied around me and reassured me that the amount I pump is not an accurate way for determining if I have enough milk for my kid. The greatest measure, they say, is that my baby is gaining weight well on breastmilk alone. And yes, my little human was packing on the pounds well and fast!
So there, since I was confident that I did have milk, I only had one other thing to get out of the way: increasing my pumping output. And the best solution for this (well, aside from getting enough rest, staying hydrated, and pumping frequently)? Galactagogues!
Okay, Now Go Ahead and Raid Your Pantry
To make your life easier, I’ve rounded up 8 of the best tried-and-tested foods to boost your milk supply. And by best, I mean, that they’re available in practically every supermarket (or your pantry) at an affordable price. They can also be prepared into delicious dishes in a short time and in batches, or stored to last longer, all while retaining its full nutritional value and serving its ultimate purpose: to help you produce more milk for your baby. My little human would concur.
Oatmeal is cheap, it’s available anywhere, delicious, can be added to so many yummy treats, and it’s packed with iron! It’s just what you need if you have maternal anemia, or low iron levels, which often occurs after childbirth, causing a decrease in milk supply. Oatmeal is high in fiber, so it sweeps your system clean and eliminates the junk that may be camping out in your body.
And there’s more to it…
I know, I know. Oatmeal isn’t exactly the tastiest food out there, but the good thing is it doesn’t have to be boring. You can make overnight oatmeal jars out of it, which are concoctions with chia seeds, yogurt, and fruits of your choice. You can prepare several jars of it in one go, put them in the fridge and forget about it until you’re hungry or when it’s about an hour before feeding time.
They’re also great for baking! You can make oatmeal bars in various combinations; with chocolate, nuts, dried fruits, the opportunities are endless! Or you can make lactation cookies! You can bake a large batch of them, store it in a jar and eat it with mother’s milk tea.
If you need a milk supply booster, oatmeal is not the only grain in town. Rice is a great energy booster for lactating moms, too. Research has it that brown rice causes an increase in your serotonin levels, which is what manages your mood, sleeping habits, and generates the primary hormone that induces lactation.
Want a healthy, savory option for grain? Then, in brown rice we trust. It’s a great base ingredient for quick one-pot meals. You can cook it with meats, vegetables, and spice it up in Mediterranean, Asian, or Mexican flavors. Rice all you want and check out the different brown rice recipes here.
When you’re pregnant or lactating, you’ll need a steady and abundant supply of folic acid, which is a B vitamin that helps your body produce new cells. Folic acid can also help prevent birth defects aside from boosting your baby’s immune system. You’ll also need a load of calcium, vitamins A, K, and iron. You can get these from many dark greens, but spinach is one of the best sources for all these.
You can buy them ready to use for salad, blend into a fruit and vegetable smoothie, or cook it as a side or appetizer in under 10 minutes. Try this flavorful quick sautéed spinach with just olive oil, garlic, shallots, salt and pepper and voila!
Quick confession: I really hate carrots! But they made it on this list (and I had to endure months nibbling on them) because they’re really great milk-makers. Carrots are heavily concentrated with beta-carotene and vitamin A, which are great immune system boosters.
The best thing about carrots is, like oatmeal, it can be made into so many delicious dishes and treats. It can be cooked into a savory dish, baked into a cake, and on hot days, paired with a banana, pineapple, or berries to make a refreshing juice or smoothie. You can start with some of these carrot and fruit smoothies…
A word of caution though, eating too many carrots may cause carotenemia or yellow pigmentation of the skin. So go easy on the carrots, mama.
Asparagus is an underrated power food. If you’re hunting for superfoods, chances are asparagus won’t land on the list of the usual suspects for it. It is exceptionally high in nutrients that are essential for pregnant and lactating moms; folic acid, vitamin A for good vision, K for bone health, and C for a better immune system. All these help mom sustain her milk supply and consequently boosts baby nutritional needs for proper development.
You can add flavor to it by wrapping bacon around it, or oven roast it. You can also steam or make sautéed asparagus with a bit of seasoning. Pair it with a hearty steak, and you’re good to go. Here’sone that you can add to your repertoire – it’s so easy that anyone can do it.
There isn’t scientific proof on this one, but unripe papaya is known and often recommended for lactating moms in Asian countries. The most common preparation for it is to cook it with chicken in a clear broth. You will find a lot of Asian mothers with newborns feeding on this soup in the first few months from delivery. Again, this is not backed by science, just generations of mothers who swear by its effectivity. It also makes for a hearty meal.
One of the most popular preparations for unripe green papaya is to make it into a fresh papaya salad. You can go Asian and order it from any Thai restaurant, or you can prepare it yourself with this recipe, which packs a punch of flavor in every bite.
If you love sweets, but you’re watching your sugar intake, snack on some apricots to stave off the craving. It has naturally occurring sugar, which is a healthier alternative to processed sugar. What makes apricots unique is it’s a lactogenic that’s packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals. It also has tryptophan, a nutrient that can boost your milk production.
The tradeoff when you’re breastfeeding is that you have to take extra effort to be healthy since your body is your baby’s main, if not their only food source during their first few months. You can find apricots anywhere. Get them fresh if you can, but if not, then you can opt for dried apricots.
Hummus is one of the Middle East’s gifts to the culinary world and lactating moms. Rich in protein, hummus is made from mashed legumes or beans mixed with garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Most hummus recipes use chickpeas. It makes for great fillings for toasts or as a dip for chips and vegetable sticks.
You can buy tubs of it from the nearest supermarket, or you can make your own if you have a food processor. Follow this recipe for hummus and tell us if it’s a win for you.
As a breastfeeding mother, your new superpower (in addition to the hundred different things you’re now capable of doing) is making milk! And to make sure that your milk-making operations is going well, it’s essential to fuel your body with food that’s designed by mother nature to keep the boob flowing. So go check your pantry or schedule that long overdue grocery shopping, mama. You got this!
(P.S. I think it’s entirely acceptable to hoard these foods.)