Traditional remedies to increase breastmilk supply

How will I know if I’m producing enough breastmilk?

It’s quite normal to worry about your milk supply when you start breastfeeding your baby.

You’re not alone. Many mums worry about how much milk they are making and whether their baby is getting enough to meet his growing needs.

The best indication that you’re producing enough milk is that your baby is putting on weight and growing along his growth curve. It’s normal for a newborn to lose weight in the first few days, but then start to put on weight again three to five days after birth. Babies usually go back to their birth weight by the time they are 14 days old.

Here are other signs that your baby is getting enough milk:

  • Breastfeeding feels comfortable and painless.
  • Your newborn is feeding at least six to eight times a day and is content after a feed.
  • Your breasts feel emptier and softer after feeds.
  • You can see and hear your baby swallow while he is feeding.
  • Your baby comes off your breast spontaneously when he’s finished.
  • Your baby passes urine at least seven times in 24 hours and when he passes stool, it is yellow with little lumps of what looks like curdled milk. An exclusively breastfed baby can poo several times a day or only once in five days; both situations are considered normal.

In most cases of suspected low milk supply, the real problem is not about how much milk you have, but how much milk your baby is able to get at. Make sure that your baby latches on well so that he is able to effectively extract the milk you have.

Breastfeeding your baby frequently and on demand is important in helping you establish and maintain good milk supply. If your newborn is very sleepy, you may need to wake him and gently encourage him to feed more often. This will stimulate your breasts to produce more milk.

Your body adapts milk production to the amount being demanded. So if you start supplementing your milk with formula or other supplements, your milk supply will go down. The more you feed your baby, the more milk your body will produce.

If you are at all worried about your baby’s weight gain or feel that you are indeed not producing enough breastmilk, it is best to speak to your doctor. She will be able to give you advice or offer treatment as required.

There is a common belief that certain foods can help to increase breastmilk production. The truth is that there is very little research in this field and what little research is available is often not reliable enough to be conclusive. Here is a look at the foods that are commonly believed to help with breastmilk production and what we know about their effectiveness.

What foods are believed to increase breastmilk production?

Although there is very limited, or in some cases, no scientific research to prove that the following foods help increase breastmilk, they have been served for generations to lactating mums and many mothers feel that these foods helped them.

Remember to consume all these foods in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. And don’t take any herbal or natural supplements without consulting your doctor first.

Fenugreek seeds (methi)
Methi seeds have been used for generations around the world to increase breastmilk supply. There is a small amount of research to back this ancient belief, but not enough to be sure that they are effective at this.

Fenugreek seeds are a source of healthy vitamins that are good for lactating mums such as omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are important for your baby’s brain development. Fenugreek leaves (methi ka saag) are rich in betacarotene, B vitamins, iron and calcium.

Fenugreek tea (methi ki chai) is a popular drink given to new mothers. Methi can also be added to many dishes, especially vegetables, and meat dishes and can be used while making paranthas, pooris or stuffed rotis.

Fenugreek (methi) is a member of the same plant family as peanuts (moongphali), chickpeas (chhola) and soyabeans. If you are allergic to any of these foods, you may also react to fenugreek.

Fennel Seeds (saunf)
Fennel seeds are another traditional remedy for increasing milk supply. They are also given to new mums to help prevent gas and colic in their baby. The logic is that since fennel seeds are used by adults to ease tummy upsets and aid digestion, the benefits of fennel can be passed to a baby through the breastmilk. There is no research to back either of these beliefs but many mums feel that fennel seeds have helped them or their baby.

Fennel water (saunf ka pani) and fennel tea (saunf ki chai) are traditional post-delivery confinement drinks.

Garlic (lehsun)
Among its many curative properties, such as benefitting the immune system and preventing heart disease, garlic is said to help increase breastmilk supply. However, there isn’t much research to back this up.

If you eat a lot of garlic, it can affect the taste and smell of your breastmilk. One small study found that the infants of mothers who ate garlic tended to feed for a longer time, suggesting that babies may like the flavour of garlic in breastmilk. However, the study was too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. And some mums say that their baby gets colicky if they eat a lot of garlic.

Garlic milk is a popular traditional post-delivery drink given to nursing mums.

Green leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach (paalak), fenugreek leaves (methi), mustard greens (sarson ka saag) or lamb’s quarter (bathua) are an excellent source of minerals such as iron, calcium and folate, and vitamins such as betacarotene (a form of vitamin A) and riboflavin. They are also believed to enhance lactation.

Breastfeeding women are recommended to eat one or two portions of green leafy vegetables daily. You could cook these vegetables with spices or make snacks like thepla, vegetable poha or idlis.

Cumin seeds (jeera)
As well as stimulating milk supply, cumin seeds are said to improve digestion and provide relief from constipation, acidity and bloating. Cumin seeds are an integral part of many Indian dishes and are a source of calcium and riboflavin (a B vitamin).

You could roast them and add them to snacks, raitas and chutneys. You can also drink them as cumin water (jeere ka pani).

Sesame seeds (til)
Sesame seeds are a non-dairy source of calcium. Calcium is an important nutrient for breastfeeding mums. It is important for your baby’s development as well as your own health. Perhaps this is why it’s an age-old ingredient in breastfeeding mums’ diets.

You can try til ke ladoos and use black sesame seeds in foods like pooris, khichri, biryani and lentil dishes. Some also prefer to use white sesame seeds in gajak or revdi.

Holy basil (tulsi)
Holy basil tea (tulsi ki chai)is a traditional beverage for breastfeeding mums. There is no research to suggest it increases breastmilk production but it is believed to have a calming effect, improve bowel movement and promote a healthy appetite. As with most herbs, holy basil (tulsi) should be had in moderation.

Dill seeds (suwa)
Dill leaves are a source of iron, magnesium and calcium. Dill is believed to improve milk supply, ease digestion and wind, and improve sleep. Dill is a mild diuretic and should be consumed in moderation.

You can use dill seeds whole or ground in many foods such as pickles, salads, cheese spreads and curries. Dill tea (suwa ki chai) is a popular postnatal drink.

Gourd vegetables
Vegetables from the gourd family like bottle gourd (lauki), apple gourd (tinda)) and sponge gourd (tori) are traditionally believed to improve milk supply. Not only are these vegetables low in calories and nutritious, they are also easy to digest.

Pulses or lentils (dals)
Pulses, especially red lentils or masoor dal are not only believed to improve milk supply but are also a source of protein, and are high in iron and fibre.

Nuts and dried fruits (meva)
Almonds (badaam) and cashews (kaju) are believed to boost breastmilk production. They are high in calories, vitamins and minerals, providing energy and nutrients. They make an excellent snack and are easily available.

You could blend them with milk to make delicious badaam milk or kaju milk. Dried fruits and nuts are used to make traditional foods such as panjiri, laddoos and halwa for breastfeeding mums.

Oats and porridge (daliya)
Oats are a great source of iron, calcium, fibre and B vitamins, and are popular with nursing mums. Oats are also traditionally believed to ease anxiety and depression.

They are commonly eaten as porridge and you may choose to add nuts, milk, spices or fruits to improve the nutritional value.

Do I need to eat or drink more to make enough breastmilk?

That depends on whether you were a normal BMI before you got pregnant and how much weight you put on during pregnancy. If you were underweight or a normal weight before you got pregnant, you might be recommended to eat a little more than usual to meet the calorie needs of breastfeeding. If on the other hand you were overweight before getting pregnant and put on the expected weight during your pregnancy, you might not need extra calories at all. Your doctor will be able to guide you as to whether you need extra calories or not.

The general recommendation is to be guided by your appetite, and eat when you’re hungry. Your body is very efficient at producing milk and may have laid down fat stores during pregnancy that can now be used up in making breastmilk.

You only need to drink enough to satisfy your thirst while you’re breastfeeding. Drinking lots of water, or being thirsty, won’t affect your milk supply. Your body is very good at regulating its reserves to keep your milk supply going.

However, bear in mind that during breastfeeding your body releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel thirsty. So keep a glass of water nearby when you’re breastfeeding.

You should continue with the healthy and varied diet that you may have adopted during your pregnancy. This will provide you with most of the nutrients your body and baby need. However, lactating women are advised to take a daily supplements of iron, folic acid, vitamin B and calcium. Your doctor will advise you on which supplements you need after examining your diet and will tell you the right dose.

Can breast massage help with milk production?

Breast massage will not increase the quantity of milk you produce, but it can help to open blocked ducts, loosen lumps or hardened areas, and reduce the risk of mastitis.

However very gentle strokes should be used for massaging the breasts, as vigorous massage can damage the ducts that lead the milk out of your breasts. It is best if you do the breast massage yourself as you are the best judge of how much pressure to apply.

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