Q: Breastfeeding mothers often seem to worry about whether they’re producing enough milk for their babies. Are there specific foods that can boost breast milk output?
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A: That question understandably comes up a lot. Breastfeeding mothers want to be sure they’re doing everything possible for the health of their baby. If there’s a tip to crank up milk production, they’re looking for it.
So what food is best? Here’s the honest answer: There isn’t just one or two grocery store staples deserving of that crown. (Probably not the response you were expecting, huh?)
Forget about all the old folklore tales and screaming online headlines that tout breastfeeding superfoods such as apricots, fennel seeds, oatmeal and salmon. The truth is no solid scientific evidence proves that any one food ramps up lactation.
Think of it this way: It’s not one thing you eat that makes the difference. It’s everything you eat.
Nutrition while breastfeeding
Mothers who breastfeed need to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet to meet the demands placed on their bodies. Your plate should feature the five food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a fabulous online resource for building meals at myplate.gov. In general, though, if you’re breastfeeding you should look to:
- Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
- Choose whole-grain products for at least half of your grains.
- Select low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese.
- Pick from a variety of different proteins.
Make sure to stay hydrated, too. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends that women consume approximately 2.7 liters (91 ounces) of fluid a day through food and drink.
If you don’t want to count ounces, follow this simple rule: Drink some water whenever you feel thirsty and follow your body’s guidance.
Cutting back on calories is not the right move when you’re breastfeeding. Your body needs extra calories to produce milk. In general, your daily food intake should be 300 to 500 calories above what you needed pre-pregnancy to maintain an ideal weight.
As for the additional calories adding up to extra pounds, don’t worry: Your body burns roughly the same amount of calories producing milk, making it a wash.
Worries about milk production
There’s a reason you went searching online for superfoods to ramp up your milk production. Many mothers who breastfeed naturally worry about whether they’re making enough milk for their baby.
It’s a concern that’s amplified, too, by social media and other pressures.
Take a deep breath. Odds are you’re doing just fine. The vast majority of mothers express enough milk to feed their baby. Signs of your infant getting enough milk include:
- Six or more wet diapers per day.
- Weight gain.
- A regular feeding schedule. (Aim for eight or more feedings per 24 hours.)
- Hearing and seeing your baby swallowing milk.
- Breasts that feel softer and emptier after a feeding.
If you do have concerns about milk production, raise them as soon as possible with your doctor, your child’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant. They can help guide you in the right direction to get back on track.
One thing is for certain, though: Any issues won’t be because you’re not eating a specific food.
– Lactation specialists Susan Buchanan, RN, and Marie Lattarulo, RN