Mamma Mia! Recipes to Boost Breastmilk Production Naturally
From fennel-spiced salmon to oat-filled lactation cookies and chocolate malt shakes, here are 22 dietitian-approved recipes for mamas looking to increase breastmilk supply
I used to work in the outpatient women’s health practice of a hospital with a busy maternity unit. Every day, I’d talk with mamas-to-be about nutrition, and field their questions about infant feeding. Across cultures and age groups, many who planned to breastfeed expressed worries about making enough milk. First timers often wondered how they’d know if their newborns were satisfied. Veteran parents suspected that when their older babies were frequently hungry or didn’t sleep through the night, low milk supply had been the culprit. Some wanted to know if the beer rumors were true: Did it really increase breastmilk production, and if so, was it okay to drink beer once baby arrived?
It’s understandable that many moms are anxious to ensure they’ll make plenty of milk. Walk the aisles of any baby store or your local Target, and you’ll find loads of breastfeeding-related baby gear, from pillows, covers, and pumps to lactation cookies, teas, and tinctures. It’s enough to plant the seed that you need lots of stuff to nurse successfully — and to shake the confidence of those who may already be juggling excitement and worry at the prospect of providing for a tiny new creature.
Jump ahead to:
Breastfeeding & galactagogue FAQs
First things first: Some babies will nurse like pros immediately. Other breastfeeding duos need help and time to figure it out. That’s okay! And remember, breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If you experience pain or sore, cracked nipples, it’s a sign that something needs adjusting (that something is often baby’s latch). IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) are highly trained healthcare professionals who can offer invaluable help with even complex breastfeeding challenges; CLCs (Certified Lactation Consultants) or peer counselors are great resources for basic lactation education and support.
How do I know if my infant is getting enough milk?
If your little one is gaining weight and growing, that’s a great sign that all’s well.
Okay, but are there foods that can help increase breastmilk production?
There are foods that have been used for centuries to help promote milk production or increase breastmilk supply. Called galactagogues in scientific parlance, the research into whether, how, and why they work is still lacking. That said, foods like oats, barley, fennel, and flax are among those that have both evidence and anecdote on their side when it comes to their ability to boost milk supply.
More milk is good, right? Should I use galactagogues?
There are situations where prescription or herbal galactagogues may make sense — say, for moms with certain medical conditions that may inhibit milk production, for adoptive parents seeking to induce lactation, or for moms pumping milk for very preterm infants — but they’re rarer than you might think.
Fortunately for most folks, a generally well-balanced diet will provide the body with the tools it needs to produce enough milk. If it gives you peace of mind to include lactogenic foods (those with milk-encouraging properties), it’s typically fine to give them a try, and less risky than looking to an unregulated herbal supplement first.
One caveat: If you’re contending with a tricky breastfeeding relationship, consider getting professional help, even if you suspect supply issues. Oversupply or forceful letdown — both of which can be exacerbated by galactagogues — can make it harder for a baby to latch successfully or nurse effectively. As Theresa Moutafis, MA, RDN, CDCES, IBCLC points out, “Supply is often driven by mechanical means. A galactagogue likely won't help if milk isn't being removed frequently or baby is having significant latching difficulties so that they are not able to efficiently remove milk.”
So about that beer … Cheers?
Beer has a long (like, since-ancient-Egypt-long) history of use by nursing mothers, but shifting societal mores and science about alcohol and lactation paint a more complicated, nuanced, and — for many — a more confusing picture. Science is moving us away from the assertion that nursing moms should NEVER drink, but it’s important to know that alcohol is an anti-galactagogue, even if some of the compounds in beer may prove helpful. (Babies tend to nurse less for several hours after moms partake, so that can impact supply, too.) On the flip side, if the occasional beer helps you relax or enhances your enjoyment of a meal, it’s generally fine to imbibe.
Want to learn more about traditional galactagogue foods? We’ve rounded up lots of nursing-friendly recipes to try, with an emphasis on ones that feature simple prep, and/or that can be eaten with one hand!
Rich in high-quality carbohydrates and B-vitamins, whole grain oats are comfort food at its best … and comfort helps promote milk production
Anyone who has ever dropped food on a nursling’s head knows that juggling a baby and a bowl of hot oatmeal isn’t a great idea. Baking oatmeal into bars is a brilliant hack that lets you enjoy the satisfaction of porridge made portable.
Oats have a surprising affinity for savory toppings and mix-ins, as these customizable muffins prove.
You’ll find lots of recipes for lactation cookies online, and most include oats. This recipe is nice because they’re reasonably nutritious, customizable, and don’t require brewer’s yeast. And yes, everyone in the family can enjoy them.
Thanks to their beta-glucan content (and — let’s get real—their affinity for other cookie ingredients), oats get a lot of galactagogue shine. But barley — which is largely responsible for beer’s lactogenic reputation — is also rich in beta-glucan and other milk-promoting compounds.
Caprese salad meets barley in this nourishing grain bowl. Enjoy it as a side or a simple meal.
Barley gets a risotto-style treatment in this nutrient-dense, ultra-satisfying one-dish meal.
This easy soup starts with canned beans and tomatoes and prepared broth to minimize prep; it also includes fennel, another traditional galactagogue.
If you’re cooking up a batch of barley, keep the water and infuse it with mint and lemon. It’s an ancient drink worth rediscovering.
Flaxseeds contain phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), along with the essential fatty acid alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which our bodies convert (rather inefficiently) to anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids. Opt for ground flaxseeds over whole — the latter pass through our systems largely undigested.
Beyond flax’s potential benefits, a small study found that regular blueberry consumption may have a protective effect against postpartum depression. (Of course, if you’re experiencing the baby blues or more severe postpartum depression, reach out to a medical professional for help.)
Craving a savory protein- and veggie-packed snack you can eat with one hand? These vegan cauliflower and chickpea patties are the answer. Ground flaxseed helps bind the batter, and you can bake the whole batch at once if you don’t want to stand around frying them.
Oats, peanut butter, and flaxseed are the base of these chocolate chip-studded, no-bake energy balls. In terms of food allergy prevention, there’s mounting evidence that old cautions against eating nuts while breastfeeding were misguided. If you’re not allergic to nuts, it’s likely a good idea to continue eating them while nursing.
If you’re digging the energy ball idea and want something ultra-chocolatey, try these date-sweetened confections.
Fenugreek is one of the most studied galactagogues, and turns up in a lot of nursing support supplements and teas. But perhaps because there’s more data, it’s often cited as an herb to use with caution. Maternal nutrition professor Judy Simon MS, RDN, CD, CHES, FAND points out that it may interact with certain medications or cause diarrhea. Because it can lower blood sugar and is a legume, breastfeeding moms with diabetes or peanut allergy should use caution if trying it.
Many advise avoiding fenugreek in late pregnancy, both because it’s a uterine stimulant, and because it can give the breastmilk and baby a distinctive maple syrup smell that may lead to concern about a rare but serious metabolic disorder called Maple Syrup Urine Disease.
That said, the culinary use of fenugreek (vs. the medicinal doses in supplements) is generally considered safe and may be the best way to try it.
If you find fresh fenugreek (aka methi or hilba), try it in this beautiful dish. Dried fenugreek leaves work, too.
Dried fenugreek helps flavor the marinade for these grilled chicken thighs. If you use imperial measures, you’ll need 1 cup of Greek yogurt.
Spinach, fenugreek, and peas add lots of vibrant flavor to coconut milk-infused basmati rice.
Dates have been used throughout the Middle East and in China to support milk supply; they’re nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, and energizing to boot.
This recipe involves baking the dates, but we’d just as soon pop ‘em right after they’re stuffed.
Nutrient-dense leafy greens are a fabulous addition to a nursing mom’s diet; kale provides lots of calcium, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens that can help promote a healthy milk supply.
Ginger is valued as a galactagogue in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); this soothingly spicy, warming tea is a traditional postpartum tonic for new moms. The red dates (jujubes) here are different from the fruit just labelled "dates" in the supermarket, but if you can’t find them, you can sub in Medjools. For the ginger and dates, 15 grams = 1 tablespoon.
Most research on fennel looks at the anise-flavored seeds, but some maintain that the bulb is useful too. In any case, it’s tasty, so worth a try.
Not only does the spice rub on this salmon include fennel, but the fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for baby’s brain development and mama’s mood (adequate Omega-3 intake may help prevent postpartum depression). If you don’t have a grill, try roasting in a 425° F oven for about 18-20 minutes or until done.
This comforting dish is chock-full of warming spices traditionally regarded as galactagogues, including cumin, garlic, turmeric, and ginger. (Some caution that parsley is an anti-galactagogue, but there’s no data to suggest that’s true, and some Turkish mothers use it to promote their milk supply.)
A short ingredient list packs big flavor in these oven-burnished Brussels sprouts.
Malt is an ambiguous term — it can refer to a grain-sprouting process, the malted grain itself, or products derived from it, like distilled drinks, syrups, or powders. Any way you cut it though, malt’s sweet caramel complexity is prized for boosting breastmilk supply.
This homey, beer-risen quick bread uses malt syrup and malted wheat flakes (King Arthur Baking Company is a good source). If you can’t get them, try rolled oats instead.
Malted milkshakes for milk makers! How’s that for a manifesto?