Anti-Lactogenix – Herbs, Meds, Vitamins, and Foods that can undermine milk production
This blogpost is an excerpt from a work-in-progress. It also serves as background information for a class I currently give for mothers, IBCLCs, and postpartum caregivers. Register for classes here.
Let’s start by looking at the foods, herbs, supplements, and medications that can interfere with milk production.
Herbs that can Reduce Milk Supply:
We do not know why these herbs have the reputation of reducing milk supply. However, reports are common enough that lactation consultants now advise mothers to avoid the following herbs, especially they are having a difficult phase with milk production.
Avoid these as extracts and flavorings in candy, breath mints, toothpaste, medicine, foods and beverages.
Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, peppermint, spearmint, walnut shell, yarrow.
- Each mother’s sensitivity will differ. We are each unique individuals, after all.
Warning: The essential oil of oregano leaf is a popular antibacterial, antifungal, and antivirus medicinal treatment. It can be effective against hard-to-treat infections such as flues and urinary tract infections. However, oregano oil is often observed to decrease milk production. Use with caution.
When to Alternate Herbs
- Some mothers find they have to alternate any combination of herbs every few days to avoid their effects wearing off.
- Fennel Seed: Begins by increasing milk supply and milk flow, but continuous can have a drying effect and reduce supply.
NOTE: When taking the same supplements every day, pausing one day a week can prevent the body from becoming desensitized to the supplements. The same holds true for lactogenic foods and herbs.
Common Medications that Reduce Milk Supply
- Many cold, sinus, and allergy medications (such as Sudafed, Advil Cold, Sinus, or Claritin-D) have a drying effect on the mucus membranes. They contain pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that can dry up your milk supply.
- Birth control pills and injections and hormone-based IUDs often reduce supply.
- Wellbutrin and Zyban (both a form of bupropion) are known to reduce milk supply.
Dopamine is a chemical that conducts signals between nerves. Dopamine also acts as a hormone and is involved in metabolic processes in the kidneys and spleen.
Normal levels of dopamine are lactation-friendly, but higher levels of dopamine suppress the pituitary’s production of prolactin which in turn decreases milk supply.
–Not all women have a sensitive reaction to dopamine-enhancers, yet it is wise to be aware of their potential to reduce milk production.
The two main dopamine enhancers are described below: B6 and Aspartame.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 is a coenzyme in the synthesis of dopamine.
Too much vitamin B6 will increase dopamine and lower prolactin. In fact, decades ago, B6 was used like bromocriptine today, to suppress lactation after childbirth.
While vitamin B6 is crucially important for nerve health, continually taking too much (more than 200 mg a day) can lead to nerve damage.
A high dose of B6 is sometimes recommended for Reynaud’s (when the nipple painfully blanches white). According to Dr. Newman, 200 mg of vitamin B6 per day is an upper limit for Reynauds. However, if a mother is dealing with supply issues, it may be wise to keep that dose lower, to 150 mg a day.
B6 can be found in breakfast cereals, protein bars, sports drinks, and also in supplements of other nutrients. If you have milk supply problems, examine the ingredients of the foods, beverages and supplements that you use or eat frequently. You might discover that you are over-dosing on B6.
Aspartame, a zero-calorie sweetener, is in NutraSweet, Equal, Candarel, Pal Sweet Diet, and AminoSweet.
Aspartame is found in sugarless sodas, candies, chewing gum, mints, cereal, jellies, deserts, and sweeteners, and it is also used as a flavoring in medication.
Aspartame is metabolized into an amino acid called phenylalanine, which is a precursor to dopamine. High dopamine reduces prolactin and can impact milk supply.
Aspartame interacts with neurochemistry, gut integrity, and cortisol.
It is not unusual for people to consume aspartame in various foods and beverages every day, and, when trying to stop, to go through withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.
Aspartame should be avoided during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, as it is believed to trigger seizures in some people.
When trying to stop a food habit that involves aspartame, be prepared for withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.
Tip for Healthcare Providers: Help your client identify sources of aspartame, and discuss a gradual reduction.
Caffeine is found in soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, coffee, mate, black, green, and white tea, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate (but not white chocolate).
When we produce milk, the hormones cortisol, insulin, and estrogen are kept in a specific balance that puts a pause on ovulation and menstruation and supports milk production.
Caffeine elevates the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Too much cortisol impairs insulin, a hormone that regulates milk supply. High cortisol also increases dopamine and reduces prolactin. Clearly, caffeine is a milk-buster if over-used.
Many people who over-consume caffeine have a genuine need to be awake and alert, such as a student studying for a test or a doctor on the night shift. Mothers commonly turn to caffeine to get through the initial exhausting weeks and months of infant care—unaware that this can inhibit milk production.
Over-eating chocolate, another source of caffeine-like chemicals also increases stress hormones with the potential to reduce supply. Some women have reported better milk flow after they eliminate the last bit of chocolate from their diets.
On the other hand, high-quality chocolate, eaten moderately, is very lactogenic. Indeed, centuries ago, unprocessed cacao beans (half cacao powder, half cacao fat) were famous across Europe as a galactagogue.
Consider this: the over-use of caffeine actually depletes the body’s energy reserves. First, it uses up your reserves of magnesium, needed for the health of the nerves, for good sleep, and for a calm and steady heart rhythm. Magnesium also relaxes the lungs and reduces the bronchial spasms of asthma.
Caffeine also empties the mitochondria, the energy batteries of cells.
Stress hormones can paralyze the peripheral parts of the nervous system. This reduces blood circulation to the breasts.
Your takeaway: It makes sense that the overuse of caffeine would not be good for milk supply. But if caffeine is enjoyed moderately and the diet is otherwise based on lactogenic ingredients, caffeine is most likely not a problem for the vast majority of mothers.
The American Heritage online dictionary defines astringents as:
“A substance that draws together or constricts body tissues and is effective in stopping the flow of blood or other secretions.”
You might be familiar with the word “astringent” from face care: astringent lotions are used to tighten and tone the skin and shrink and close the pores.
It appears that some women’s breast tissue responds sensitively to astringent foods, beverages and herbs. The tightening and constricting of mammary tissue would reduce blood circulation, limit the action of hormones, lessen the letdown, constrict the milk ducts and reduce milk flow.
Women who have less developed mammary glandular tissue may be more vulnerable to the effects of astringent foods, but all mothers are best advised to avoid them in the early weeks.
The structures between the cells of the mammary glandular tissue, the so-called Extracellular Matrix, may be inhibited or constricted by dehydration and astringents. The matrix would be supported through foods that moisten, hydrate, and soften the Extracellular Matrix. This is one was that many lactogenic foods and beverages support mammary development and function. This is the subject of my book-in-progress and also of the class I am currently giving. Register for classes here.
Astringent Foods, Beverages, and Vitamins
- Astringent foods are mouth-puckering. Think sour and acidic as in pickles and citrus fruit.
- They can also feel mouth-drying. Think strong black tea.
Astringent foods include acidic foods, such as citrus juice, citric acid, and all fruit juices that contain citric acid; vitamin C (ascorbic acid), sour berries, and fruit.
Some mothers may also need to avoid carbonated beverages. They are made with carbonic acid and are somewhat acidic. Mothers might also use soft drinks to suppress their hunger and reduce their caloric intake, which will also undermine the milk supply.
- Soft drinks, sports drinks, and carbonated water may also contain caffeine, citric acid, and vitamin B6, all of which reduce supply.
- Red raspberry leaf tea is rich in tannins—it has that mouth-puckering feel to it.
Your takeaway: think about which sour, mouth-puckering and mouth-drying foods and beverages are part of your diet. Reduce or eliminate them until your milk supply is well established.
I learned about the milk-busting effect of sour and acidic foods and beverages from a German nutritionist. At that time, I was drinking bottles of carbonated “mineral water” each day. When I stopped, my supply finally began to grow.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) and Citric Acid
Vitamin C is an acid. In my counseling of mothers with insufficient glandular tissue, we included vitamin C in the list of foods and supplements to avoid because of its constricting effect on the tissue of the breasts.
Many mothers reported that avoiding vitamin C did in fact improve their ability to naturally increase their milk supply.
We found the same to be true of citric acid, which is found in many beverages and packaged foods.
Some mothers eliminate even more mouth-puckering foods such as sour tomato, paprika, sour apples, and cucumber. A few mothers have said that it helps.
Avocado is a question mark. You may have noticed that some avocados are sour and mouth puckering. I myself noticed that avocados inhibited rather than supported my supply. That may be more important if you have a condition called IGT (insufficient glandular tissue).
A Special Case: Sports Drinks
Sports drinks are frequently recommended from mother to mother and sometimes also by well-meaning healthcare providers to increase milk supply.
These drinks contain the electrolytes that improve hydration.
Many of us are chronically under-hydrated. We are not eating a mineral-rich diet and may be lacking sufficient electrolytes. Milk production may in fact respond to these beverages.
However, some sports drinks contain anti-lactogenic ingredients: carbonation, citric acid, vitamin C, vitamin B6, or other B vitamins. If several bottles of sports drinks are consumed each day, these ingredients can add up and have an anti-lactogenic effect.
During the early postpartum, traditional societies serve mothers beverages and food that are especially hydrating, and that support the development of the mammary and areola glandular tissues. (These are discusses in my book Mother Food and also in the class I am currently giving.)
Beverages that contain oat milk, almond milk, or coconut milk are a good alternative to sports drinks, for instance: Horchata can be made with one or more of these.
Some sports drinks contain 7 or more teaspoons of sugar. If a mother drinks a bottle before nursing and had a sudden surge of milk supply, this is a red flag for insulin resistance: the sugar in the beverage, as well as the electrolytes, are helping the signals of insulin reach her breast and signal the production and release of milk.
Drinking a beverage sweetened with honey or eating a high-quality WHITE chocolate bar are two healthy ways to overcome the insulin resistance and turn on the milk making.
I hope you have enjoyed and learned something through this blog post. If you have suggestions to add or questions, please post below.
Copyright (C) is reserved for Hilary Jacobson and MILLC. For permission to use, contact me.
Thank you. Hilary Jacobson