Nursing a newborn is such a unique and joyful experience that nothing, including worrying about milk supply, should get in the way. Feelings of “not enough” milk, not to mention figuring out bottles, formula, and pumping, can be such a cause of stress that focus is pulled away from enjoying moments of bonding. Luckily, eating the right foods and using the right herbs not only assist consistent lactation but also bring the focus back to your baby, and your body back into your skinny jeans!
To keep up with the demands of breastfeeding while also keeping the body healthy and balanced, additional caloric intake is crucial. An infant requires about 2 to 3 ounces of milk per pound of weight. Each ounce of breast milk contains 20 calories. Initially the mother is giving out 300 to 400 calories per day, and, if exclusively breastfeeding, even more calories as the baby develops and grows. While the urge may be to reduce calories to lose weight, too great a reduction in calories can diminish milk production. To keep up with the calories expended, caloric intake must be increased for healthy lactation. But before indulging in ice cream and cookies, remember that , as with all nutrition, the right type of calories is crucial.
Luckily, eating for healthy lactation is not rocket science. Watching the intake of a few key nutrients, drinking enough fluids, and using a few herbs can make a big difference. A nursing mother’s diet must be nutrient- and protein-dense with a focus on fluid intake. Water is the primary ingredient of breast milk, making adequate fluid intake critical to healthy lactation. Focusing on the nutrient-rich foods eaten during pregnancy—eggs, fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—is equally important. Additionally, because the fat you eat affects the fat profile of breast milk, stick to healthy fats, such as the omega-3 fats found in fish.
Choosing the appropriate galactagogue herbs can also help increase milk supply. Examples of effective herbs are listed below:
- Borage relieves anxiety and stress. The plant loses much of its medicinal qualities when dried, so use it fresh whenever possible.
- Dill relieves gas.
- Fennel is a digestive aid that can help relieve colic. Use fennel seeds when possible.
- Fenugreek, a bitter-flavored herb, must be formulated with other herbs to make it palatable. Another option is to take the herb in pill form.
- Nettle relieves fluid retention, a common side effect of breastfeeding due to the fluctuations in hormone levels. This great tonic herb also contains iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and chromium.
- Drink adequate fluids. Carry a water bottle with you and take sips all the time. When you sit down to nurse, create a relaxing environment with a cup of tea handy, such as Traditional Medicinals’ Mother’s Milk tea.
- Ensure B-vitamin intake. Eat whole grains (e.g., brown rice), wheat germ, and brewer’s yeast. Oatmeal, a whole grain, has been found to support lactation.
- Increase omega-3s. Include cold-water fatty fish such as salmon and sardines in your diet. Sprinkle flaxseed on your yogurt or cereal, and snack on walnuts.