“Eat oatmeal to increase your breastmilk supply!”
“Make some of these oatmeal lactation cookies to boost your milk production!”
We’ve all heard of eating oatmeal to increase breastmilk production, and many of us have tried it. I remember one time when my baby was about 5 months old, I was having some tummy trouble. I promptly got out my peppermint essential oil and began rubbing it all over my belly. I did this for a couple days until it hit me—peppermint can decrease milk supply! So, naturally, I completely went into a panic mode, convinced myself my milk was gone, and began googling how to boost breast milk supply.
I discovered numerous lactation cookie recipes, all of them including oats. Unfortunately I hate baking, so I decided to just mix everything up in a blender and drink it down. I can’t remember exactly, but I am pretty sure it included oats, flaxseed, and nutritional yeast. It was terrible. You really have to do the baking part to enjoy lactation cookies. In the end it all turned out okay, probably because I stopped stressing so much and just nursed my baby. But, it got me thinking—do oatmeal cookies really increase milk supply? And if they do, how does it work?
How Milk Supply is Established
To understand this, we have to understand how milk is made. In the early days of breastfeeding, as a newborn baby is suckling, the breasts are busy producing prolactin milk receptors. These milk receptors set the stage for the entire breastfeeding journey, which is why it is so important to establish a solid milk supply early on (that is why a good latch is essential).
Current research suggests that in the early days of nursing the number of final prolactin receptor sites are determined; more prolactin receptors sites stimulate more milk production and a higher capacity to make milk (1). Skin to skin contact, milk removal, and infant suckling stimulate milk production and prolactin receptors in those first golden days post-partum (7). Once the supply is established, the biggest determining factors that affect milk production are hormones and milk removal/nipple stimulation.
Breastmilk is made of protein, fat, and carbs as well as essential vitamins for the infant and of course iron. (8). According to the La Leche League, even in times of inadequate nutrition intake, the female body is designed to compensate for nutritional inadequacy (2). Your body will take what is necessary for the survival of your child. However, it does take substantial calories and liquids to make milk, so it important to refill your stores to keep your own body healthy.
So what we’ve learned here is that a large determining factor in your milk production is your body’s initial response to the experience of the new infant, including suckling, bonding hormones, and milk removal. This is one reason why I am such a fan of natural childbirth–it sets up the stage for a healthy milk supply.
What is a Galactogogue?
A galactagogue, or lactogenic food, is a drug, herb, or food said to increase milk production. Many studies have been done on these types of products with mixed results. Some herbal and food galactagogues include alfalfa, almonds, anise, asparagus, barley, basil, beets, borage, caraway, carrots, chaste tree fruit, cherries, chicken broth/soup/stock, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), coconut, coriander seeds, cumin, dandelion, dill, fennel, fenugreek, flax seeds, garlic, ginger, goat’s rue, green beans, hibiscus, hops, lemon balm, lentils, lettuce, malunggay (moringa), marshmallow root, millet, molasses (black strap), mung, mushrooms, nettle, oat straw (oats), papaya, peas, pumpkin, quinoa seeds, red clover, red raspberry, rice, sage, seaweed soup, sesame seeds, spinach, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, thistles, turmeric, and vervain (3).
If you are experiencing a true decrease or lack of milk supply, noted by the baby not gaining weight, losing weight, or lacking wet diapers, it is imperative that you get in touch with a lactation expert or LLL guide right now and they can counsel you on the safe use of herbal galactogogues.
The Role of Oatmeal and Stress
Now, back to the humble oat; oats are a nutritious food. Specifically, they are a decent source of iron (4). It is suggested that due to the nutritional content of the oat, especially iron (a common deficiency in breastfeeding moms), milk supply may increase when oats are ingested (6). If iron is the problem, other foods that contain iron are cacao and molasses.
It has also been suggested that because oatmeal is a comfort food, it calms the mother down enough to induce an increase in milk production (5). According to the LLL, it is not scientifically proven that stress impacts milk supply (2). However, in one study, 58% of mothers experiencing problems with breastfeeding and a perception of insufficient milk supply in the first two weeks had a lack of confidence (7).
Perhaps it is the simple act of rest and relaxation induced by eating a cookie and thinking you are really going to increase your milk production that impacts the production. Is it possible that when making cookies specifically for lactation, you feel you are handling the problem, thus taking down your stress hormone levels and allowing your body to do what it is supposed to?
I never had bleeding, and I only had minor pain right away as my body got used to nursing. I survived mastitis once, I survived being bitten a couple times, and let me tell you this: Breastfeeding my daughter for 13 months and counting is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The positives outweigh the negatives by a landslide, and nursing her is one of my favorite daily activities. I love breastfeeding!
I understand that sometimes the breastfeeding journey does not work, and in no way or form am I shaming any mother who has chosen not to breastfeed. I just want to encourage those who are planning on breastfeeding or are currently breastfeeding.
So, What Increases Milk Supply?
My take on all this is that the best way to make more milk is first and foremost establish that supply early on! If you are pregnant and reading this now, remember it is essential to get as much skin to skin contact as you can, bonding time, high quality latching, and a lot of suckling in those first beautiful hours after childbirth.
I personally was not going to leave the hospital until we had absolutely mastered our latch. A good latch sets the stage for adequate milk supply and not dealing with bleeding, cracked nipples and pain. It’s also important to make sure your baby does not have a physical problem interfering with his/her latch such as lip tie or tongue tie.
My daughter nursed within minutes of birth, we had a completely unmedicated birth, and she slept next to me skin to skin for the first couple nights, suckling for many hours. I’ve had an abundant milk supply since then, but one thing I’ve noticed is that one side produces more than the other. She favored one side early on, and I believe this is why one side produces more. This proves my case of the essential importance of getting lots of cuddles and suckling in early on.
Some of the best ways to ensure your supply is good right from the beginning include:
- Establishing a good latch
- Immediate nursing after birth
- Skin to skin contact
- Unlimited access to the breast
- Natural birth (as natural as possible)
Remember, those first hours and weeks set the stage for much of the breastfeeding journey, so make the best of them!
Later on, you can try these recommendations:
- Don’t stress! As stated, stress may cause issues for you including inhibiting your milk supply. Trust your body.
- Get help. Find a lactation consultant in your area.
- Look for tongue tie, lip tie, nipple problems, and other latch issues.
- Use one of the above galactogogues (including oats).
- Spend an entire day nursing your baby as much as possible.
- Pump after nursing.
- Read more at Kelly Mom.
If you are seriously concerned because your baby is losing or not gaining weight or not having wet diapers, please contact a lactation professional.
I am no breastfeeding expert, doctor, or lactation consultant. I am just a mama with a great milk supply and a few ideas in her head. The way I interpret this information for a normal mom with no other problems (physical illness, mechanical problems, etc.) is this: establish your supply early on with a good latch, skin to skin, bonding, and professional help if you need it. The best you can do later on is stick to highly nutritious, well rounded diet, keep your stress to a minimum, relax, and trust that your body can do it’s job. The oatmeal cookies certainly won’t hurt either, so if you need a good recipe Mama Natural has a great one filled with highly nutritious ingredients!
Tell me in the comments if you’ve ever used oatmeal to boost supply?