Low Milk Supply and a Breastfeeding Diet

by | Aug 5, 2023 | Lactogenic Diet, Low Milk Supply | 0 comments

Breastfeeding Diets – can they Address Low Milk Supply?

After the birth of my first son, I struggled with low milk supply. Seeking advice from a lactation consultant, I shared my troubles and asked which foods might boost my milk production. To my dismay, she assured me that no such foods existed.

Her words shocked me. I had experimented with different diets and had observed their sometimes profound effects on my body. That is why, even as she stated that no such foods exist, I felt certain that millions of women, all around the world, could have explained which foods and herbs I should try, along with exact recipes. Indeed, many cultures worldwide have a rich history of using specific foods and herbs to enhance lactation.

Back then, the causes of low milk supply were still little known. The main advice we moms received was the mantra that “every woman can nurse”. This statement left those of us with chronic low milk supply wondering if we were freaks of nature. My own situation was complicated by a mild case of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which often derails the hormonal balance that is essential for milk production. But my situation was not rare.

Relics of Postpartum Food Practices

Living abroad opened my eyes to postpartum food practices. When my husband’s elderly Aunty Rose, an unmarried spinster, gifted me with a can of “bio-Malt” after childbirth, I was puzzled. It turns out though that malt, crafted from barley, is an age-old remedy that is known to enhance milk supply. How did she know?

Relics of postpartum practices might yet be gifted across generations. They are kept safely in the old wives’ tales that are shared between mothers. They are sometimes found written on a crinkled, yellow page, stashed away between the forgotten pages of vintage health books. If you are very luck, you can dig through the memories of an elderly midwife. Every time I found a relic, some knowledge about the use of a food or herb for milk supply, it was like finding a hidden and incalculably precious treasure. By combining these discoveries into my meals, I was able to increase and maintain a stable and sufficient milk supply.

Self-Education about Breastfeeding Foods

The lack of information about the use of foods for milk supply angered me: mothers deserved to know. Determined to share this knowledge with others, I set about learning all I could. This led to many hours at the university and medical libraries spent pouring through research studies and books, and to emails and phone calls to experts. After certification at a school for holistic lactation in Switzerland, I connected with mothers online. We formed an online community where we could share our experiences, console one another, and learn what helped us improve our milk supplies. This community was an immense support for me; I saw how a mother’s knowledge and experiences can empower not just herself, but also other mothers facing similar challenges. 

Over many years, what had begun as a personal search for knowledge had evolved into an ambitious project: to educate about how food choices can help regulate important hormones and enhance milk production. 

The Growing Need for a Lactogenic Diet

Years ago, the idea that one’s diet might influence lactation was not widely discussed. Today, things are different. Researchers globally have found that certain “lactogenic” foods and herbs can positively affect milk production. However, despite these findings, this topic still doesn’t make it into most breastfeeding courses or books. While the American Academy of Breastfeeding (AAB) acknowledges these foods and herbs, they state that more research is necessary before including them in standard breastfeeding guidelines. At the same time though, the number of mothers struggling with low milk supply is increasing.

This rise is not random. It is causally linked to growing rates of health conditions like insulin resistance, thyroid imbalances, overweight and obesity, to the metabolic syndrome, and to various diabetic conditions. These conditions can be mild enough to go unnoticed and be undiagnosed. As a result, many mothers are unaware of how a hidden health issue might affect their lactation.

Getting Clear Answers

Breastfeeding challenges can have a physiological underpinning, such as one of the above health conditions. These challenges encompass issues like low milk supply, unstable milk production, and premature return of menstruation post-childbirth. Importantly, however, improper positioning on the breast and problems with a baby’s suckling-swallowing mechanism can lead to issues such as nipple soreness, blocked ducts, and inefficient milk transfer, thereby affecting overall milk production.

Breastfeeding Sorrows

Regardless of the reason for a breastfeeding problem, when mothers do not receive timely information and support, they tend to stop breastfeeding and wean earlier than they intended. The unexpected loss of the breastfeeding relationship can take a severe emotional toll, and increase the risk for postpartum depression. I have written a book and consulted mothers specifically on this little-understood, emotionally challenging experience. My book, Healing Breastfeeding Grief, has helped many mothers.

  • If you encounter difficulties, it’s crucial to seek help from a lactation consultant and, if needed, to see a mental health counselor.
  • Many professionals recognize the benefits of a lactation-supportive diet to help manage these issues, and will advise you accordingly.

For more detailed information on the various health conditions that respond to dietary changes, refer to this blog post.

The Four Pillars of Breastfeeding Nutrition

Looking back over the years, I’ve gained a new understanding. From my initial discoveries in the 1980s, through my training in holistic lactation, establishing the first online group for mothers with supply issues, the publication of my books, and explorations of recent research, I see this subject in a more comprehensive way. Today, I explain the “lactogenic diet” – a breastfeeding diet designed to balance a mother’s hormones – from four key angles, which I refer to as the Four Pillars:

  1. Blood sugar balancing / insulin sensitizing: These two go hand in hand. A balanced blood sugar level aids in enhancing insulin sensitivity, an important factor in breastfeeding. Anti-
  2. Inflammatory food choices: Inflammation exacerbates insulin issues, so a breastfeeding diet should prioritize anti-inflammatory foods.
  3. Hydrating food choices: Chronic sub-hydration is linked to insulin problems and can hamper cellular function. Therefore, a lactogenic diet should include foods that promote hydration.
  4. Stress-reducing lifestyle practices: Stress hormones can interfere with the hormones responsible for lactation, so adopting lifestyle habits that minimize stress is beneficial for breastfeeding mothers.

Avoid the Quick Fix

A lactogenic diet incorporates certain foods and herbs that directly stimulate the hormones responsible for lactation. For instance, a simple food like lettuce contains a compound that increases prolactin levels — a key hormone for milk production. However, rather than looking for a “magic bullet,” that is, for the one food or herb that increases your milk supply without other changes to your diet, I recommend that you understand and implement the Four Pillars. They provide a comprehensive approach that addresses and helps manage any underlying health conditions, and can be used in tandem with medical advice and treatment. They can provide both mother and baby with a foundation for better long-term health.

My Mission for this Website

The purpose of this website and blog posts is to offer detailed insights into the Four Pillars and how they can be incorporated into mothers’ daily routines. The content will delve into how these principles can enhance lactation and overall health, and help address common health challenges that women often face throughout various stages of life.

While conventional medical advice remains paramount, I’ll also shed light on situations where a holistic approach may provide essential benefits. Whether you’re struggling with breastfeeding, managing a health condition that’s affecting lactation, or simply interested in optimizing your diet for better health, this platform is intended to provide resources that can help.

In addition, we will feature personal stories, testimonies, and evidence-based research, all aimed at empowering you with information and confidence. 

Sign up here and stay informed about upcoming posts and classes.

Remember, every woman’s journey is unique. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts, classes, research updates, and interactive sessions on social media.

You’re Invited!

Join me in exploring these topics. In autumn 2023, I will offer classes for both health professionals and parents.

Sign up here to be informed about upcoming posts and classes.

And consider purchasing my books, each brimming with essential information for physical and emotional health: Mother Food, Healing Breastfeeding Grief, A Mother’s Garden of Galactagogues.