Low breast milk is stressful. The baby is hungry and they CRY if they don’t get enough.
Lactation consultants recommend a mother to keep the baby latched which will signal the body to produce more milk. Overtime the milk supply is supposed to regulate itself.
Then there’s the diet advice–oatmeal and fenugreek seem to be the favorites. And there are some cookie recipes out there as well (yum!) and tea that you can purchase at the grocery store. Some women swear by this stuff.
And then there’s the old folk’s advice (my personal favorite)–drink a beer or a shot of whiskey. (Many modern women seem to be scared to do this because they don’t want to get tipsy with their baby. Stop trying to get us drunk grandma!)
And, lastly, women are told to drink tons of water.
The problem with the suggestions above is that they don’t always work. In fact, they often don’t work.
We have a lot of customers at Chick Food that come to us with low milk supply. They say that they’ve tried EVERYTHING. They’ve left the baby latched for hours. They’ve eaten oatmeal for three meals a day. They’re eating cookies like the cookie monster. Etc, etc, etc. And the baby is still hungry.
The reason for this is simple: THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHY THE BREAST MILK SUPPLY IS LOW. Trying to cure an issue without knowing the diagnosis is a complete shot in the dark. (Imagine going into a pharmacy blindfolded and picking up any medicine at random. You better say a little prayer when you take it).
Unfortunately, the professionals that mothers usually consult when their supply is low–lactation consultants, pediatricians, gynecologists, nurse practitioners and midwives–don’t actually have knowledge in this area of diagnosis. They may know how to breastfeed and be helpful with the skill of breastfeeding (which, granted, is very useful and eliminates many problems) but, if the supply is legitimately too low or doesn’t come in–nothing.
So who can actually diagnose the problem? Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors (commonly known as acupuncturists). Traditional medicine is OBSESSED with the postpartum and nursing diet. There are very strict guidelines for what the mother should or should not eat for ample milk supply (the topic of another blog). TCM acknowledges several reasons why a woman might have low breast milk. The following three are the most common patterns:
CIRCULATION-TYPE LOW BREAST MILK
This is often accompanied with clogged ducts, hard breasts and breast lumps. The body is having a hard time getting nutrients to the breasts for milk production. The nutrients go into the stomach (through food which you eat) and then into the bloodstream and then has to make it’s way back UP to the breasts for production. And then it has to make it’s way to the nipple. Without proper circulation, the milk might not be able to make it that far which results in a problem.
The common advice to keep a baby latched and to drink a beer both fall into this category. They both aid in circulation–one by helping to clear the stuck milk and the other by jump starting the liver to get the blood flowing. Fenugreek is also helpful for enhancing circulation.
In order to completely resolve a circulation-type supply issue, however, a mother needs to stop doing all the things that might be slowing down her circulation and start doing things that help her circulation.
Things That Hurt Circulation:
Iced beverages, ice cream, salads, smoothies, exposure to a cold environment, going outside at night
Things That Help Circulation:
a) acupuncture and herbs;
b) regular breast massage;
c) hot showers;
d) heating pads;
e) warm tea made from ginger, cinnamon or motherwort (make sure to drink it ALL day long); and
f) a diet of warming soups and foods.
As a bonus, I’d recommend trying kombucha (fermented tea) which might be a nice non-alcoholic substitute for beer.
DEHYDRATION-TYPE LOW BREAST MILK
This is often accompanied by thirst, dry mouth, constipation, frequent urination or loose stools. In this case, the body is not getting enough liquids or it’s not retaining the liquids. And so there is not enough fluids for milk production.
The common advice to drink lots of water and to eat oatmeal falls into this category. Water helps to give the body fluids for milk production IF the body is able to retain the water. Frequent urination and loose stools are both signs that the water is passing out of the body rather than being turned into breast milk. In those cases, oatmeal is actually very helpful to make sure that the body retains fluids.
For a complete solution to a dehyrdation-type supply issue, a mother needs to focus on A) getting enough fluids, and B) retaining fluids.
nettles tea, coconut water, almond/rice milk, carrot juice, soaked chia seed drinks
berries, melons, papaya, yams, sweet potatoes, nopales, okra and spirulina.
Things That Dehydrate You:
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, sage, bitter herbs, concentrated sweeteners and sugary drinks.
NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY-TYPE LOW BREAST MILK
This is often accompanied by headaches, fatigue, watery breast milk and depression. In this case, the body is not getting enough nutrients for breast milk production. Nursing mothers require a higher nutritional intake to have enough nutrients to sustain herself and milk production. Deficiency-type supply issues are the most common issues that we see and, strangely, there doesn’t seem to be much information out there on proper breastfeeding nutrition.
For a complete solution to a deficiency-type supply issue, a mother needs to focus on: A) eating foods high in nutrients, and B) eating them frequently. Instead of worrying about the baby getting enough food, worry about yourself getting enough food. And the milk will follow.
Amaranth, Beef, Beets, Bison, Carrots, Chard, Chicken, Collard Greens, Egg, Date, Fig, Fish, Goji Berry, Grape, Kale, Liver, Millet, Mussel, Mustard Greens, Nuts, Oxtail, Oyster, Papaya, Parsley, Quinoa, Rice, Sardine, Seaweed, Shrimp, Spinach, Spirulina, Squid, Sweet Rice, Watercress.
The body needs A LOT of food in order to sustain the mother and breast milk production. Eating more regularly helps the body to do this.
Eat 5 medium meals per day (instead of 3 large meals).
Make sure to eat after EVERY TIME you breastfeed so that your body has nutrients to replenish the milk.
If you have low milk supply, you can find out what the problem is by going to your local acupuncturist or through Chick Food’s free online quiz: www.chickfoodinc.com/quiz . No matter what the cause of the supply issue, you might need some herbs or acupuncture to jump-start things once your supply is problematically low.
Can you tell which pattern you fall into? What have you found to help boost with your supply? Have you tried any of the solutions recommended above? Had any success?
(Keli exclusively breastfed her baby Lotus for 8 months.)
Written by Keli Garza
Owner of Chick Food Inc.
Blogger for AHWD
Photo Credit: Emily Ream Photography