10 Best Breastfeeding Superfoods To Increase Milk Production 2022

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Medically reviewed by Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

breastfeeding superfoods

Breastfeeding is nature’s way to ensure that a newborn baby gets adequate nutrition and immunity necessary for sustaining life and healthy growth in the early stages of his life.

WHO says a newborn child should breastfeed within one hour of being born. They also recommend that the newborn should get only breast milk for 6 months, after which an additional diet suitable for the baby can be started. Breastfeeding should continue for a minimum of 2 years.

Mothers are always on the lookout for superfoods and ways to increase breast milk supply so that their babies maintain the healthy diet they need. Nursing mothers have also been known to try green powders to try and bolster breast milk production[1].  

10 Breastfeeding Superfoods You Should Know

  1. Barley
  2. Oats
  3. Brown Rice
  4. Nuts
  5. Seeds
  6. Spinach
  7. Beef
  8. Asparagus
  9. Ginger
  10. Turmeric

10 Best Lactation Foods For Breastfeeding Moms

Worried that you are not producing enough breast milk for your baby? Turns out you are not alone. 

Many lactating mothers feel that they do not produce enough milk supply for their babies and a considerable proportion of them stop breastfeeding[2] because of this reason.

There are a lot of additional nutritional and caloric requirements for nursing mothers. Healthy nursing mothers require an additional 400 kilocalories[3] per day whereas the additional protein requirements[4] are 15 grams/day for a well-nourished adult female producing breast milk. 

To ensure adequate breast milk supply, these requirements, along with other nutritional requirements, must be met.

The majority of women report that they felt a positive response after consuming foods to increase breast milk production and substances that have been known to do so. Wondering what breastfeeding moms should eat? Ponder no more; some breastfeeding superfoods are

Barley

breastfeeding superfoods

Barley is a part of our everyday diet in the form of cereals and bread. Sometimes it is used as a substitute for refined wheat flour. 

Barley contains a dietary fiber known as beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has been shown to stimulate prolactin[5] release which is an essential hormone for lactation in many animal studies[6]

A relatively recent 2021 study[7] on humans shows that barley malt can significantly increase breast milk supply. it is important to know that alcohol decreases milk production and some alcohol might reach your baby through mom’s milk. 

The safer bet is to eat barley directly and not consume it in the form of alcohol, e.g., beer or whiskey.

Oats

breastfeeding superfoods

Turns out that the oatmeal you were having for breakfast for losing weight will help you produce milk for your baby also. Oats also are full of beta-glucan, the same polysaccharide that helps barely stimulate the release of prolactin[8] hormone from the pituitary gland in humans.

Oats contain almost as much beta-glucan as barley. There are a lot of fun ways to incorporate oats into your diet. You can eat them like cereal or add syrups to them to make them palatable. You can also make bread and muffins with oats or eat them in any way you like. 

Brown Rice

breastfeeding superfoods

Rice is a staple diet in many regions around the world. Chances are brown rice is a regular feature in your diet already. It is full of essential nutrients that can help increase breast milk production. It is also full of fiber and is made up of complex carbohydrates.

Brown rice has been postulated to help breast milk production; additionally, it increases serotonin levels[9] in the brain. 

Serotonin[10] also has a positive effect[11] on hormone prolactin levels, a hormone that is necessary for lactation and suckling[10] by the infant.

Increased and stable serotonin levels are associated with increased prolactin. A study in mice[12] has been done that shows brown rice increases serotonin levels in the brain but no such study in humans has been carried out as of yet.

Most human studies involve increased serotonin with antidepressants, but instead of serotonin increasing prolactin directly, it’s probably more likely that serotonin and prolactin are interactive, one affecting the other.

So next time you order Chinese, remember to order a side of this as well.

Nuts

breastfeeding superfoods

Nuts are full of proteins, minerals, calcium, healthy fats, and other nutrients that not only help mothers produce enough breast milk but also have a positive impact on the baby’s weight. Breastfeeding is the only source of omega-3 fatty acids for neonates. 

Nuts such as cashews, walnuts, and especially almonds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids for the breastfeeding mother. These fatty acids have a positive effect on a baby’s nervous system and even his/her behavior[13] later on in life.

Not only do nuts make a great snack but you can also add them to your milkshakes, salads, cereals, and yogurts. Just be careful that neither you nor your baby has any nut-related allergies because breast milk can provoke allergic reactions in the baby or the mother.

Seeds

breastfeeding superfoods

Seeds like chia seeds and sesame seeds are full of fiber, high-quality proteins, calcium, and other nutrients that have a positive effect on milk production. Eating seeds also change the composition of the mother’s milk and give a boost to the baby’s and mother’s immune system.

Sesame seeds contain tryptophan which helps release prolactin which in turn helps increase lactation. An old 1973 study[14] shows that intravenous tryptophan increases prolactin levels. 

So make sure you eat plenty of seeds with your smoothies and snacks so that your newborn gets all the good nutrients in your milk that he or she needs for good health.

Spinach

breastfeeding superfoods

Leafy greens are necessary for lactating mothers to provide them with iron, minerals, and some vitamins. Every breastfeeding mother should include spinach or other green vegetables[15] in their diet. Have spinach in a smoothie, or a salad. You can also cook it with other vegetables for an energy boost and overall health for both you and your newborn. 

Spinach is packed with phytoestrogens which help regulate lactation hormones. Spinach is also a rich source of iron which is an essential mineral for lactating mothers.

Beef

Beef is full of protein, vitamins, and other minerals like zinc. In addition to B vitamins (folate), zinc[16] is also required in increased quantities during lactation in association with the secretion of folate in breast milk, as zinc concentration tends to fall[17] as breastfeeding continues.

If you are a meat lover, you will love adding a side of beef to your lunch or dinner. If you are a vegetarian and are currently breastfeeding your child, then an important thing for you to remember is that you need vitamin B-12 supplementation to fulfill your vitamin needs.

Asparagus

Remember your childhood when your mum forced you to eat asparagus for better health? Well, it turns out vegetables like asparagus are healthy for you also when you become a mum yourself. 

Asparagus has high quantities of tryptophan, the amino acid that promotes secretion of prolactin which in turn stimulates the production of breast milk. It is also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin C.

Ginger

breastfeeding superfoods

Ginger is popular in Asia for its benefits associated with breast milk, and there is scientific evidence to back it up. 

A study done in Thailand[18] shows that mothers who consumed dried ginger for seven days produced up to 70 ml more breast milk in 24 hours than those who did not. Ginger also enhances healing in the mother’s body after childbirth.

Turmeric

breastfeeding superfoods

It’s not exactly a food but it is a spice eastern mothers swear by when it comes to lactation. Studies[19] show many benefits of turmeric when it comes to lactation. 

In addition to its benefit of increasing milk volume, it also has anti-inflammatory properties and is even helpful and soothing when applied topically in mastitis and breast engorgement.

Turmeric also has healthy levels of vitamin C, B6, and antioxidants that help supplement the additional needs for nutrients for a new mother.

The Bottom Line

There is no doubt that the healthiest nutritional choice for a newborn is his or her mother’s breast milk. It helps the baby grow while also providing much-needed protection from external microorganisms in the way of inherited immunity from the mother.

Producing breast milk stresses the mother’s metabolism and she needs a multitude of additional nutrients to help her sustain healthy breastfeeding for herself and her baby. Make sure you add a lot of greens to your diet, as they fill in a lot of gaps in various diets.

Care must be taken to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and too much fish (which contains mercury) while you are breastfeeding your child, as they can pass to your child through the breast milk and have adverse health effects. Also, remember the importance of hydration.


+ 19 sources

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  1. The effects of papaya leaf juice for breastfeeding and working mothers on increasing prolactin hormone levels and infant’s weight in Tangerang. (2020). Enfermería Clínica, [online] 30, pp.202–205. doi:10.1016/j.enfcli.2019.11.054.
  2. Chapman DJ;Pérez-Escamilla R (2022). Identification of risk factors for delayed onset of lactation. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, [online] 99(4). doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(99)00109-1.
  3. CDC (2022). Maternal Diet. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/maternal-diet.html
  4. KG, D. (2022). Energy and protein requirements during lactation. Annual review of nutrition, [online] 17. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.17.1.19.
  5. Aleksandra Wesolowska, Pietrzak, B., Bozena Kociszewska-Najman, Wielgos, M., Czajkowski, K., Wietrak, E., Katarzyna Karzel and Borszewska-Kornacka, M.K. (2021). Barley malt-based composition as a galactagogue — a randomized, controlled trial in preterm mothers. Ginekologia Polska, [online] 92(2), pp.118–125. doi:10.5603/GP.a2020.0107.
  6. Nih.gov. (2021). Barley. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501827/
  7. Wesolowska A;Pietrzak B;Kociszewska-Najman B;Wielgos M;Czajkowski K;Wietrak E;Karzel K;Borszewska-Kornacka MK (2021). Barley malt-based composition as a galactagogue – a randomized, controlled trial in preterm mothers. Ginekologia polska, [online] 92(2). doi:10.5603/GP.a2020.0107.
  8. Mount Sinai Health System. (2013). Prolactin blood test Information | Mount Sinai – New York. [online] Available at: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/tests/prolactin-blood-test#:~:text=Test%20is%20Performed-,Prolactin%20is%20a%20hormone%20released%20by%20the%20pituitary%20gland.,function%20for%20prolactin%20in%20men.
  9. UC Health – UC San Diego. (2016). Good Mood Foods. [online] Available at: https://health.ucsd.edu/news/features/pages/2016-02-26-good-mood-foods-natural-serotonin.aspx
  10. Balsa JA;Sánchez-Franco F;Pazos F;Lara JI;Lorenzo MJ;Maldonado G;Cacicedo L (2018). Direct action of serotonin on prolactin, growth hormone, corticotropin and luteinizing hormone release in cocultures of anterior and posterior pituitary lobes: autocrine and/or paracrine action of vasoactive intestinal peptide. Neuroendocrinology, [online] 68(5). doi:10.1159/000054381.
  11. Ashbury, J., Lévesque, L., Beck, P. and Aronson, K. (2012). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) Antidepressants, Prolactin and Breast Cancer. Frontiers in Oncology, [online] 0. doi:10.3389/fonc.2012.00177.
  12. Mamiya (2018). Effects of pre-germinated brown rice on depression-like behavior in mice. Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior, [online] 86(1). doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2006.12.008.
  13. Hahn-Holbrook, J., Fish, A. and Glynn, L.M. (2019). Human Milk Omega-3 Fatty Acid Composition is Associated with Infant Temperament. Nutrients, [online] 11(12), p.2964. doi:10.3390/nu11122964.
  14. MacIndoe, J.H. and Turkington, R.W. (1973). Stimulation of human prolactin secretion by intravenous infusion of L-tryptophan. The Journal of clinical investigation, [online] 52(8), pp.1972–8. doi:10.1172/JCI107381.
  15. HealthyChildren.org. (2022). How a Healthy Diet Helps You Breastfeed. [online] Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/How-a-Healthy-Diet-Helps-You-Breastfeed.aspx?gclid=CjwKCAjwsMGYBhAEEiwAGUXJaRnTeK3HRFbazQDMmkSx1uLul1BGpTP7Dj-iuVHIl2aT7wVotlD3axoCMssQAvD_BwE
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  17. Brown, K.H., Engle-Stone, R., Krebs, N.F. and Peerson, J.M. (2009). Dietary intervention strategies to enhance zinc nutrition: promotion and support of breastfeeding for infants and young children. Food and nutrition bulletin, [online] 30(1 Suppl), pp.S144-71. doi:10.1177/15648265090301S108.
  18. Paritakul P;Ruangrongmorakot K;Laosooksathit W;Suksamarnwong M;Puapornpong P (2016). The Effect of Ginger on Breast Milk Volume in the Early Postpartum Period: A Randomized, Double-Blind Controlled Trial. Breastfeeding medicine : the official journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, [online] 11. doi:10.1089/bfm.2016.0073.
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Written by:

Haroon Javed, MD

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

Haroon is a licensed medical doctor who did his MD from the prestigious National University of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, Pakistan. He graduated with flying colors and has clinical experience spanning the better part of the decade. In addition to seeing patients in his clinic, he also enjoys writing about health and fitness.

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

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