How To Increase Breastmilk? Exploring Old-World Wisdom

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What is the safest food for a baby, easy to digest, always available, complete with nutrients, packed with immunity boosters, easy to store and requires no preparation? It is the mother’s milk. It’s the complete food for the baby.

Breastfeeding is the best thing that you can do for your baby and yourself. A breastfeeding baby is protected against all kinds of infections. Breastfeeding boosts immunity and makes an unbreakable emotional bond with you. Studies suggest that a breastfeeding baby has fewer chances of metabolic syndrome later in life. 

It is normal to worry about breastfeeding for a first-time mother. Questions like, “If my milk is sufficient for my baby, how to increase breast milk, what food should I eat and avoid for increasing breast milk,” etc often bothers new mothers. So, if you are a first-time mom and are anxious about breastfeeding; trust your instincts and that of your infant! Babies have a suckling reflex and they will drink as much as they need to grow. With rare exceptions, all mother can breastfeed their children. 

Doctors recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the baby’s life. Breastfeeding is essential not only for the baby but for the mother too! It will prevent engorgement in your breasts. It will help lose all the extra weight put on during pregnancy (you didn’t know that, right!).

So, let’s understand:

  1. some important pointers that will make breastfeeding easier
  2. food groups to include in your diet when breastfeeding
  3. foods, herbs to eat to increase milk production and let down
  4. what to avoid in your diet if breastfeeding
  5. Foods to help deal with postpartum depression

The diet of a breastfeeding mother has to meet increased demands on the metabolic system of the body. It should be high in protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Usually, the foods that provide you with healthy carbs and proteins also provide you with the remaining nutrients. 

Here are a few things you should keep in mind for the best results hen breastfeeding baby:

  1. Keep the baby on your body soon after birth, ideally within an hour. Skin-to-skin touch, otherwise known as ‘kangaroo mother care‘, has many benefits, one of which is to help the baby to get ready for latching onto the mother. Also, mothers secrete a thick yellowish liquid called colostrum which is loaded with immunity boosters. This is very important for the baby, do NOT miss it.
  2. Avoid janam ghuttis, honey or water for the newborn. Your milk is enough.
  3. Don’t worry if you feel that the milk is less. When the breastfeeding baby latches on the mother’s breast properly, milk is released. Its call the letdown reflex. 
  4. Relax. Sit in a comfortable position to feed the baby. Don’t bend down to feed the baby, instead prop up some pillows and get the baby up. Your back will thank you later. 
  5. Just wipe your nipples with a clean cloth after a feed. There is no need to wash them before every feed. They have some good bacteria for your breastfeeding baby.
  6. Sore nipples are not a necessity. If the latching position of the baby is correct, you will not have a problem. You have to see a doctor or a lactation expert if the nipples are inverted inside. Sometimes they give a gentle tug to the nipples to make it easy for the breastfeeding baby to latch onto.
  7. Engorgement of breast happens and can be painful. You have to feed the baby to empty it or express the milk regularly to avoid the condition. Take the advice of a lactation expert if it becomes very painful. 

You have to feed the baby every few hours, so take rest and eat healthy while the baby is napping to keep up your strength. The baby is important, but so is the mother. You have to take care of your health too.

What to eat when breastfeeding baby?

This is not the right time to go on a diet. The best way to lose weight is breastfeeding your baby as frequently as required. This will help normalise body hormones and bring the uterus nearer to its pre-pregnancy size. Your eating timeline will differ from normal. Breastfeeding mothers have increased energy requirements, even more than pregnant women. Their bodies have to recuperate and also make milk for the growing baby! Usually, you’ll feel very hungry after feeding the baby. You should eat whenever the hunger pangs strike.

Wholegrains – Avoid eating highly processed foods as they are low in overall nutrient content is low. Minimally processed, whole foods are nutritionally much better. Eg. It is better to choose wholegrain wheat bread over white bread. Eat wheat daliya, khichri (use parboiled rice), pearl millet or bajra daliya, oatmeal porridge, barley soup, etc. Add veggies like carrots, gourds (read lauki, tinda, turai), tomatoes, onions or leafy greens ( palak, methi, bathua, cabbage, kale) to the usual khichri or daliya for a little variety in your diet. 

Carbohydrates– provide us with the energy which we need so much while nursing the newborn. Whole grains give us complex carbs which are nutrient-rich and also have much-needed fibres which are good for your gut health. 

Healthy Fats – Nuts and oilseeds are the best sources of healthy fats. Do not skimp on these! Dig into that panjiri loaded with almonds, raisins, chuhare, musk melon seeds, coconut and flaxseeds. A dry fruit laden traditional laddoo will serve you well as a midnight snack. Many of these preparations contain cumin seeds (jeera) and carom seeds (ajwain). These help in digestion and are an excellent source of proteins and other micronutrients like iron and calcium. You can also have a spoon or so of roasted melon seeds (musk melon, watermelon) or magaj, as they are called, between your meals. These all are good source of omega -3 fatty acids or the ’good’ fats. Also, their ample intake ensures that you also have fat soluble vitamins like vit. A, E, K and D in adequate amounts. These are vital for the development of your breastfeeding baby.

High Protein foods- Fish, eggs, and poultry are excellent sources of good quality protein. Vegetarians can have milk, milk products and legumes. Milk will also give riboflavin, calcium, vitamin A and B12. If you are a Vegan, then, some of the best and tasty high protein food options are beans, legumes, tofu, almond, and soy milk. Also sprouted dals (use moong, moth, chana) are very good snack options. 

Vitamins and minerals– though we need all vitamins and minerals. Here are a few that need a mention:

  1. CalciumThe deficiency of calcium will not reflect in your breast milk, but without sufficient intake, it will be leached out of your bones. It is very important that you take 1000mg calcium every day. If you take 500ml of milk or milk products per day, you should be able to achieve it. Though this can be achieved by diet, take a supplement if advised by your doctor or lactation consultant. Lactose intolerant women should go for supplements along with leafy greens like palak, methi, bathua, etc.
  2. Vit. A– we all want bright eyes and radiant skin. Well then vitamin A should be taken to ensure that you are in the pink of your health. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, found in butter, milk, and cheese. Liver and fish are good sources of Vit A. Yellow veggies and fruits like papaya, carrots, squash, Mango, cantaloupe, red pepper, butter, cheese, sweet potato, spinach, broccoli, etc. are good options for vegans.
  3. Thiamine– It’s a vitamin whose requirement depends on the energy (read carbs and fats) intake. If you have more energy-rich foods, you need more thiamine. Fish, whole grains, organ meats, legumes, corn, peas, seeds, nuts, fortified cereal grain (widely distributed in foods) are good sources of this vitamin.
  4. Ironit helps in tissue repair and prevents anaemia in nursing mothers. Iron supplements are also known to increase appetite. Green leafy vegetables like methi, palak, bathua, etc. are rich sources of iron. Jeera is also iron-rich. No wonder then, lactating mothers are given jeera water only in the 1st-month after delivery in some parts of India. 
  5. Vitamin C– It not only helps in bone building but also helps in better iron absorption in the body. Apart from citrus fruits like oranges, lemons etc. other fruits like guava, Indian gooseberries (amla), tomatoes are also rich in this vitamin.

Fluids- Drinking water is important for the regular functioning of the body. As you need to increase your energy and protein intake, take more milk, make more soup-likee porridges, doodh daliya, jeera, and ajwain water, fennel tea, etc. This will not only maintain the fluids but also provide with extra nutrients.

Before we discuss on how to increase breast milk, you must know that most mothers produce milk as per the demands of the newborn. The more you nurse your baby, the more milk will be produced. Traditionally there are some foods which are given to the new mother to recuperate and increase her milk production.

How to increase breast milk when breastfeeding baby: Galactagogues / Lactogenic foods

What are these?

Galactagogues are substances which boosts milk production in nursing mothers. Many of these are anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory, reducing cramps, relieving flatulence, and improving digestion. Some of them are pipal mool, sauth, chuhare, khus khus, gond, jeera, ajwain etc. Herbal preparations containing a mixture of galactagogues have shown beneficial effects on milk production in a study on 66 mothers in Turkey(10). The studies on them are very few and evidence is mainly anecdotal, but researchers have found some of them to be the answer of the question : how to increase breast milk(11). Here are a few  

  1. Fenugreek seeds (6)- Methidana has been used for a long time as a lactogenic food. Data gathered from the study on 1200 women supports that the mothers experience an increase in milk within 72 hrs of consuming fenugreek. It has phytoestrogenic compounds. A study (7) found that herbal tea containing fenugreek, anise, and fennel seeds improved milk production in nursing mothers.
  2. Fennel – It’s a common mouth freshener used in India and aids in digestion. Fennel tea made by boiling fennel seeds is naturally caffeine-free. It was found to improve milk production when taken (9) in a herbal tea concoction in Iran in 150 mothers.
  3. Carom seeds or ajwain– It is swallowed with salt as a common home remedy for colic and flatulence in India. It is a rich source of fibre and antioxidants. 
  4. Cumin seeds or jeera– it is a rich source of iron. It aids in digestion and prevents colic in babies. Jeera can be added to all types of food. It can be roasted, crushed, and added to salads, soups, etc. 2tsp of jeera boiled in a glass of water can be consumed every day.
  5. Oatmeal – it is used extensively in the US for increasing milk production. It’s a traditional post-delivery food in Europe (12).
  6. Sesame seeds – It is traditionally consumed in Mexico by nursing mothers and is rich in calcium. 
  7. Garlic – It is another easy additive to your food which improves taste and intake of milk by the infant. (11) It can be easily added in soups, dals, and even khichri.
  8. Ginger – Ginger is known to help with the let down of milk. (12) I was given a sweet ladoo made with gur, dried ginger (sauth) and ajwain called Sauthura. I took it for only in the two days following my delivery. It helped me to let down as I could not feed my baby soon after birth.
  9. Barley – It is eaten in various parts of India and all over Asia. Barley soup or jau ka paani can be easily made by boiling it in water for 15-20 minutes. You can add spices to make it more palatable.

Foods to avoid when breastfeeding baby

When talking about how to increase breast milk, a mother should also keep in mind what food to avoid. Certain foods may cause gut irritability. You need to observe your breastfeeding baby’s reaction and look out for things that do not suit her. You can remove them from your diet. Here are some foods to avoid:

  1. Coffee and tea as high caffeine intake is not recommended for a nursing mother. 
  2. Alcohol and tobacco are detrimental to the health of both mom and the breastfeeding baby.
  3. Veggies like cauliflower and cabbage which might cause gas formation, bloating and discomfort.

According to American pregnancy association, many mothers have reported to have the ‘baby blues’ up to 2 weeks or more after giving birth. New mothers feel sad, anxious, irritable, and weepy during this period. The hormones of a woman are stabilizing themselves and its natural to feel a little overwhelmed. Psychological support and help are needed by the mother to overcome these blues. If these symptoms persist, then you need to see a professional.

Postpartum depression (1)- How diet can help?

Though much is to be learned about postpartum depression, there are a few nutrients which have been found to help in overcoming PPD in new mothers.

  • Riboflavin- it’s also known as vitamin B2. It is part of the b-complex vitamins. The Osaka maternal and child health study conducted in Japan on more than 800 women observed that riboflavin intake helped in postpartum depression (2). Beef, eggs, salmon, tofu, avocado, milk, mushrooms, spinach, almonds are some of the richest sources of riboflavin. 
  • Omega -3 polyunsaturated fatty acids/ Omega -3 PUFAs – If you are a health buff, you know how important these good fatty acids are in our diet. A meta-analytic review done on studies relating to PUFA has been found to improve the symptoms of depression (3). Almonds, walnuts, salmon, avocado, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, tofu are some of the foods rich in these healthy fats.
  • Vitamin D- A randomised trial done on more than 150 Iranian women linked Vitamin D3 supplementation during last trimester of pregnancy with lowered depression symptoms(5). It also helps in the absorption of calcium from the food. This ‘sunshine vitamin,’ as it is popularly called, is made by our bodies with the exposure to the UV radiation from the sun. Our bodies make sufficient Vitamin D in 15-20 minutes of exposure by the sun. Fatty fishes like tuna, mackerel, and salmon are good sources of Vitamin D. Wild mushrooms and egg yolks are also good sources. Sometimes the doctor will give you supplement if your vitamin D levels are low.
  • Herbs like ashwagandha has been studied with a promising result on the effect of stress(14,15). It can be used to help alleviating the symptoms of PPD.

Overall a healthy diet and a good support network will help you tide this immensely important phase in your life. Savour the time spent with your newborn and cherish these moments with your family.

Welcome to motherhood!

References :

1. https://www.mother.ly/lifestyle/5-foods-to-help-keep-postpartum-depression-at-bay

2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032706002564

3. https://brainnutrient.securearea.eu/Files/2/42000/42087/PageHomeDownloadDocs/8867_nl.pdf

4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032707006623

5. https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-016-1024-7

6. http://nfsr.sbmu.ac.ir/files/site1/user_files_e3fcde/nkhorshidian-A-10-444-1-3942ea0.pdf

7. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2010.0090

8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4165197/

9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501793/

10. Kavurt S, Bas AY, Yucel H et al. The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on oxidant and antioxidant status of human milk. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2013;26:1048-51. [PubMed]

11. http://www.ijhsr.org/IJHSR_Vol.4_Issue.10_Oct2014/35.pdf

12. https://parents.org.gr/wp-content/legacy-upload/lactogenic_foods_herbs.pdf

13. http://www.mobimotherhood.org/lactogenic-foods-and-herbs.html

14.http://anaturalhealingcenter.com/documents/Thorne/articles/Ashwagandha.pdf

15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/

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