Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
5 min read
This is a common question faced by new parents who want to make their children get the nutrients they need. Are there supplements that can support healthy lactation? Are there safe and healthy ways to boost milk supply?
At present, due a lack of thorough research, it seems that these questions don’t have many good answers. And some of the studies that do exist suggest that lactation supplements might have psychological benefits for people who are breastfeeding, rather than actual physical ones.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular supplements geared toward boosting milk supply and consider their effectiveness.
Breast milk includes all the nutrients your child will need during the first 6 months of life – fats, carbs, vitamins, proteins, minerals, and water. Breast milk can also help support the infant’s developing immune system.
The lactation process starts well before the newborn infant first latches on. Small amounts of milk can be released at week 16 of the pregnancy; this is considered stage one of the lactation process. After the baby is delivered, stage two begins in earnest, with copious milk production taking effect. Lactation is maintained by regular removal milk and consistent stimulation of the nipple. When the nipple is stimulated, a process is triggered where the mammary gland gets the hormonal signal to keep producing milk.
Insufficient milk production can be caused by a number of factors, including a lack of appropriate nutrient intake.
Generally speaking, you can support lactation by supporting the body with the essential nutrients it needs. The healthier your body is, and the fewer nutrient gaps you have, the better your ability to lactate will be.
Taking prenatal vitamins can help pregnant and breastfeeding people keep up with the body’s increased nutrient demands. The current recommendations for lactating women is to consume up to 500 excess calories per day to keep up with the increased caloric demand required for milk production. Women who are breastfeeding are encouraged to empty the breast as often as possible – ideally every 2 to 3 hours. Studies also show that vitamin D may be an important nutritional supplement for supporting the health of both the child and the breastfeeding parent.
Any food, medicine, or supplement that boosts milk supply is considered a “galactagogue.” Many of the most popular galactagogues are herbal herbal supplements. We take a look at some of those below.
If you have questions about your milk supply, you should begin by consulting a certified lactation consultant. Such a consultant can let you know if your concerns are misplaced; they’re likely to tell you that you and your baby are in great shape! If the consultant does indeed believe your supply is low, they can recommend a course of action.
Fenugreek is a popular lactation supplement, but the research on it has been mixed. One 2017 review found that it can be a significant help in boosting milk supply. An even more recent study, from 2019, found that fenugreek supplementation increased lactation in rodents. In this regard, the studies are rather consistent: Fenugreek can boost milk supply. One study even found that fenugreek supplementation increased breast milk production while also helping infants maintain a healthy weight. Per this study, you can even drink fenugreek tea and eat palm dates to boost your milk supply.
Still, other studies do complicate the picture, such as the one that was inconclusive on the question of fenugreek and increasing milk supply. Furthermore, many people who have used fenugreek supplements to boost milk supply have reported digestive discomfort. Be sure to talk to a professional lactation consultant before proceeding with a fenugreek supplement – or any other lactation supplement.
Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linoleum acid (ALA), which is partially converted into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and healthy omega-3 fatty acids – all of which are important for your health. When it comes to milk production, though, there’s no evidence to support the claim that flaxseed changes milk production. It may, however, increase the ALA content in breast milk, which can increase the overall health benefit of the milk.
Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) is a plant whose leaves, stems, and blossoms are used to support people’s health in myriad ways – including for boosting milk production. (Note: It’s not the same thing as milk thistle.) A review of galactagogue studies found that blessed thistle is among the more popular herbs used for this purpose. However, the review also found that more trials are needed to understand its effectiveness. Blessed thistle is generally safe to use, though some have reported digestive problems upon taking more than 6 grams of it per day.
Brewer’s yeast is a high source of B vitamins, chromium, protein, and iron. The fact that it also contains some phytoestrogens suggests that it could also support lactation and the health of breast tissue. However, no scientific studies of human subjects have established the effect of brewer’s yeast on milk supply.
There are other, natural ways to increase milk supply. As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to consult a lactation specialist to help you come up with strategies tailored to your particular circumstances. Some possible strategies include:
Any new parent that’s breastfeeding will want to be sure that they’re producing enough milk for their child. Vitamin supplements can help support lactation by ensuring that the body has the nutrients it needs to thrive. There are some herbal supplements that are sometimes used for boosting milk production, but the evidence about their effectiveness is mixed. There are some natural ways to increase your milk supply, too. Your best bet may be to consult a lactation specialist and decide the best course for you.