If your baby is fussy during feedings or you've ever spent hours attached to a breast pump with no more than an ounce or two of milk to show for it, you might be concerned about low milk supply.
Breastfeeding only when your baby is hungry, avoiding bottles, getting plenty of sleep and eating a nutritious diet may help increase milk supply, according to WIC Breastfeeding Support.
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The more you breastfeed, the more milk you produce. But many wonder if diet has an effect, and if so, what foods they should eat for the most benefit.
We spoke with registered dietitians and certified lactation counselors for the full scoop on foods that will support your milk supply and give you all the nutrients you (and baby) need.
Does Diet Influence Milk Supply?
There isn't a whole lot of research that supports eating certain foods to directly increase milk supply. But poor nutrition can affect both your milk supply as well as the nutritional quality of the milk you produce.
"Focusing on certain nutrients when breastfeeding is incredibly important, as the concentration of nutrients in your breast milk depends on what you take in," says dietitian and lactation educator-counselor Lauren Manaker, RDN, LD.
Breastfeeding people need an additional 330 to 400 calories per day as well as extra iodine and choline compared to folks who aren't breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
You also lose a lot of fluid when you're breastfeeding, so staying hydrated plays a major role.
Below, experts share their recommendations for foods to increase your milk supply and enhance the nutritional composition of breast milk.
Foods to Support Your Milk Supply
1. Water (and Other Fluids)
It might seem obvious, but "breast milk is liquid," says Aubrey Phelps, RD, CLC, a registered dietitian specializing in perinatal nutrition and a certified lactation counselor.
"Having enough hydration to keep the body running and producing milk is essential."
Dehydration can decrease milk supply, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center. Phelps recommends a wide variety of liquids, including flavored water, tea, bone broth, smoothies and milk to prevent dehydration while breastfeeding.
You need about 16 cups of fluids (from foods and drinks) per day while breastfeeding, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Fenugreek tea is known as a galactagogue, or a substance that increases milk supply," says Dana Ellis Hunnes PhD, RD. A few small studies have observed that fenugreek significantly increases milk supply in breastfeeding people, according to a March 2018 review in Phytotherapy Research.
Larger studies are needed to determine the efficacy of fenugreek for increasing milk supply — but sipping it could also help you stay hydrated, which is also important for breastfeeding, Manaker says.
Blend them into smoothies, stir them into oatmeal or simply eat them as a snack: If you're breastfeeding, you'd benefit from having dates in your diet.
Some research suggests that dates are another natural galactagogue for breastfeeding people. In one randomized controlled trial, eating 10 dates per day increased breast milk by 23 percent after 4 weeks, per results in the November 2021 issue of Breastfeeding Medicine.
"For a breastfeeding person, dates provide a source of stable energy because they offer vitamins and minerals you need, such as fiber, potassium, iron, B vitamins, magnesium and countless phytonutrients," says dietitian and certified breastfeeding specialist Robyn Price, RD, CBS.
Ginger is a popular galactagogue in Thailand, and many breastfeeding people swear by this home remedy to increase breast milk.
Some research suggests that ginger may be a safe option for increasing milk supply. A small study of 63 people showed that taking a 500-milligram capsule of dried ginger supplement significantly increased breast milk supply during the postpartum period compared to a placebo, per September 2016 research in Breastfeeding Medicine.
More studies are needed to determine if ginger can actually increase breast milk supply.
Other Foods for Breastfeeding People
While the research on increasing milk supply is limited, all of our sources agree that nutrition is important when it comes to breastfeeding.
"Healthy fats, complex carbs and protein are critical during lactation. Nutrient-dense foods can help a person meet their nutrition requirements," Manaker says. Making sure that you're eating enough of the nutrients you need will not only help you produce enough milk but will ensure you (and baby) stay healthy and well.
Fish is often on the list of foods to avoid during pregnancy and lactation because it can have high levels of mercury, which is a toxic heavy metal.
When a breastfeeding person eats fish, the mercury can be passed on to the baby through breast milk, which can negatively affect the infant's brain and nervous system development, per the CDC.
But fish is full of important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, which breastfeeding parents and infants need. When possible, choose low-mercury fish. "Eating low-mercury fish two times a week is a dietary tip that most lactating people can benefit from," says Manaker. Some low-mercury fish include:
- Atlantic mackerel
Fish is also an excellent source of protein. Breastfeeding people need an extra 19 grams of protein per day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Fish oil supplements may be an option to satisfy the nutritional need for DHA omega-3 fatty acids if low-mercury fish isn’t an option.
While breastfeeding, half of your grains should be whole grains, according to WIC Breastfeeding Support. Whole grains are nutrient-dense sources of complex carbs, fiber and even protein.
Oatmeal is a common recommendation for lactating folks, and many of the experts we spoke to were quick to recommend it.
"Oatmeal is one of the top foods I recommend for milk supply," says Krystyn Parks, RD, IBCLC, a registered dietitian and certified lactation consultant. "Oats contain a fiber called beta-glucan, which is thought to increase levels of the hormone prolactin. Indirectly, this may help with increasing milk supply."
More research is needed in this area, but whole-grain foods like oats are a great food to add to your diet if you're lactating.
Dark Leafy Greens
Everyone should make it a point to get their greens, but this is especially important for breastfeeding people. Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are rich sources of nutrients that support healthy milk production.
"Dark leafy greens like spinach are a good source of phytoestrogens and iron," Price says. "After pregnancy, many find their iron stores depleted, so incorporating iron can be helpful. Pair your iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C to help with absorption."
Fatty acids are essential during breastfeeding, and flaxseeds are full of them. Price recommends flaxseeds because breastfeeding people often don't get enough omega-3s and fiber in their diets.
Price generally recommends 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds per day. You can add them to your smoothies or drink flax milk to get in both healthy fats and hydration.
Do Lactation Products Actually Work?
In hopes of increasing milk supply, many may turn to store-bought products that claim to help. According to the pros, lactation cookies, bars and teas may not work the way you think.
Phelps suggests that it's possible for lactation cookies and similar products to help increase milk supply, not because of a special ingredient, but because they may fill a nutritional gap.
"Most of these bars and cookies provide carbohydrates and calories — something that many breastfeeding people aren't getting enough of," Phelps says. "Similarly, many teas and powders increase your hydration and electrolytes, which are crucial for milk supply."
So, don't go throwing away your stash of lactation snacks just yet. If you enjoy them, they can be a convenient way to add nutrients and hydration to your diet. Just don't use them to replace proper, balanced meals.
Lactation-Supporting Products to Try
The following lactation-supporting products come recommended by the dietitians and lactation counselors we spoke to.
- MegaFood Baby & Me 2 Postnatal Multivitamin ($25.89, Amazon)
- Zhou Nutrition Fish Oil, Max Strength Omega-3 Fatty Acids ($20.33, Amazon)
- Traditional Medicinals Mother's Milk Tea ($26.99, Amazon)
- WIC Breastfeeding Support: “Low Milk Supply”
- John Hopkins Medicine: “5 Breastfeeding Diet Myths”
- CDC: “Maternal Diet”
- CDC: “Mercury”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Promoting Nutrition for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women"
- UT Southwestern Medical Center: “6 factors that won’t decrease your breast milk supply”
- WIC Breastfeeding Support: “Taking Care of You”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Nursing Your Baby? What You Eat and Drink Matters"
- Phytotherapy Research: “Effectiveness of fenugreek as a galactagogue: A network meta-analysis”
- Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine: “The Effects of Date Fruit Consumption on Breast Milk Quantity and Nutritional Status of Infants”