Ways breastfeeding moms can boost their milk production

Mom breastfeeding

Breast milk is key to a baby’s health, ensuring it survives and thrives by providing all the necessary nutrients and protecting it against allergies, diseases, and infections. Additionally, breastfed babies have healthier weights as they grow and a higher IQ.

It is for these reasons that the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feedings until children reach two, to achieve optimal growth and development.

If breast milk is stopped earlier, the results can be catastrophic, with the WHO reporting that more than 800,000 children a year die due to lack of breast milk.

In most parts of the world, the number of mothers exclusively breastfeeding their children under six months has grown sharply in recent years. This follows mass campaigns to promote breastfeeding, which aims to increase exclusive breastfeeding to 80 percent by 2017.

But while most mothers produce enough milk for their babies, some mothers stop breastfeeding because their milk supply is too low to meet their baby’s needs.

According to a study in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 60 percent of women give up breastfeeding earlier than they want to with the most common reason named by the mums being: “I didn’t have enough milk.”

A low milk supply causes many challenges to a baby, including low weight gains and susceptibility to infections – in that, a mother’s milk is known to have antibiotic properties.

But if breast milk production is low, stopping breastfeeding completely is not a solution.

The key to increasing milk supply is through frequent stimulation and emptying of the breasts. It is important when breastfeeding or expressing, to compress or massage the breasts to assist with milk flow and drainage, experts say.

According to Faith Gitahi, a lactation manager at Kenyatta National Hospital, the time breastfeeding is initiated also matters; and it is recommended that this is done within thirty minutes or within the first hour after delivery. If delayed, this can lead to low milk production.

Other causes of low milk supply include stress, the return of menses, medication, birth control pills and even some foods, such as mint, sage, wintergreen herbs, say, nutritionists.

Moreover, while many lactating mums with low milk supply switch to formulas to replace the milk supply, a growing number are instead switching to foods and herbs to boost their milk supply, many of which are available locally, and are improving both their health and that of their babies.

These additions need to act as a supplement to a balanced diet rather than a replacement.

Nutritionists recommend mothers to consume at least 1,800 calories per day to maintain a full milk supply for their growing baby, and, at most, 2,500 to 2,700 calories. The best diet for a nursing woman is simply a normal, healthy, and balanced diet, rich in B vitamins and including fruits like bananas, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are known as galactagogues, which span any food, herb, or supplement that aids breast milk supply, and include well-known aides such as kombucha tea, brewer’s yeast, and molasses.

Vegetables such as potatoes, spinach and beet leaves (containing iron, calcium, folic acid and detoxifying agents), and carrots (containing Vitamin A, which complements lactation and boosts the quality of milk) help produce hormones in the female human body that help lactation.

Grains, such as oats (beneficial due to their high iron levels), barley, millet, brown rice, lentils, and beans (black beans- commonly referred to as kidney and soybeans) also help, with a bowl of whole grain oatmeal in the morning recommended by lactation consultants.

Diets can be also complemented by nuts, which are high in proteins and essential fatty acids. The amino acids in nuts are building blocks for serotonin, which is a necessary neurotransmitter for lactation.

Other useful foods include salmon, which is a great source of Essential Fatty acids (EFA) and Omega-3, and sweet potato, which is an energy-producing carbohydrate, a major source of potassium, and contains Vitamin C and B-complex and a muscle relaxant mineral, magnesium.

Garlic is also believed to be a galactagogue, containing vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that help in lactation, and has been used for many years as an herbal treatment to stimulate breast milk production. Studies have shown that babies nurse more often and take more milk when mothers take a garlic supplement before nursing. This sets up a virtuous circle of increased milk production as extra breastfeeding leads, of itself, to an increase in the breast milk supply.

Herbs are beneficial too. Locally known as “Thabai”, the stinging nettle is believed to not only have blood purifying abilities but stimulate milk production. The leaves of the herb are usually sun-dried and crushed to form a powder that is used in stews, adding that rich green color to food. As a tea for mums who want to increase milk production, Donna Murray, a registered nurse, recommends adding one to four teaspoons of dried nettle leaf to one teacup of boiling water.

Another helpful herb is known as “methi” or Fenugreek. The leaves are commonly eaten with meals such as green grams and salads and have seen mums report an increase of 1.5 ounces (about one and a half teacups) of milk. Other beneficial herbs include fennel, aniseed, blessed thistle, alfalfa, and amaranth.

There are also readymade products that can help, such as ‘Organic Mother’s Milk’, a herbal tea that contains herbs such as fenugreek, fennel anise, and coriander. Made solely of herbs, the lactation tea has a bitter taste and may not appeal to everyone. It is, therefore, advisable to add honey to sweeten it.

Another option is the delicious ‘Lactation Cookies’ now available in shops. The cookie has ingredients such as oats, dill seeds, and wheat germ, all of which help lactating mothers boost their milk supply.

Lactating mothers are also advised to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and replace fluid lost during lactation.

And if the foods don’t work, and the milk supply is still low, mums are encouraged to seek medical advice to diagnose any condition and seek treatment.

By Abigael Sum
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