Breastfeeding can be an incredibly rewarding time offering plenty of precious moments of bonding with your new baby.
Having said that, it’s natural to have questions.
For example – are you producing enough milk to feed a hungry baby around 10 times a day? Does your milk contain all the necessary nutrients to support your little one as they grow? Can you diet while breastfeeding?
You may have heard that certain herbs can either stimulate or slow milk flow – but which ones?!
Don’t worry – we’re here for you with our guide to the supplements which will protect the health of you and your baby, as well as boosting your milk flow.
It is important to always check with your doctor or midwife before taking any supplements while pregnant.
Do I need supplements while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding mothers commonly seek reassurance that they’re getting their daily quota of the important vitamins their growing babies need. Infant formula is fortified so bottle-feeding mothers know exactly how many vitamins and minerals their baby is getting, but breast milk can be a guessing game.
You might think – my great-grandmother never took a breastfeeding supplement and she fed her babies just fine. While this may well be true, women throughout history have used different foods and herbs to stimulate their milk flow based on anecdotal evidence passed down from other women.1
Thanks to modern science, 21st-century mums can now harness the power of these natural milk-boosters – as well as augmenting their diet with extra vitamins – in the form of handy breastfeeding supplements.
What supplements should I take while breastfeeding?
During breastfeeding, your requirement for certain vitamins and minerals will increase. Taking these in supplement form can help to top up your levels, especially if you’re finding preparing fresh balanced meals a challenge in those early days.
You may also want to try an herbal supplement to boost your milk flow.
Read on to find out more about the best breastfeeding supplements for your health, your baby’s health, and your milk production.
- Your requirements of certain vitamins and minerals increases while breastfeeding.
- Breastfeeding supplements can top up your vitamin levels while breastfeeding.
- Herbs have been used to boost breast milk flow for centuries.
5 best breastfeeding supplements for you and your baby's health
Here's our pick of breastfeeding supplements to optimise both yours and your baby's health.
Babies whose mothers are deficient in vitamin D are at risk of decreased bone mass and even rickets. (2)
If you’ve not been taking vitamin D during your pregnancy, your baby is likely to be born with low levels.
Taking vitamin D while breastfeeding is a great way to boost your levels, and baby’s too. (3)
UK government health guidelines suggest that breastfeeding mothers should take a daily supplement of 10mcg vitamin D, especially during the winter months as most of our natural vitamin D comes from sunlight.4
Thanks to the baby’s increased need for calcium, pregnancy and breastfeeding can slightly deplete a woman’s bones.
In fact, women lose up to 5% of their bone mass during breastfeeding. (5)
That’s why it’s a good idea to take a daily calcium supplement alongside your healthy diet.
You need approximately 1000mg calcium daily while breastfeeding. (6)
If you follow a vegan, vegetarian or lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and plan to breastfeed your baby, you should be taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
Diets very low in vitamin B12 (such as vegan diets) in breastfeeding mothers have been linked with developmental delays in several studies. (7) (8) (9)
Omega 3 essential fatty acids are important for brain development.
Breast milk contains the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, but concentrations of these in breast milk reflect how much the mother is taking in through her diet. (10)
Taking a supplement can increase concentration of these important fatty acids in your breast milk. (11)
Infants are born low in vitamin K, which is why a vitamin K shot is usually administered shortly after birth.
Breastfeeding mothers can also choose to supplement with vitamin K, which has shown to increase concentrations of vitamin K in breast milk. (12) (13)
What is the best supplement to increase milk supply?
There’s a wide range milk-boosting supplements available in the form of teas, capsules and powders.
Here’s our pick of the top supplements to help boost milk flow.
5 best breastfeeding supplements for boosting milk flow
The leaves of the moringa tree, native to India, are thought to hold remarkable milk-boosting properties.
In one study on moringa’s effectiveness, new mothers who took moringa capsules produced 320ml breast milk on the fifth day, as opposed to mothers who took a placebo who produced 120ml.14
No adverse effects have been recorded in the studies on moringa, so it’s definitely worth a go to see if it could help you.
The seeds of this common herb have traditionally been used by lactating women to boost supply.
Fenugreek’s efficacy is also backed by science. Several studies have indicated that consumption of fenugreek significantly increased the amount of breast milk produced.15
Fenugreek is available as a loose herb, in capsule form, as well as a tea.
The bulb of this flowering plant is often found in breast milk supplements.16
Studies have been few and inconclusive, but fennel contains a phytoestrogen which is thought to act as a galactagogue – a breast milk stimulator.17
You can find fennel tablets, fennel tea, and use fresh fennel as an ingredient in salads and savoury dishes.
Fennel is generally well-tolerated and safe, although in rare cases allergic reactions can occur.18
This fatty substance is found naturally in your body, including in breast milk. It's found in eggs, sunflower seeds, soybeans and nuts.19
Some women use it to reduce the viscosity of breast milk, meaning that milk ducts are less likely to become blocked, which can cause mastitis (painful, swollen breasts due to blocked ducts).20
Studies are inconclusive, but generations of women have sworn by lecithin supplements to help their breastfeeding journey go smoothly.21
5. Brewer’s yeast
Brewer’s yeast is another remedy which lacks scientific backing yet has long been associated with increased milk supply in nursing mothers.
Usually taken in tablet or powder form, brewer’s yeast is a fungal organism used in beer and breadmaking.
Based on traditional use, women report more milk production while taking brewer’s yeast.22
Best foods & drink when breastfeeding
There is no particular ‘breastfeeding diet’, and if you’re well-nourished and healthy, it’s most likely your baby will be, too.
However, there are certain foods which will ensure your breast milk is as nutrient-packed as possible – as well as giving your body the energy it needs for this special task.
Concentrate on getting vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein and healthy unsaturated fats from foods that are high in these essential nutrients.
Highly nutritious foods
- leafy greens
Staying hydrated is key as breast milk is mostly water. However, don’t worry about glugging glass after glass of water, as drinking more water than you need holds no extra benefit to milk production.23
Why not have a bowl of fruit next to you when you settle down in your preferred breastfeeding space at home?
Fruits with a high water content
You need around an extra 500 calories per day when you’re breastfeeding.24 Healthy, calorie-dense foods like hummus, avocado and nuts can be great snacks to help keep you energised.
What to avoid when breastfeeding
It’s hard to resist the allure of caffeine when you’re exhausted from taking care of a new baby. However, just as caffeine keeps you alert, it can keep your baby alert too and stop them settling down for sleep.
The NHS recommends no more than 200mg of caffeine daily when you’re breastfeeding.25
You might have been looking forward to a glass of wine, but if you’re planning to breastfeed, then you might need to wait a little longer.
Anything you eat, drink or inhale goes to your baby via your breastmilk. Therefore, it’s advisable to abstain altogether during this time, or have 1 to 2 units only, once or twice a week.26
3. Excessive fat-soluble vitamin supplements
Unlike water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C, fat-soluble vitamins aren’t flushed out of the body with urine. Instead, they’re stored in our cells until needed.27
Fat-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
This isn’t usually much of an issue, but when breastfeeding, excessive amounts of certain fat-soluble vitamins build up in the body and could be harmful to the baby.28 So, make sure you’re only taking the recommended dose.
4. Mercury-rich fish
As with pregnancy, avoid fish that could be high in mercury during breastfeeding.
It’s the larger fish that tend to have higher mercury levels. Think tuna, swordfish, shark, marlin, sea bream and sea bass.29
Dieting when breastfeeding
Restricting calories too much to begin with might affect the milk supply, so it’s generally advised to wait around two months post-partum before actively trying to lose weight. A slow and steady post-birth weight loss plan is the best approach.
Remember, breastfeeding itself can burn up to 600 calories per day, so as long as you’re eating sensibly, you should see weight loss after a few weeks.30
Studies show that 45 minutes of exercise, 4 days a week while breastfeeding can result in weight loss of around 0.5kg per week in overweight women, with no detrimental effect on infant growth.31
- Ensure your breastfeeding diet contains vegetables, fruit, whole grains, protein and lot of water
- Take a vitamin D supplement while breastfeeding
- If you’re struggling with milk flow, consider a herbal supplement
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, fat-soluble vitamins and high-mercury fish while breastfeeding
Last updated: 26 February 2021