One of the issues likely to come up in any group of breastfeeding mothers is low milk supply. Once the topic has been raised, often quick on its heels are suggestions for how to boost breast milk production. These might include foods, herbs, and even prescription medications.
All of these qualify as galactagogues. The word “galactagogues” comes from the Greek “galacta,” meaning milk.
While a galactagogue won’t boost your milk supply on its own, and not at all if you aren’t nursing or pumping regularly, some women may find them helpful.
There’s no medical evidence that any galactagogues, aside from a small number of pharmaceutical options, are truly effective at increasing a mother’s milk. Still, many women will tell you that certain foods made a world of difference for them.
Before you try a galactagogue
If you’re concerned about your milk supply, the first step is to contact a certified lactation consultant or someone from the local chapter of the advocacy group La Leche League International (LLLI).
It may turn out that you’re worrying unnecessarily, and that both your milk supply and your baby are just fine. If your supply is on the low side, a lactation consultant will be able to make recommendations for improving production.
These might include:
- skin-to-skin contact, which will release prolactin and stimulate oxytocin, two hormones that can help milk production
- breast compression, a method of gently squeezing the breast as you nurse to encourage milk glands to let down more milk
- comfortable positioning during breastfeeding
- frequent feedings or regular pumping sessions
Most women will find that these methods are enough to improve milk production.
It’s also important to avoid habits and behaviors that can inhibit your milk supply, such as:
- wearing bras, tops, or slings that bind your breasts too tightly
- using certain allergy medications, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or cetirizine (Zyrtec)
Your breastfeeding diet
According to LLLI, nursing mothers don’t need special diets to produce milk for their babies. Instead of worrying about incorporating certain foods, La Leche advises following a healthy, sensible diet.
Try to include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- a variety of whole grains
- protein sources from animals and plants
- high-quality fats
As it happens, some of the foods anecdotally believed to be galactagogues fall in line with a healthy diet. Although there’s little medical evidence to support the idea that any single food can boost milk production, these foods are often suggested by one nursing mother to the next.
11 fruits and vegetables to try
Add any of the nutritious produce mentioned below to your diet.
1–3. Yams, beets, and carrots
The beta carotene in these red and orange vegetables is important to the production of breast milk. Yams, beets, and carrots have the added benefit of supplying iron and minerals.
4–8. Dark, leafy greens
Dark, leafy green vegetables are a wonderful source of important enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. Ones to try include:
- Swiss chard
- collard greens
These greens also supply the compound phytoestrogen, which may support lactation.
9. Green papaya
This galactagogue is prized in Asia for its enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. It’s a particularly good source of vitamin A and vitamin C.
One small fruit contains nearly 100 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C. For women who are lactating, the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C is only 115 to 120 mg each day.
Note that green papaya is the unripe fruit. It must be simmered until it’s soft enough to eat.
10–11. Fennel and fennel seed
The fennel seed is widely considered to increase milk production. The vegetable, which can be eaten raw or cooked, may also help. Discover other benefits of fennel.
12 other foods to try
Grains, nuts, and legumes may lead to an increase in breast milk.
In addition to their reputed antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties, oats are a well-known comfort food. It’s thought that eating something associated with comfort may cause a woman’s body to release oxytocin, a hormone involved in the production of milk.
Other grains that may function as possible galactagogues include millet, brown rice, and barley.
5–6. Chickpeas and lentils
Legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils, have long been touted for their milk-boosting properties.
7. Brewer’s yeast
Also known as nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast is a good source of protein and iron. It also contains phytoestrogens, which may help with breast tissue health and lactation.
Raw nuts, including cashews, walnuts, and macadamia nuts, are also believed to support the production of milk.
11. Sesame seeds
Another Asian galactagogue, sesame seeds are a vegan source of calcium. Black or light-colored sesame seeds will work, as will tahini, a creamed version of the seed.
12. Lactation cookies
Recipes for lactation cookies often combine flax seeds, brewer’s yeast, oats, and other purported milk-boosting ingredients to get a tasty treat.
Some of the most well-known and anecdotally effective galactagogues are herbal. Tens of herbs are believed to increase breast milk for nursing mothers.
Many of these herbs stimulate mammary growth as well as provide hormonal support. Fenugreek, one of the most well-known galactagogues, is a Middle Eastern spice. Nettle, blessed thistle, and ginger are other popular herbs that are thought to improve milk production.
Keep in mind that taking certain herbs while breastfeeding can have adverse effects. Before adding them to your diet in the hopes of increasing your milk supply, it’s important to consult your doctor.
Breastfeeding your baby consistently is the best way to increase your milk supply. No foods or herbs have been reliably shown to increase milk production. However, most of the foods listed above are nutritious and safe to add to your daily diet.
Before adding specific galactagogues to your diet, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
Jessica has been a writer and editor for over 10 years. Following the birth of her first son, she left her advertising job to begin freelancing. Today, she writes, edits, and consults for a great group of steady and growing clients as a work-at-home mom of four, squeezing in a side gig as a fitness co-director for a martial arts academy. Between her busy home life and mix of clients from varied industries — like stand-up paddleboarding, energy bars, industrial real estate, and more — Jessica never gets bored.