New moms tend to worry about sticking to strict rules when it comes to what they can and can’t eat while breastfeeding. It’s been said that things like caffeine, spicy foods, and Chinese cabbage make your milk taste bad or make the baby feel queasy. It turns out, though, that these are just urban legends with no scientific evidence to back them up. “Lactating mothers do not need to eat any particular foods. They just need to maintain a healthful, balanced diet in order to replenish the resources that were necessary for the pregnancy,” says lactation consultant Danielle Tropea in Maplewood, New Jersey.
So if you’re a relatively healthy person, you should have nothing to worry about. In fact, the quality of your milk isn’t really affected by your diet unless you’re malnourished, explains Nancy Clark, director of Northern Virginia Lactation Consultants. “Everywhere in the world the quality of breast milk is basically the same, despite the variety of cultural diets people eat,” she says.
However, there are some foods and herbs that may help increase your milk supply and make feeding easier. They’re called galactagogues, and many of them can be found online and in heath food stores in the form of herbal supplements. Be sure to consult with a lactation specialist before taking them. There are also plenty of foods that are galactagogues and are already part of a balanced diet. At best, they’re a boon to your milk production—and at worst, a delicious meal. Click through for examples.
“Seaweed is traditionally used as a galactagogue in many Asian cultures,” says Clark. She explains that it’s especially good for new moms because it’s high in iron, which can help induce milk flow.
“My surprising go-to food while nursing was canned, whole sardines (with bones),” says Peg Moline, author of The Doctor’s Book of Natural Health Remedies. “Sardines are high in omega-3s, which are good for baby's brain and your mood. The bones also help replace calcium you might lose through breast milk. And once the can is open, you can eat with one hand—a must for breastfeeding moms!”
“We've known for a while that when moms consume garlic, their babies nurse more voraciously and consume more milk,” Tropea says. And no, the flavor won’t be a turn-off for your baby—so feel free to go crazy with the garlic in all your favorite Italian dishes.
Related: The Best Way To Grow Garlic
Yep, it’s okay to have a drink now and then when you’re breastfeeding—and it may even do you good, according to some traditions, which believe the barley and hops in beer jumpstart milk production. Stouts are usually recommended, as they tend to be low in alcohol, high in hops, and high in carbohydrates that are good for moms. However, it’s worth noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cautions that alcohol of any kind, including beer, will decrease the amount of milk your baby drinks, counteracting the good effect of the barley and hops. The AAP also recommends waiting two hours after having a drink before breastfeeding as a precaution against passing alcohol onto your baby (though very little alcohol actually makes it into breast milk).
This breakfast staple has lots of obvious health benefits, like fiber, iron, and the ability to lower cholesterol. Now you can add improved milk production to the list. While there’s no hard scientific evidence that links eating oats to an increase in breast milk, some lactation consultants recommend it to shore up your supply, and many moms report seeing a difference. One explanation is that low iron levels can lead to a decrease in milk supply, and because oatmeal is high in iron, it gives your production a boost.
Dandelion is one of the more popular herbal galactagogues used in the United States. It’s often taken as a capsule, but you can also brew a dandelion tea and drink it up to three times per day, according to research by Frank J. Nice, an expert on breastfeeding.