July 5, 2022

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Baby formula shortage: Which foods and techniques boost breast milk production?

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Baby formula is the latest staple to be hit by supply chain shortages in the U.S.

Parents of newborns and babies under six months old have taken to social media to share their concerns after seeing barren store shelves. 

Behind the scenes, online inquiries on how to “increase breast milk” have become a top search term in 38 states, according to recent data on Google Trends.

In particular, searchers are looking into foods and methods that increase breast milk supply.

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Here’s what lactation experts and health care professionals want mothers to know about breast milk production before turning to diet changes or tools.

Foods, drinks and supplements connected to breast milk production

Rachel Taylor, a registered nurse, postpartum and lactation advocate from Birmingham, Alabama, has over 15 years of experience working with postpartum and breastfeeding mothers.

Taylor told Fox News Digital that she mainly recommends lactation cookies, teas, water and a few dietary supplements or ingredients that have demonstrated beneficial results for nursing mothers.

Lactation cookies

Many baby care manufacturers make prepackaged lactation cookies and other snacks for the purpose of increasing milk supply. These functional treats usually “include oats, brewer’s yeast, and flaxseed, all of which are galactogogues – molecules that help maintain and increase milk production,” said Taylor. If you’d prefer to make your own cookies, Taylor recommends using rolled or steel-cut oats and no more than three tablespoons of brewer’s yeast (per day).

Oatmeal cookies are a popular lactation cookie flavor. Retailers often stock these cookies in baby care aisles. Some specialty bakeries also make lactation cookies.
(iStock)

Lactation teas

Manufacturers also produce lactation teas for the purpose of increasing milk supply. 

These herbal teas typically “contain fennel and fenugreek,” which have been shown to help breast milk production in research studies, Taylor said. In particular, fenugreek is found in “Mother’s Milk” teas and the clover-like herb has been used by lactating mothers for decades. 

Fennel tea is a herbal galactagogue (milk supply producing molecule) that has been used for centuries around the world.

Fennel tea is a herbal galactagogue (milk supply producing molecule) that has been used for centuries around the world.
(iStock)

“A 2018 study [in the National Library of Medicine] found that fenugreek users saw a significant increase in milk production,” Taylor told Fox News Digital. “Some women saw an increase within 24 hours and some said it took about two weeks.”

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If a mom wishes to take fenugreek supplements alone, Taylor said they should follow the supplement package directions. The FDA recommends pregnant and nursing women consult their health care provider before taking any dietary supplement.

Fenugreek is a clover-like herb that is used in many lactation teas and food products. Supplements and seeds can be purchased at health food stores and pharmacies.

Fenugreek is a clover-like herb that is used in many lactation teas and food products. Supplements and seeds can be purchased at health food stores and pharmacies.
(iStock)

Water 

Hydration “is crucial for a nursing mother,” Taylor said. She recommends mothers drink at least eight cups of water per day to “maintain their milk supply.” If a mom is still thirsty after drinking the recommended amount, Taylor said it’s OK for her to drink more water.

Severe dehydration can adversely affect a nursing mother's milk production as well as other health issues. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends women drink about 11.5 cups of water per day.

Severe dehydration can adversely affect a nursing mother’s milk production as well as other health issues. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends women drink about 11.5 cups of water per day.
(iStock)

Dr. Jessica Madden, the medical director at Aeroflow Breastpumps in Cleveland, Ohio, has a list of breast milk-boosting ingredients she recommends to nursing mothers as a board-certified pediatrician, neonatologist and lactation consultant (IBCLC). 

Some of her top picks include milk thistle, ginger, apricots, dates, moringa and torabangun. 

Here’s why – 

Milk thistle

The milk thistle plant is a flowering herb that’s been found to increase prolactin – the hormone that’s responsible for milk production, according to Madden. It also has “other components” that lower estrogen, which is the state lactating mothers should be in during nursing, studies show. 

The herb can often be found in ready-made teas.

Milk thistle is a flowering herb that’s been found to increase prolactin – the hormone that’s responsible for milk production. It's a common ingredient in lactation teas.

Milk thistle is a flowering herb that’s been found to increase prolactin – the hormone that’s responsible for milk production. It’s a common ingredient in lactation teas.
(iStock)

Ginger

Research suggests that ginger is a “potent galactagogue” and is commonly used in Asia to aid milk production, said Madden. The spice “works by increasing blood supply to lactating breasts,” she added. 

Whole ginger can be purchased fresh from grocery stores. The spice can also be found in powders, teas and supplements pills.

Ginger is a flowering plant that's widely used as a spice and a holistic medicine. It's a galactagogue that reportedly increases blood flow in lactating breasts.

Ginger is a flowering plant that’s widely used as a spice and a holistic medicine. It’s a galactagogue that reportedly increases blood flow in lactating breasts.
(iStock)

Apricots and dates

These two fruits are commonly used in the Middle East for increasing milk supply, according to Madden. “They both work by increasing prolactin levels,” she said. Lactating mothers can find these fruits in nearly any supermarket.

Apricots (left) are a yellow-orange fruit that's rich vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. Dates (top right) are a sweet dark brown fruits that can boost energy and increase iron. Research has shown that both fruits raise prolactin levels in nursing mothers.

Apricots (left) are a yellow-orange fruit that’s rich vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. Dates (top right) are a sweet dark brown fruits that can boost energy and increase iron. Research has shown that both fruits raise prolactin levels in nursing mothers.
(iStock)

Moringa

The moringa plant, which can be found in supplements in the U.S., also “increases prolactin production by the pituitary gland,” Madden said. “There are at least six research studies that demonstrate it helps to boost milk supply…[And it’s] very popular in the Philippines.” 

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Moringa can be purchased in powder, capsule and herbal tea form in many drug stores.

Moringa plants come from the drought-resistant moringa tree that's often found in the Indian subcontinent. It's used in many dietary supplements for its vitamin C, potassium, calcium and iron content. The plant has been found to increase prolactin.

Moringa plants come from the drought-resistant moringa tree that’s often found in the Indian subcontinent. It’s used in many dietary supplements for its vitamin C, potassium, calcium and iron content. The plant has been found to increase prolactin.
(iStock)

Torabangun

Another botanical that’s been connected to increased milk supply, but is “difficult to find in the U.S.” is torabangun, which comes from “the mint family,” according to Madden. 

She said the “mechanism of action [in torabangun] is proliferation of mammary gland cells.” It can be found in a few laction supplements.

Torabangun is a herb that's commonly used by nursing mothers in Indonesia. The mint species is rich in vitamins and minerals and has been found to grow mammary gland cells in lactating mothers.

Torabangun is a herb that’s commonly used by nursing mothers in Indonesia. The mint species is rich in vitamins and minerals and has been found to grow mammary gland cells in lactating mothers.
(iStock)

Strategies and tools for increased breast milk production

Routine milk pumping is “the best way to increase supply,” said Jackee Haak, a North Dakota-based registered nurse and board member of the United States Lactation Consultant Association.

“No matter what someone is eating, the most important factor in producing milk is frequent removal of milk,” Haak told Fox News Digital. “Breastfeeding is all supply and demand.”

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She said breast milk can be removed through feedings, specialized breast pumps or manually with hands.

The CDC says ‘breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies’ and it ‘can also help protect you and your baby against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases.’ However, the health agency notes that formula can be used if a mother chooses to or can't produce enough breast milk.

The CDC says ‘breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies’ and it ‘can also help protect you and your baby against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases.’ However, the health agency notes that formula can be used if a mother chooses to or can’t produce enough breast milk.
(iStock)

“Many insurances cover breast pumps now, so it’s always a good idea to check with them,” Haak added. “​[Mothers] are not alone. There are many lactation care providers who are willing and able to help.”

Jada Shapiro, a NYC-based certificated lactation support counselor and founder of Boober – an online platform where parents find lactation counselors and doulas – told Fox News Digital that nursing mothers should practice patience when trying to increase their milk supply because it typically takes a few days.

Shapiro recommends “power pumping” for mothers who wish to increase milk supply within a week.

Lactation experts say regular breastfeeding or pumping are the most effective way nursing mothers can produce more milk.

Lactation experts say regular breastfeeding or pumping are the most effective way nursing mothers can produce more milk.
(iStock)

“Power pumping is when you pump in a way that mimics cluster feeding or when a baby nurses for shorter times more frequently, which produces more milk,” Shapiro explained. 

“A lactating parent will pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes. The rest of your day you would pump or nurse normally and after adding in this power pumping session for three to seven days people typically see an increase in supply.”

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Shapiro said that lactating mothers also need to be mindful that they’re not waiting “too long” to pump or feed.

“Full breasts make less milk,” said Shapiro. “Empty breasts make more milk.”

The CDC says pumped breast milk can be stored at room temperature (77 degrees Fahrenheit or colder) for up to four hours. Mothers can also store breast milk in refrigerators for up to four days and in freezers for six to 12 months, according to the health agency.

The CDC says pumped breast milk can be stored at room temperature (77 degrees Fahrenheit or colder) for up to four hours. Mothers can also store breast milk in refrigerators for up to four days and in freezers for six to 12 months, according to the health agency.
(iStock)

She added that mothers shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant if they need help producing more milk.

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“Poor latch is often linked to lowered milk supply,” Shapiro said.