Let’s talk galactagogues. What the heck is a galactagogue??? It’s food, herb, or supplement that aids in breast milk production. I only learned that word really recently, so if you’d never even heard it before, I’m not any smarter than you. If you have heard it before, you probably know a whole lot more about your boobs than I do, but hopefully there’s still something for you here.
When I was pregnant with Hadley I was dead set on breastfeeding. I had certainly heard of women who “couldn’t breastfeed”, but in all honesty I wasn’t really sold on that. I figured that’s what our bodies were meant to do, so maybe they just called it quits too early? I was a first time expectant mother and I was as naïve as I could be. Then my own milk didn’t come in fast enough to feed my 4kg baby and she dropped weight at an alarming rate. I was told I had to give her formula, or they would hospitalise her and give her formula anyway. I lost. My baby was less than 5 days old and I already felt like I had failed. Now, I did fight reeeeeeally hard to get her back to exclusive breastfeeding. It took a while and more will power than I thought I had in me, but when she was a few months old she was off formula completely. She was still a really hungry baby and eventually we were advised to start giving her formula before bed after she had already finished breastfeeding. I was happy that she was getting the main source of her nutrition from me, but getting the calories she still needed elsewhere.
At around 8 months, Hadley completely lost interest in breastfeeding. She could not sit still. She rolled, laughed, played, and joked around but would not eat when it was time to. She was a girl on the go and just would not sit still long enough to breastfeed. I didn’t give up though. I went out and bought an electric pump and sat and milked myself as often as possible to still make sure even half of her bottles were breast milk. It sucked, to be honest, but I’m stubborn and I desperately wanted her to have breast milk a little longer. Eventually finding enough time to sit and pump became difficult and my supply started to dwindle. I was coming to the end of my breastfeeding journey with Hadley and while I thought I may feel sad about it, in all honesty I just felt tired. And kind of relieved.
Now, as I wait for Aslan to arrive, I find myself starting to look forward to having a second chance at breastfeeding. There were definitely moments when feeding Hadley that were so special, and I’m grateful that those seem to be the memories I’m holding on to. But this being my second rodeo, I know that my body doesn’t just produce an excess of milk without me even trying. I know that if I want to do a “better” job breastfeeding this time I’ve got to be diligent in caring for my body and giving it what it needs to make milk. I’ve been doing lots of research about galactagogues and have gathered what I feel are the best aids for milk production that are available to me.
Now, I’m not a doctor, a lactation consultant, or any other health care professional. I’m just a mom who stayed up way too late a few nights, pouring over articles on how to make your boobs work. Take it or leave it, this is what I’ve found.
This one is (should be) a no brainer. Our bodies just need water. A lot of it. And most of us, unfortunately, do not drink enough of it on a daily basis. But when you’re breastfeeding, the need for sufficient water intake is so much more important. You need fluids in your body to produce milk. That’s the bottom line. On top of all the liquid that is required to produce an adequate supply of milk for your baby, you still need to have enough water to help the rest of your body function properly. When you wake up in the morning, you should be more or less chugging water – it will help wake your body up and start functioning optimally as soon as possible. And every time you sit down to breastfeed you should also be drinking a good amount of water. If you make a general rule for yourself that milk doesn’t go out without water also coming in, you should be on the right track. So go out, buy yourself a nice new water bottle, and then glue it to your hand. Problem solved.
Mother’s Milk Tea
I had heard about various breastfeeding teas when I was pregnant with Hadley and told myself I’d go out and buy some if I felt like I needed to, but then by the time I actually may have needed it I had totally forgotten and never actually bought any. But in my search of good, natural galactagogues I noticed a ton of people recommending tea that was specially formulated to increase breast milk supply, the most common of these being Traditional Medicinals’ Mother’s Milk Tea. Another that was commonly mentioned was Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Milkmaid Tea. So I bought myself 2 boxes of the Mother’s Milk tea to try right from the start. I bought mine from Well.ca when I was home in Canada this summer. For those of you living here in Finland I know that you can buy both of these from amazon.co.uk, but they don’t offer free international shipping any more, which is a huge bummer. I’m not sure at the moment if there are suppliers in Finland of either of these teas, but I do know that Ruohonjuuri does carry nursing tea from three different brands: Weleda, Frantsila, and Sonnentor. They all tend to contain similar ingredients, so just take a look and the ingredients and proportions of each and decide what you think is best for you.
Fenugreek Seed Supplements
Fenugreek is probably the galactagogue which most women notice makes the biggest difference. It can also come in tea form and is a common ingredient in most nursing teas that have a mixture of different herbs. It is believed that the oil contained in the fenugreek seed is what plays the biggest role in boosting milk supply. The easiest way to get the best results from fenugreek is to take it in capsule form. Be aware that you need to take quite a lot of the stuff (2 or 3 capsules, 3 times a day) to really notice the full benefits, but the good news is that all galactagogues are used for increasing milk supply, not maintaining it – except water, you always need water. So once you’re milk supply is up, you can stop taking the supplements and you’re milk supply shouldn’t be reduced any lower than what your baby is putting in orders for. If at any point you feel like your baby isn’t getting enough milk and that your supply can’t keep up with his/her needs, you can take fenugreek again for a little while until you notice an increase and then stop once again. Again, I bought mine from Well.ca this summer, but Ruohonjuuri does carry capsules from Solgar.
Nutritional yeast is a fantastic nutrition source that is sooooo good for breastfeeding mamas. Don’t let the name turn you away. This is an inactive yeast, so it doesn’t froth or grown like baking yeast does. It has a kind of cheesy taste, so it goes well with savoury foods and can be sprinkled on top of many foods for a little cheesy flavour and a big nutrition kick. Some people recommend to sprinkle it on popcorn, which sounds like a good idea to me! Nutritional yeast is also a common ingredient in many recipes for lactation cookies, though I’ve never actually tried to make these myself as (to me) they sound kind of gross. My absolute favourite way to eat nutritional yeast is sprinkled generously on top of whole wheat toast with butter, and a glass of milk on the side. Good carbs, good fats, protein and all those extra vitamins from the yeast. I actually reeeeally love this combo. I eat it even when I’m not breastfeeding because I actually think it tastes good and it’s such an easy but healthy snack. I also found that this was an easy thing to ask Henry to bring to me in those early days after Hadley was born when I’d be stuck on the couch feeding her for forever and I couldn’t get up to make myself any food. Nutritional values for nutritional yeast vary from one manufacturer to another, but they are all generally great sources of fiber, protein (and a complete protein, at that!), vitamins B1 and B2, and packages marked “fortified” often are also good sources of vitamin B12. Some websites also recommend Brewer’s yeast for milk supply, though I’ve never actually tried it myself.
While pineapple juice is not really a galactagogue in the sense that it increases supply, it is packed FULL of vitamins which are so important for a breastfeeding mama. But, the real magic of pineapple juice is that it contains high levels of bromelain, a mixture of enzymes extracted from the stems of pineapples which is known for it’s anti-inflammatory properties. While I’m doing my best to block the unpleasant parts of breastfeeding from my mind, the sore, painful, inflamed and swollen boobs of the first few months are not something easily forgotten. Did you know that stress can slow your breast milk production? I’m sure you know that pain and discomfort are causes for increased stress levels. Less stress, more milk, mama! Make sure you buy 100% juice with no sugar added. If possible, buying juice not from concentrate is best, but this is definitely more difficult to come by.
Steel Cut Oats
Firstly, I’ll say that all oatmeal is a great aid for milk production. Oatmeal is a good source of iron, and maternal anemia (low iron levels) is a known cause of low milk supply. Steel cut oats (the jar on the left), also sometimes called pinhead oats, irish oats, or coarse oatmeal, are whole oat groats which have been chopped into two or three pieces. They have a bit of a nutty flavour and retain their structure a bit more than instant or rolled oats, so it’s more chewy than mushy when made into porridge. A lot of people stay away from steel cut oats because they have a much longer cooking time than other varieties of oats, but some people claim that there is greater health benefits from steel cut oats verses rolled oats. Prevention.com has a cool infographic stacking up the nutritional values of both varieties. It seems steel cut comes out on top, but just barely. I prefer the taste and structure of steel cut oats, though when I don’t have the patience to cook them I’ll go for the rolled oats. If I’m wanting a treat I’ll eat my oats with butter and brown sugar, but I actually really love heating a bag of mixed frozen berries on the stove and then cooling it off, making a sugar-free jam/soup like thing to put on top of my oatmeal. The antioxidants in the berries are a bonus, too!
The important thing to remember is that breastfeeding is a game of supply and demand. If your baby isn’t making a demand, your body isn’t going to supply the milk. If the demand isn’t there because your baby doesn’t actually need more milk, just trust that you’re making enough and all is good. If a growth spurt comes along your body knows how to compensate for that. If the demand is not there do to poor feeding routine/habits, try to clear your schedule a bit and put some more emphasis on distraction-free nursing time. That may sound silly, especially if you’re expecting your first, but if you’re on the go a lot nursing sessions can become shorter or not as effective if you or the baby is distracted by the surroundings.
Galactagogues are great right after you give birth to help establish good breastfeeding right from the beginning, and they can also be super helpful in those times when you notice your supply is getting a little low, but keep in mind (as I mentioned above when talking about fenugreek seed supplements) that they are not for maintaining your supply. You shouldn’t be dependant on these things to carry you through your entire breastfeeding journey.
All that said (that really did turn into a longer post than I intended) you need to know that supplementing with formula is not the end of the world. It may not be what you want (it isn’t what I wanted, that’s for sure) but what I’ve learned through my own experience and through having really open, honest conversations with moms who have an over-supply of milk and those who just couldn’t establish breastfeeding for various reasons, is that as long as you are doing everything you can for the good of your baby, you’re doing a fantastic job. Breast milk is great for your baby – it’s so nutritious and perfectly formulated for their needs, not to mention you pass on antibodies to your baby to protect them from harmful things in their environment. But if your baby is losing too much weight and you’re struggling to produce milk, neglecting your baby’s need for calories isn’t the smart decision.
So, I hope that you found something helpful here, and that some of the information I’ve gathered can be of use to you, too. Here’s to happy, healthy, stress-free breastfeeding!