Does Nutrition Affect Milk Supply?
If you are a breastfeeding or chestfeeding parent, you may have wondered if the food you’re eating affects your milk. The information regarding how nutrition impacts lactation has been around for quite some time. You might wonder though, “How accurate is it?”, or “Does nutrition affect milk supply?”. If you’re interested in learning about whether nutrition plays a role in your milk supply, continue reading!
Please Note: Here at The Nest, we are true believers that SUPPORTED is best. Whether you’re feeidng your baby formula, breastmilk or a combination of the two, what’s most important is that you are supported in the decision that is best for you and your baby. All ways of feeding can provide your baby with high-quality, nutritious food to support a healthy future! However, If you are not breastfeeding, this blog may not be directed for you. BUT we just released another blog that may help to support you on your journey. Click here to learn more about how to know if your baby is getting enough milk, a blog more inclusive to ALL ways of feeding.
Nutrition and Milk Supply
When it comes to lactation, many things can influence your milk supply. This might include your baby’s demand, their latch, stress lvels and your diet. Similar to pregnancy, a lactating person has increased food and fluid requirements. Approximately an additional 330 kcal/day in the first 6 months and an additional 400kcal/day in the second 6 months is needed to produce enough milk for your baby (1). Aside from the increased needs, between old wives tales, media and clever marketing, many foods and drinks have claimed to boost or reduce a milk supply. However, it’s important to know whether or not there is good, valid evidence to support these claims.
Alcohol and Milk Supply
In the past, alcohol was said to help boost milk supply. However, this claim is incorrect and better evidence suggests it may actually reduce milk supply. There are a few reasons why this might be the case. One reason is that alcohol interferes with the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is responsible for an easier release of milk, and alcohol lessen the output of milk and reduce demand. Another reason alcohol can reduce milk supply is that your baby may not enjoy the flavour of milk that contains alcohol, and may refuse it. The final reason is that it can cause your baby to become sleepy and therefore, not get a proper feed (1).
Caffeine and Milk Supply
While caffeine has been said to reduce a milk supply, the evidence does not seem to agree. It instead states that caffeine can cause a baby to be more wakeful and irritable. Also, claiming large consumption can impact your baby’s iron stores, which is a concern due to the importance of iron in infants. Check out our blog post on Meeting Your Baby’s Iron Needs for more info (1). Health Canada recommends sticking to around 300mg/day (2-3 cups) of caffeinated drinks while you are lactating (2)
Lactation cookies have been around for quite some time, claiming to boost milk supply. These cookies are available to be bought in stores or can be homemade. Many moms, or a quick “google search”, recommend these cookies to help increase your milk supply, but the evidence-based research is limited. Lactation cookies purchased or homemade all vary in ingredients, but often contain three common ingredients: oats, flaxseed and brewers yeast (3). Oats, flaxseed and brewers yeast, all offer excellent nutrients that can be very beneficial to all individuals, but their claims on increasing breast milk volume are inconsistent. It is more likely the inclusion of these nutrient-dense foods that is impacting your milk supply.
Herbs and Milk Supply
Many herbs have been used in folk and traditional medicine as a way to promote or reduce milk flow (4). However, the research regarding herb medicine is unclear. Often small amounts of herbs are used in cooking, and small doses have not documented any affect on milk supply.
Tea is a source of herbs, and one we often see is “Mama’s Milk Tea.” Mama’s milk tea typically contains traditional ingredients that were used to encourage milk flow; fenugreek, fennel, and blessed thistle (4). While these teas are increasingly popular, there is limited information about their safety, and proper dosage and side effects are unknown. For a better breakdown of specific teas, check out our blog “What Can I Drink During Pregnancy?”. To be safe, you should reduce large amounts, sticking to 1-2 cups a day and stay aware of any unusual behaviour from your baby.
Final Notes from The Nest
Overall, lactation and nutrition are complicated topics, let alone together, and there are so many personal factors that can impact both. If you are concerned about your milk supply, check out our blog “Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk” and reach out to a dietitian as soon as possible! A dietitian is a great way to get one-on-one support, connections to specialists, and a better understanding of how nutrition affects YOUR lactation!
Article Written by Bailey McDonagh
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- Whitney E, Rolfes S, Hammond G, Piche L. Understanding Nutrition. 2nd ed. Toronto: Lenore Taylor-Atkins; 2016
- Canada P. Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy – Canada.ca [Internet]. Canada.ca. 2021 [cited 03 November 2021]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/healthy-pregnancy/healthy-pregnancy-guide.html#a13.4
- Blog P. Pavilion for Women Blog | Pavilion for Women [Internet]. Women.texaschildrens.org. [cited 2 November 2021]. Available from: https://women.texaschildrens.org/blog/2017/10/here’s-how-“lactation”-cookie-crumbles
- Brown, E. J. Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (5th). Stamford (CT): Cengage Learning; 2014.