It is estimated that around two-thirds of new mothers have trouble with breastfeeding (1). Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics have proposed six months of breastfeeding as being a suitable target, which means only breast milk, medications, and supplements but no other liquids or solid foods.
Although the majority of mothers tend to want to breastfeed for at least a few months, few can meet this target. This has led some scientists and healthcare professionals to suggest that six months is not necessarily a realistic goal for most mothers.
Regardless of the time length of breastfeeding, it is important to address any issues that occur so the experience is as comfortable as possible for both the mother and the baby.
Possible Problems With Breastfeeding
Several problems can occur with breastfeeding, all of which can be addressed by taking advice from healthcare professionals.
These include sore or cracked nipples, breast engorgement, the baby not latching on properly, thrush, blocked milk ducts, mastitis, breast abscesses, and a tongue-tied baby.
Milk Supply Problems
A lack of milk supply can also be an issue in breastfeeding. It can be hard to identify this as an issue so it is useful to look out for indicators of the baby feeding well, and only take action if these are not occurring.
The signs that the baby is getting enough milk include the baby starting to feed with a few quick sucks, followed by longer sucks and swallows with occasional pauses, hearing and seeing the baby swallow, the baby appearing calm during feeding, the baby comes off the breast naturally at the end, the baby’s mouth appears moist after feeding, baby seems satisfied after feeding, breasts feel softer after feeding, nipple looks normal after feeding (not flattened, pinched or white), and the mother feeling relaxed or sleepy after feeding.
Longer-term signs of the baby getting enough milk include the baby steadily gaining weight after the first two weeks, the baby seeming healthy and alert when awake, the baby defecating regularly, and around six wet nappies per day.
Factors Affecting Milk Supply
Several factors can influence milk supply, related to both the mother and the baby.
These include poor attachment and positioning, not feeding the baby often enough, drinking alcohol or smoking while breastfeeding, previous breast surgery (especially if the nipples have been moved), spending time away from the baby after birth, illness in the mother or baby, giving the baby formula or a pacifier before a regular breastfeeding routine has been established, using nipple shields, and certain medications.
If any of these issues are present, it is worth seeing a healthcare professional who can provide personalized advice.
Improving Milk Supply
Several strategies can help improve milk supply. It is worth asking a healthcare professional to watch you breastfeeding to identify any obvious issues and assist with proper positioning and attachment.
Other strategies include avoiding giving the baby formula or a pacifier for the first six months, or until a regular breastfeeding pattern is established. It is also recommended to feed the baby as often and for as long as they want.
Expressing some milk after each feed can also help build up the supply. Offering both breasts and each feed and alternating between them can be useful. It is also best to keep the baby close so that there can be skin to skin contact, which helps to identify signs that the baby is ready to feed.
In addition to these strategies, several supplements can be useful in supporting lactation.
It is important to check with your healthcare provider before taking any of these before, during, or after breastfeeding, particularly if you have existing health conditions and/or are taking prescription medications.
ⓘ We strongly recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements to ensure there are no contraindications and that they are right for you. This information is not intended to replace professional advice or meant to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness.
9 Most Helpful Supplements for Support With Lactation
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), is a popular herb in Arabic regions and India and has been used for several different uses, including supporting lactation.
The main compounds in fenugreek responsible for health benefits are 4-hydroxyisoleucine, trigonelline, galactomannan, and trigoneosides, which have a synergistic effect.
Supplementing with fenugreek can cause body secretions, such as urine, to smell like maple syrup. This is a normal response to the metabolite inside fenugreek called sotolon.
How does fenugreek help with lactation?
A randomized, placebo-controlled trial separated new mothers into three groups (fenugreek, control, and placebo) and all were asked to drink a minimum of three cups (200 ml) daily, and their breast milk output was measured.
Fenugreek (taken as tea) more than doubled the average amount of milk production compared with both placebo and control groups (2).
How do I take fenugreek?
To obtain the benefits of fenugreek for lactation, it is recommended to take 500 mg to 1000 mg of fenugreek in supplement form per day.
If tea is preferred, it is advisable to drink at least three cups per day.
Intake can also be boosted by consuming fenugreek seeds, which are very versatile. They can be eaten on their own, brewed into a tea, made into flour and baked into bread, or pressed into oil.
Check it out: Top 10 Fenugreek Supplements
Moringa (Moringa oleifera) is a highly nutritious antioxidant. It is relatively potent although its exact mechanisms are not known. It is thought that it may induce similar cellular transcriptional changes in the body as sulforaphane, as the bioactive ingredients are alike.
Moringa is also effective as an anti-inflammatory supplement. One of the bioactive ingredients, RBITC, can suppress macrophage activation in the nanomolar range. Also, some initial research has suggested that moringa may provide benefits for blood glucose regulation.
How does moringa help with lactation?
A double-blind, randomized controlled trial found that supplementing with 500 mg of moringa daily (in two doses) on postpartum days three to five, was able to significantly increase milk production when measured in days four and five (3).
The effects were time-dependent, with milk production levels not being significantly higher in the moringa group until the final day of the study.
How do I take moringa?
To obtain the benefits of moringa for lactation, it is recommended to consume 500 mg per day of the leaf extract or 3 g of the seeds. It is not advisable to take more than this because although the plant is generally considered to be ‘nontoxic’, this does not appear to be the case at very high doses (three to four times the recommended amount).
It is also best to only take this supplement while breastfeeding, it is not advisable to take during pregnancy.
Check it out: Top 10 Moringa Supplements
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering herb related to the daisy and ragweed family. It is native to Mediterranean countries and contains a mixture of flavonolignans, mainly silibinin (also known as silybin), as well as silycristine, silydianin, quercetin, and taxifolin. Silymarin is a standardized preparation extracted from milk thistle.
Milk thistle is often included in proprietary mixtures promoted to boost milk supply, as well as being used to support liver health. The main active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, which has both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. It’s thought to be effective for lactation by stimulating more of the milk-producing hormone prolactin.
How does milk thistle help with lactation?
A randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that taking 420 mg of milk thistle daily for 63 days experienced an increase of 86% of the daily milk production, which was 64% than the placebo group (4).
Tolerability was high and no side effects were reported. There were also no components of milk thistle found within the breast milk when assessed, and the composition of the breast milk did not appear to change.
How do I take milk thistle?
To obtain the benefits of milk thistle for lactation, it is recommended to consume 1-3 g of the crushed seeds per day (in capsule form).
Alternatively, the seeds can be crushed and added to tea, which should be drunk three times per day.
Check it out: Top 10 Milk Thistle Supplements
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a spice used for both seasoning food and for providing health benefits. It has a distinct taste and is therefore a common main ingredient in main meals, baked goods, and teas.
It also has a long history of use in both traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. It is associated with several health benefits, including improving digestion, reducing nausea, as well as helping with milk production.
How does ginger help with lactation?
A randomized, double-blind controlled trial found that taking 500 mg dried ginger capsules twice daily for seven days postpartum significantly increased milk volume compared with placebo (5). No side effects were observed from supplementing with ginger.
How do I take ginger?
To obtain the benefits of ginger for lactation, it is recommended to supplement with 1 g per day.
In addition to taking capsules, ginger root can also be grated, taken in a liquid extract form (2 ml is equivalent to 1 g), consumed as a syrup (10 ml is equivalent to 1 g), drunk as tea (8 oz is required), or eaten in crystallized form, (1 1 inch squares is equivalent to 1 g).
Check it out: Top 10 Ginger Supplements
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a popular herb with a variety of medicinal properties. The name “allium sativum” is derived from the Celtic word “all” and the Latin word “sativum”. The Celtic word “all”, means burning or stinging and the Latin word “sativum” means planted or cultivated.
Throughout history, garlic has been used as a flavoring in cooking and as to obtain health benefits.
Taking garlic in supplement form or through food has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, physical and sexual vitality, cognition, immunity, and lactation.
The main active ingredient in garlic is allicin. This turns into a variety of fat and water-soluble sulfur-containing compounds in the body.
How does garlic help with lactation?
A randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that consuming 1.5 g garlic taken once a day for three days significantly increased the attachment time during breastfeeding relative to placebo (6).
Another placebo-controlled trial found that a galactagogue mix containing garlic significantly increased prolactin levels compared to the control group, which plays a key role in milk production, and can also help with achieving catch-up weight of infants in the early days postpartum (7).
How do I take garlic?
Garlic can be taken in several different forms including fresh/raw garlic, aged garlic, garlic oil, and boiled garlic.
Garlic should be crushed, sliced, or chewed before cooking to ensure maximum allicin production, which is responsible for many of garlic’s beneficial effects.
Regardless of the form consumed, it is recommended to consume between 1 and 2 g garlic per day to obtain benefits for lactation.
Check it out: Top 10 Garlic Supplements
Lecithin is a natural substance that was initially discovered in egg yolks but is also found in soybeans, whole grains, peanuts, milk, and meat. It is also commonly used as a food additive in products like chocolate, salad dressings, and baked goods because it acts as an emulsifier.
It helps with lactation by preventing the breast ducts from getting plugged by increasing the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk and decreasing its stickiness.
How does lecithin help with lactation?
A retrospective case series in 25 postpartum lactating women found that lecithin, acting as a phospholipid emulsifier can be used to emulsify breast milk and therefore optimize breast emptying (8).
Its effectiveness is thought to be a result of the milk secretions that remain in the breast having a very high fatty composition and thus a higher rate of fluid absorption.
How do I take lecithin?
There is no recommended daily allowance for lecithin so there is no established dosing for lecithin supplements. However, based on existing evidence and the recommendation from the Canadian Breast-Feeding Foundation, it is suggested to consume 1200 mg four times per day to obtain the benefits for lactation (9).
Check it out: Top 10 Lecithin Supplements
Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis) is a plant native to Europe and the Middle East and is part of the same family as fenugreek. It has been used to treat tuberculosis, reduce blood sugar levels, and help with breastfeeding.
Goat’s rue has been demonstrated to have anti-bacterial properties. The leaves of the plant act as a galactagogue, and it is therefore often recommended to boost milk supply.
It is particularly popular in France and other European countries.
How does goat’s rue help with lactation?
An observational study found that supplementation of goat’s rue (along with silymarin) for two months was effective in restoring breast milk production in preterm mothers experiencing low milk supply (10).
Researchers suggested that goat’s rue may therefore be particularly beneficial for preterm mothers struggling with lactation who can take the supplement while their babies are recovering in neonatal intensive care units.
How do I make goat’s rue?
Goat’s rue is best taken in capsule form or the dried leaves can be used in tea. If taking in capsule form, it is recommended to take between 700 mg and 1000 mg per day to obtain the benefits for lactation. It is not advisable to consume the fresh goat’s rue plant because it is considered toxic.
Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) is a herb that is part of the carrot family and has yellow flowers and feathery leaves. It is often used in cooking and is well-known for its healing properties. The first usage can be traced back to ancient Egypt.
Fennel is available in several different forms. It can be purchased fresh, in a powdered form, as seeds, and in oil form. It is often taken to aid digestion, but also acts as a galactagogue and therefore can help with milk production.
Fennel contains a compound called anethole, which is chemically similar to a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine binds to prolactin (the hormone that stimulates the production of breastmilk and changes its chemical composition), which makes it effective for improving milk production.
How does fennel help with lactation?
A triple-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that herbal tea containing fennel seed powder daily for four weeks significantly improved breast milk sufficiency compared to placebo (11).
In another randomized controlled trial, mothers received either supportive advice about breastfeeding or supportive advice or a herbal tea containing fennel for seven days. After seven days, the group receiving the herbal tea had a significantly higher production of milk than the control group (12). There was an increase of 80% in the amount of milk in the fennel tea group compared with only 30% in the control group.
Another study demonstrated that taking 3 g of fennel per day (split into six 500 mg doses) for 15 days was able to significantly increase prolactin levels in breastfeeding mothers (13).
How do I take fennel?
If taking fennel in capsule form, it is recommended to take 3 g fennel per day, ideally split into six doses. If taking fennel as a tea, it is best to use 1-2 g of fennel seeds per cup and consume three times per day.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is an herb often used in Ayurvedic medicine. The roots of the herb have also been used in Siddha and Unani medicine. It belongs to the plant family Asparagaceae (in which asparagus is the plant genus).
Shatavari has several different properties which make it effective for addressing a wide range of health concerns. It has anti-ulcer effects which means that it can aid digestion. It also has antibiotic effects so can help the immune system to fight off infections.
Also, shatavari has aphrodisiac, antidepressant, and anxiety-reducing effects, and has been used to increase breast milk production.
How does asparagus racemosus help with lactation?
A randomized, double-blind controlled trial found that taking 60 mg Kg-1 shatvari daily for 30 days led to a more than three-fold increase in the prolactin hormone level compared with the control group (14).
Other positive effects included an increase in satisfaction of the mothers about their state of lactation and the overall wellbeing and happiness of the babies in those taking shatavari.
How do I take asparagus racemosus?
In research, the dosage of shatavari has been determined by the bodyweight of the individual taking it. Therefore, to obtain the benefits of shatavari for lactation, it is recommended to take the 60 mg Kg-1 shatavari per day. It is typically taken in capsule form.
The Bottom Line
Although many new mothers are keen to breastfeed for at least a few months after birth, it is common to experience problems when trying to do so.
Potential issues include sore or cracked nipples, breast engorgement, the baby not latching on properly, thrush, blocked milk ducts, mastitis, breast abscesses, a tongue-tied baby, and a lack of milk supply.
Many different factors can influence milk supply, such as poor attachment and positioning, not feeding the baby often enough, drinking alcohol or smoking while breastfeeding, previous breast surgery, extended time away from the baby after birth spending time away from the baby, illness in the mother or baby, giving the baby formula or a pacifier before a regular breastfeeding routine has been established, using nipple shields, as well as certain medications.
Several strategies can help with improving the milk supply. It is advisable to ask a healthcare professional to watch you breastfeeding so that they can identify obvious issues and provide individualized advice.
More general strategies can also be applied, such as avoiding giving the baby formula or a pacifier for the first six months, or until a regular breastfeeding pattern is established, allowing the baby to feed as often and for as long as desired, expressing milk after each feed, offering both breasts at each feed and alternating between them, as well as keeping the baby close to the breast to maintain skin to skin contact.
In addition to these strategies, several supplements can help boost milk supply. Before taking any supplements, it is essential to check with your healthcare provider before taking them, especially if you have any existing health conditions or are taking any medication.
Keep Reading: 12 Teas That Help Fight Stress
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About the Author
Emma Green has a PhD, MSc and BSc in Psychology and is a certified personal trainer. She currently works as a freelance writer, producing on content on science, health and fitness for a number of online platforms. She also coaches clients online on a one-to-one basis to help them achieve their health and fitness goals. Contact Emma.