For something that’s biologically wired in women, I can honestly say, breastfeeding is far from easy. Getting as much support for your breastfeeding journey is very important, for you and your baby. Some simple ways to ensure things go as well as possible is to ensure you’re getting heaps of rest, hydration and eating well. Consuming a wholefood diet rich in nutrients from earth and sea is my top tip for new mums. This helps with the entire postpartum recovery period, including promoting good milk supply.
The name given for foods, herbs or other products that promote milk supply is a galactagogue. The Greek derivation of this word means ‘milk-making’. There are some specific foods and herbs that have been endorsed as galactagogues. Some have been proven in scientific research and others have historically been used in many cultures for centuries to support breast milk production.
There’s some important considerations when it comes to vegetarian, vegan or plant-based diets. Paying attention to your nutrient intake while pregnant and during breastfeeding will help you and your baby immensely. The demands for growth and development are huge during this time and it may be necessary to supplement some nutrients if diet alone doesn’t provide adequate amounts. If you have doubts, work with a nutritionist or health provider who can help.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of plant-based foods for breastfeeding mums, it’s a start in the right direction. Here’s a few other worthwhile additions to your meals and snacking while breastfeeding that offer a heap of important nutrients:
✓ Dark leafy greens
✓ Millet, barley, brown rice
✓ Legumes, pulses, lentils
Top Nutrients to Consider Include:
That said, here I’ve highlighted some easy, tried-and-tested milk-making foods that are completely vegan, vegetarian and plant-based.
Plant-based Foods for Breastfeeding Mums
“Breastfeeding is thirsty work” - Quite literally the words that came out of my midwife’s mouth when my daughter was a week old. And she’s right. If there was one thing I’d say that had the MOST impact on my own breastmilk supply, it would be how hydrated I was on any given day.
A good portion of breastmilk is actually water, so it makes sense that everytime we settle down to feed our babies that we also rehydrate at the same time. A good tip is to have a filled water bottle tucked in the couch, chair or next to the bed. Another good tip - it should be a cup/glass/bottle that you can open and drink with one hand!
While everyone’s need for water will vary, I’d safely say breastfeeding is like running a marathon. Replacing water and electrolytes just as you would if you were exercising, is essential while breastfeeding. Aim for 1.5-2L per day as a guide. And make the most of your favourite caffeine-free teas and hot chocolates and to keep things interesting.
Dates have been extensively researched as an effective functional food in pregnancy and labour. In my view, new mothers should just keep eating them. They’re the sweet little fruit that keeps on giving. It helps a great deal that dates are utterly delicious.
Dates are also an historic symbol of prosperity, fertility and fortune. The most commonly available dates are rich and dark Medjool dates. These beauties are a deep amber-brown, glossy and melt in the mouth.
So why are dates so good for breastmilk production?
It turns out dates are loaded with minerals, including iron which is an essential postpartum nutrient. Dates help to naturally balance hormones, decrease inflammation and stimulate oxytocin production. Oxytocin is the ‘bonding’ hormone central to breastfeeding. A study conducted in 2021 showed that breastfeeding mothers who ate 10 dates per day had a 23% increase in breast milk quantity over a 4 week period. The results support the consumption of dates to promote breast milk quantity.
Have you just had a baby? A friend wants to help out but isn’t sure how? Commission them to make this dessert (breakfast food?) for you - a gorgeous Sticky Date Pudding. Scroll to the end for all its date-licious glory.
There’s no rules here, mamas. A bowl of your favourite nuts should at all times be situated next to wherever you’re feeding your baby. It was not uncommon for me to have a little bowl of nuts, dates, chocolate biscuits and coconut bliss balls beside me while I fed my daughter for what felt like the millionth hour in a row.
So why do I love nuts for supporting breastmilk supply?
If you don’t know by now, then where have you been? Nuts tick almost every nutritional box imaginable. They’re full of healthy fats, fibre, complex carbohydrates and most have decent amounts of protein. THEN, nuts have unique plant polyphenols which offer a heap of protective benefits to your health. Nuts are good for your heart, brain, hormones, skin, digestive system… I think you get the picture.
There’s so many ways to enjoy nuts, you’re bound to find your favourite. Mamas, I give you full permission to enjoy a spoonful of cashew or almond butter whenever the need calls. Any nut butter will do, and check it out, here’s one for every day of the week.
Seeds are almost equally as valuable with some incredible nutrient profiles. However if you want the best of both worlds (who doesn’t), then I suggest trying LSA on for size. LSA is a wonderful blend of ground linseed, sunflower seed and almond meal. LSA imparts a lovely nutty, satisfying flavour to baking, protein balls or cereals. In fact, for a wonderful milk-boosting breakfast, check out this high protein quinoa porridge topped with LSA.
To really celebrate how good seeds can be, I wanted to highlight these humble but mighty sesame seeds. While eating spoonfuls of sesame seeds could certainly be a challenge, I’d argue that eating spoonfuls of tahini is less so. Tahini is sesame seed paste, common in various Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. You may know it best as the main ingredient alongside chickpeas in hummus. There are many other uses for tahini, including as a base for marinades and sauces, blended with banana in a smoothie or eaten with honey atop rustic bread.
So what makes tahini worth its weight in gold for breastfeeding mums?
Any way you like to eat tahini, you’re getting a good dose of nutrients. These include healthy unsaturated fats, B vitamins, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. Tahini is one of the best plant-based foods to help your hormones recover after having a baby and support milk production.
What could be more simple and satisfying than a bowl of warm oats? Oats are a popular milk-boosting food and are one of those pantry staples most mothers will have on hand. Oats are incredibly versatile and full of healthy fibre, minerals and complex carbohydrates.
So why are oats one of the best milk-boosting foods?
Including oats is a quick way to refuel, while also increasing your B vitamins, folate, calcium and iron intake. The fibre (beta-glucan) in oats helps with fullness, supports healthy bowel function and is microbiome building. All important health outcomes for new mums, whether breastfeeding or not. Rolled oats are easy to use, while steel-cut oats retain the most nutrients. Either way, oats are a very healthy choice for breastfeeding mums.
Fennel seeds are another ancient yet effective galactagogue. Historically, fennel has been used in Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures for centuries. Fennel seeds are wonderful for a broad range of women’s health conditions.
So what’s up with fennel seeds and how do they encourage good milk supply?
All parts of the fennel plant, including the bulb, leaves and stalk are edible and have similar milk-boosting qualities as the seeds. A potent phytoestrogen in fennel seeds, known as anethole, appears to increase milk supply and quality according to some contemporary research. In fact, a cochrane review analysing several controlled trials showed that fennel seed consumption was correlated with moderate improvements in breast milk. Fennel seeds are also anti-inflammatory. Some research exists for treating breast inflammation with an infusion of fennel seeds and marshmallow. Add fennel seeds to homemade savoury breads or enjoy as a refreshing tea.
Fennel and mint tea
This lovely tea is a perfect elixir to support natural breastmilk supply while giving you some much needed hydration. Make a big pot and allow it to steep. Fill up your cup or thermos as needed throughout the day.
- 1 tsp fresh, whole fennel seeds
- 6 or so fresh mint leaves (or a bag of peppermint tea)
- Cover your fennel and mint in a big mug of just-boiled water (around 90 degrees)
- Allow to steep for 10 minutes. The longer the brewing time, the more nutritional benefits the tea will have. Strain and enjoy.
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