A Historic Study on Lactation and Diet
In present-day discourse about the lactogenic diet and galactagogues, studies are blindingly absent. Historically, after the mid-1900s, the idea that scientifically developed formula was better than actual breastmilk took hold of our collective minds, and any interest in the effects of herbs and foods on women’s milk production ceased to exist. However, before that time, MDs did occasionally conduct research studies on women during the first week or two after childbirth.
The study below was special because it spanned 24 days and gleaned information about six different diets and their effect on milk production. A German journal of midwifery published the summarized results in 1903. However, the journal includes various studies and observations “since 1888” so we don’t know the actual date of the study:
260 mothers received six different diets, each kind lasting four days and then moving on to the next. The researchers looked at changes in milk production during each diet: the amount of milk produced and the fat content. The differences were considerable.
Lactogenic Diet Study from 1903
Monthly Magazine for Midwifery and Gynecology, Band XVIII, Berlin 1903
Publisher: Verlag von S. Karger
Reports and Lectures: A Review and Overview from Professor Dr. Stolz-Graz
(The collection describes the literature since the year 1888.)
About the influence of the kind of nutrition upon the milk production, Temesvary studied 216 nursing women 1-2 weeks postpartum with SIX dietary forms, in consecutive 4 day periods. The dietary forms were:
- normal diet, mixed foods
- Milk diet
- mostly plant-based diet
- mostly meat-based diet
- an abundant, mixed diet
- normal diet with 4/5 – 1 Liter of Beer pro day
The quantity of the produced milk was the strongest with the abundant, mixed diet. Here was also the absolute amount of milk-fat the largest.
Pertaining to the varying amounts of fat, the abundant mixed diet was followed by the normal mixed diet. The least amount of fat was seen in the mostly plant-based and mostly meat-based diets.
In the case of the normal diet with additional Beer, the quantity of milk was less, but contained significantly more fat. It follows that we recommend Beer in those cases where the quantity of milk is sufficient, but the quality is lacking due to insufficient amounts of fat.
Vegetables and water, reduced meat and other protein-rich foods increase the thinness of the milk and reduce their proportion of fat. Adding in milk, eggs, etc., increases both their relative and absolute percentages of fat content.
Von Oesele finds, that oatmeal, soups made with various flours, or rice, lentils, milk, coffee, warmbeer, fennel-tea and also keeping the breasts moderately warm supports milk production, as does fresh, green vegetables, easily digestible carbohydrates and protein derivatives. With this diet, restricting the intake of fats is advised.
An excessive intake of food by wet-nurses in combination with excessive beer and lack of exercise leads, according to Zaleski, to milk that is poor quality, because the excessive and one-sided protein diet increases the amount of fat in the milk and reduces the amount of milk-sugar.
We do not know the methods involved in the study, such as how the percentages of sugars, fats and proteins were evaluated, or how the overall quantity of the milk was measured. However, from the 1860 published book by MD Dr. Charles Routh, we do know that such investigations were taking place, and that comparisons between human and animal milk was expansive.
Still, the idea of the study is intriguing, especially as it is not a high-tech study to conduct and would not be expensive.
If we were to reproduce this study today, several changes would of course be needed.
First, the study subjects would be mothers producing approximately the same amount of milk after one week so that their “starting point” is the same.
The groups would consist of mothers with similar metabolic types: all with IGT, or all with hypothyroid, or all pre-diabetic, or all with normal metabolism, and so on. The metabolic challenges of the mothers must be similar so that the differences shown would be due to the dietary changes.
We might also study ethnicities separately, as generations of dietary traditions and experience might create unique responses to the diets.
And study mothers with similar work histories, as exposure to toxins in different settings would have an impact.
In recent decades, the world’s population has undergone an explosion of metabolic disturbances that a century ago did not exist. Yes, at the time of this study, diabetes and heart disease were rare. This means that the mothers in this study would not have some common challenges that we have today. Their diets were not high in refined carbohydrates. They did not yet omit eating soups, gruels and broths that naturally supported mammary glandular development. Their environment did not contain exogenous estrogens from chemicals and plastics that interfere with lactation, nor did their bodies contain “forever chemicals” such as PFORs that interfere with mammary development.
Keeping this in mind, repeating this type of study using mothers with similar types and degrees of metabolic problems would be very interesting. We could add in mammary-supportive and hormone-supportive foods, and assess what helps women the most who have these different degrees and kinds of challenges.
Geez – if our “breastfeeding friendly” medical boards really cared about breastfeeding, they would already have been conducting such studies on an on-going basis, noting from decade to decade how changes in diet and lifestyle affected mothers’ ability to build an abundant and reliable milk supply, and also discovering how simple dietary measure can help reverse many of these problems.
The original study is here: https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/284104
A screenshot of the publication, found in archive.org, is below.