Optimal Nutrition to Support Milk Supply // Guest Post by Emma Hanton
As a follow-on from last week’s blogpost, which covered the basics of nutrition when breastfeeding, I’m excited to share another great contribution post by the lovely Emma Hanton of Essentially Emma. In today’s post, Emma has done a great job of covering some more detailed information about nutrition during breastfeeding and highlights the role that galactagogues may play in boosting one’s milk supply. As a bonus, she has shared the recipe for the most DELICIOUS Coconut & Dark Chocolate Lactation Cookies which include a few of these milk-boosting ingredients. I’ve already made and consumed a couple of batches of these in the past few weeks and they’re so tasty. I hope you learn something new from this post and find it interesting - enjoy!
Emma is a freelance Registered Associate Nutritionist based in Cambridge, offering 1:1 consultations and also consultations for brands and companies. She has a particular interest in maternal and infant nutrition and loves learning about the impact nutrition can have on pregnancy and the first few years of a child’s life. She is also an avid foodie, recipe developer, food photographer and blogger! You can keep in touch with her work on her:
Breastfeeding is a wonderful journey that can offer so many benefits to both mum and baby, but it is also a very difficult journey that can be full of tears, exhaustion and frustration. Breast milk is a magical thing, not only does the composition of your milk change throughout a feed, it also changes over days, weeks and even months to perfectly match your baby’s needs. So much of the focus while breastfeeding and in the postpartum period is on the baby, they are brand new, somewhat difficult to understand and oh so cute to look at! However, it is so important to also focus on mum. The female body endures an incredible amount of change and strain throughout pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding and it is so so vital to support that in every way possible. Pregnancy is often a time where many women pay attention to their diet, avoiding certain foods and filling up on others to nourish their growing baby in the best way possible. Once the baby has arrived, it is all too easy to forget to prioritise your nutrition amongst the sleepless nights, nappy changes and constant feeding but it is equally, if not more important than it was while pregnant!
Why is nutrition important during breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding requires an incredible amount of energy and nutrients from your body, so it is essential to regularly replace this energy and nutrients to stay healthy. What you eat also influences the quality of your breast milk, so eating an optimum diet will ensure optimum milk. For example, the types of fats that the mother eats affects the quality of the fats in the milk. That being said, breast milk is remarkably resilient, it takes a moderate amount of energy or nutrient deficiency to actually effect the milk dramatically. In the postpartum period, it takes a good few months for your body to recover from pregnancy and your stores of certain nutrients are likely to be depleted. So focusing on nutrition and nourishing yourself helps your body to replenish itself while supporting the demands of breastfeeding! Plus, when you are feeling tired and run-down, eating plenty of food and nourishing yourself can do wonders for your mood and energy levels.
What nutrients are important during breastfeeding?
Omega-3s - Eating a diet rich in omega-3s promotes milk that is rich in omega-3s which is important for baby’s brain development. Opt for lots of nuts and seeds alongside 2-3 portions of fish per week. Aim for one of those portions of fish to be an oil fish (mackerel, salmon etc.) as they are the highest in omega-3s. Remember to avoid/limit fish that are high in mercury, you can check out that list in the NHS guidelines.
Protein - Protein is one of the 3 key macronutrients that you are providing to your baby, so your usual requirements are slightly higher to be able to support this increased need.
Calcium - Your calcium requirements are higher while breastfeeding. Pregnancy often depletes calcium stores, so it is important for mum to get plenty of calcium post-birth to replenish stores while providing enough for the baby.
Vitamin A - Babies are born with low stores of vitamin A so the breast milk helps boost these stores. This increases the amount of vitamin A that is needed in the mother’s diet. However, too much vitamin A is toxic so plenty of fruits and vegetables are usually sufficient.
Iron - Many women’s iron stores become low during pregnancy and can become even lower during postpartum blood loss so it is important to replenish them and also supply iron to milk production.
Vitamin D - Between the end of September and the end of March, all people living in the UK are recommended to take a vitamin D supplement. It is also recommended that breastfed babies get given a vitamin D supplement daily.
Water - So simple, but so important! Hydration levels affect breast milk production and many women find they are thirstier while breastfeeding so be sure to drink plenty of water!
Carbohydrates - Energy is important while breastfeeding and wholegrains are a great source of energy that can support milk production.
Can certain foods boost your milk supply?
There are many foods and supplements rumoured to boost milk supply, such as:
While many women swear by these remedies, known as galactogogues, sadly there is little scientific evidence to support that they increase milk production volume. However, whether it is a true effect or just a placebo, many women find them beneficial and feel more confident about breastfeeding while using them, which is also highly beneficial. Really it is up to the mother to decide for herself what she feels comfortable and confident with, many of these galactogogues are normal foods or herbal remedies that pose no danger so it cannot hurt to try and consume more of these foods! With that in mind, here is a recipe for some delicious Coconut & Dark Chocolate Lactation Cookies which are full of oats, flaxseed and brewer’s yeast. Galactogogues aside, they are delicious cookies which make a great snack to provide energy and a little treat while breastfeeding! Lactation cookies can just be cookies that you eat while lactating if you don’t believe in the milk-boosting benefits!
What other things can help to support a good milk supply?
One of the most important things to remember is that breastfeeding is a game of supply and demand, meaning that your breasts will produce milk on an ‘on demand’ basis. This means that how often and how much milk is removed from your breasts are the main factors that determine how much milk you will produce. Breastfeeding on demand, including at night particularly in the first few weeks after giving birth, will help encourage a good supply of breastmilk. Prolactin, which is the main hormone responsible for milk production, is actually present at higher levels at night, which is why feeding at night whilst establishing breastfeeding can be very beneficial for milk supply. A little self-care also goes a long way when it comes to supporting a good supply - rest when you can, where possible do what you can to minimise stress, and support your body and immune system as best you can.
Coconut & Dark Chocolate Lactation Cookies
Packed with ingredients that may support breastfeeding through boosting mama's milk supply, these delicious lactation cookies are definitely worth a try! These cookies will keep for around 5 days in an airtight container. The dough freezes brilliantly so double up the recipe and freeze individual balls of cookie dough to have some ready to whip out of the freezer and pop in the oven!
Makes: 12 cookies
- 1 1/2 cups oats
- 3/4 cups flour
- 2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
- 2 Tbsp Brewer's yeast (optional)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup dessicated/shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks
- 1/3 cup coconut oil
- 2 Tbsp milk of choice
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C/370˚F. Line a baking tray with a silicone baking mat or baking paper.
- In a bowl, mix together the oats, flour, cinnamon, ground flaxseed, yeast, baking soda and baking powder.
- In a stand mixer or using a handheld mixer, beat together the coconut oil and sugar for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla.
- Fold the dry ingredients in to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Fold through the coconut and chocolate chunks.
- Using an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out balls around the size of a pingpong ball and arrange on the baking tray. You should have enough dough for 12-13 cookies.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and press down on the cookies lightly with a spatula to flatten them in to thick rounds.
- Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool – if you can resist!
I found that popping all of the ingredients together in a mixing bowl and combining them worked as well as following the more complicated mixing steps.
You can also freeze these cookies once baked and cooled down if you want to make sure you’ve always got a good supply on hand.
For anyone who does want to add the optional Brewer’s Yeast, I know I struggled to find this ingredient but in the end I managed to source some through Amazon.