Breastfeeding doesn’t always happen easily or, for some, at all. But some people find that, with some simple tweaks, they’re able to more comfortably nurse their babies. For instance, as Tia Mowry explained in a recent Instagram post, just changing up your diet may help get the process going more seamlessly.
Earlier this week, Mowry posted a photo on Instagram of her and her infant daughter, while highlighting her previous issues with a low milk supply. “Feeling pretty good! Wasn’t able to breastfeed Cree for long because of low milk supply! However, this time around I have plenty,” Mowry wrote in the caption, referring to her first child, her son Cree. “I’m able to pump 12 ounces alone in the morning for my little brown suga!”
Specifically, Mowry mentions a high-protein diet, fenugreek (an herbal supplement), and “lots of teas” and water as part of her breastfeeding eating regimen. But is it possible to actually increase your breast milk supply based on nutrition alone?
To start, there are a variety of reasons a person breastfeeding may be experiencing low milk supply.
Most newborns need between eight to 12 feedings per day, according to the Mayo Clinic, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding your baby at least until they’re 6 months old. So, yeah, that's a lot of milk.
Research suggests that around 15 percent of women experience persistent low milk supply three weeks after giving birth, and about 35 percent of women perceive that they have low milk supply.
There are many factors that can reduce milk supply, such as waiting too long to start breastfeeding or not doing it often enough. An ineffective latch (meaning your baby isn't effectively getting milk out of the breast) can also reduce milk supply, according to the Mayo Clinic. The action of the baby sucking “tells” the breasts to keep up milk supply.
“It’s really about activation of the secretory tissue in the breast,” Diane L. Spatz, Ph.D., a professor of perinatal nursing at the University of Pennsylvania and nurse researcher at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, tells SELF. If you don't effectively activate that tissue as soon as possible, “then you’re going to set the mom up to struggle with milk supply thereon out,” she adds.
However, having an actual physical inability to produce enough milk is fairly uncommon. "The true inability to producing enough milk is due to glandular hypoplasia,” Spatz explains. Glandular hypoplasia (also referred to as insufficient breast or glandular tissue) is a condition in which there's an anatomical issue that prevents adequate production of breast milk, and it's not common. Although there isn't a ton of research out there about the condition, it's estimated to occur in around 4 percent of people who breastfeed. Spatz estimates the actual prevalence is closer to 2 percent.
Nutrition does play a role when it comes to keeping up your milk supply, although there is limited research on whether specific foods make a difference.
As SELF reported previously, your body is going through a lot when you're breastfeeding, including burning additional calories, so you need to make sure you're fueling your body with the extra energy it needs. The Mayo Clinic recommends high-protein foods like lean meat, eggs, dairy, legumes, and low-mercury seafoods while breastfeeding. That being said, there is no proof that these foods directly boost breast milk supply.
“It makes sense to have high-protein foods because it’s going to give you energy,” Spatz says, adding that it's a good idea to eat small, frequent meals in order to replace all the calories you're burning breastfeeding. “But in terms of data to support that the foods that we eat can impact milk supply, we don’t have any research.”
Fenugreek seed, as Mowry also mentioned in her Instagram caption, has been touted as a magical milk supply booster The seed is ground into capsules, powders, teas, and liquid extracts. But there are limited studies on whether the seed itself actually increases milk supply, according to the National Institutes of Health. There are also some adverse health effects associated with fenugreek, including diarrhea and the worsening of asthma symptoms. The possible risks of taking fenugreek while breastfeeding remain unclear, so definitely check with your doctor before adding this (or any supplement) to your routine.
Even if your nutrition is on point, other factors can negatively impact milk production.
That includes lifestyle factors, like smoking, moderate to heavy drinking, and a high caffeine intake, the Mayo Clinic says. Certain medications can also reduce milk supply.
For instance, medications containing pseudoephedrine can decrease milk supply, and your doctor may discourage hormonal birth control methods while breastfeeding, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you’re considering taking birth control while breastfeeding, Spatz recommends avoiding estrogen-based hormonal birth control and waiting eight to 12 weeks before trying a progestin-only based birth control. In the meantime, there are non-hormonal options, including the copper IUD and condoms.
Ultimately, it’s totally normal to have concerns about supplying enough milk for your baby. So if you sense something is off at any point, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant about it.
If you’re showing signs of low milk supply, you should speak with your doctor as soon as possible. Those signs might include a lack of breast fullness three to four days after delivery, a lack of yellow seedy stools from the baby four to five days after delivery, and the baby not being settled after feedings, according to Spatz. If you’re interested in increasing your milk supply, your doctor may recommend breastfeeding or pumping with a hospital-grade breast pump as much as possible.
Ultimately, producing adequate milk for your baby begins with a healthy you, so eating nutritious, energizing food as well as practicing healthy lifestyle habits (like not smoking) is an excellent start.