Breast-feeding moms often swear by different foods or drinks that they say helped boost milk supply. For new nursing moms, though, the advice can be confusing and even contradictory.
So what’s a mom to do? First things first, she should determine why she believes her milk supply isn’t where it should be, says Barbara Robertson, an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBBLC).
Robertson, the owner of the Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor, says moms may be concerned about milk supply even when there’s no problem.
“The first thing I would wonder is does she really have a milk supply issue or is she worried that she has a milk supply issue? That’s a good starting point,” says Robertson, who has more than 15 years of experience working with nursing moms and their babies.
One way of finding out is weighing the baby – an infant should generally gain one ounce per day for the first four months and about a half-ounce per day after that, on average, she says.
If it turns out there is a problem, moms should seek professional help with an IBBLC before trying various at-home solutions. The advice they offer might include adding certain foods to a mother’s diet, she says.
“I do suggest if the mom is struggling with a milk supply issue that she does get professional help,” Robertson says. “Food could absolutely be part of the solution.”
Unfortunately, there’s no single food that will necessarily help every nursing mom.
“Each mother could be missing certain things that her body needs to help make milk,” she says. “Sometimes improving your diet can improve your milk supply.”
Fiber and omega-3
That said, upping a mom’s fiber and omega-3 intake can improve milk supply in some cases, Robertson says.
“We know from the dairy industry that lots of good fiber and lots of good omega-3 can help improve and increase your milk supply,” she says.
Foods high in fiber include oatmeal, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, black beans and whole-grain cereals. You can find omega-3 in things like walnuts, almonds, wild-caught salmon, avocado, olive oil and coconut oil, Robertson says.
“Lactation cookies” you might find in stores, which can be expensive, or cookies that you make at home using lactation-related recipes could be helpful, she says, and at the very least they shouldn’t hurt.
“A good oatmeal cookie with a little brewer’s yeast and maybe some walnut would be a lovely cookie because it has fibers and the omega-3, but the idea that we can eat a cookie and it’s going to fix a big problem – that’s probably not going to happen,” Robertson says. “If you like oatmeal cookies, it’s not going to hurt you unless you have a sugar problem.”
What to drink
Many moms swear by dark beer to help lactation, believing that the hops offer a boost in milk production. This could help, but moms who don’t enjoy drinking beer shouldn’t feel obligated to give it a try.
“If you hate something in particular, try to find something that you actually enjoy eating. The idea of torturing yourself and drinking a beer is not the answer,” Robertson says.
You’ll also find nursing moms who say drinking Gatorade helped them the most.
“Some people swear by certain things … I think different people are missing different elements in their body so different things are going to work for that person,” she says.
Staying hydrated is important, so moms should keep a water bottle nearby when nursing. Don’t overdo it though, Robertson says, as over-hydration can also be a problem.
“We do want to eat for hunger and drink for thirst,” she says. “As mothers we tend to skip meals and not drink as much as we should.”
Foods to avoid
Moms concerned about milk supply should also be aware of foods that can negatively impact lactation. These include mint, parsley and sage.
“Different mothers are more sensitive to things than other,” Robertson says. “In general we really recommend a wide variety of healthy foods and that tends to work best.”
And though many women are told to avoid caffeine while breast-feeding, Robertson says some babies are more sensitive to it than others but it’s usually not a problem. Alcohol is also OK in moderation, she says – one glass of wine is not typically a concern, she says.
Foods like broccoli and beans that may cause gas are also not a problem for babies because the fiber content doesn’t get into the bloodstream, Robertson says.
“I think some moms think oh, they can’t breastfeed because it’s going to be a really hard diet. Usually most babies can handle things well,” she says.
To find a lactation consultant near you, see the Metro Parent lactation consultants roundup. Robertson suggests moms also visit research-based sites like kellymom.com for more breastfeeding information.
This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for 2016.