As a holistic lactation consultant, I understand the importance of considering various factors that contribute to a mother's capacity to produce breast milk. It's not just about meeting the baby's needs but also ensuring that the mother's well-being is not compromised in the process. Producing not only quantity but also quality-rich breast milk takes a lot of energy from the breastfeeding mother and requires mindfulness of one's nutritional intake. A mother also needs to be supported by her community, practitioners with postpartum expertise, and in her home environment where the art and practice of rest and newborn care can be cultivated. Besides assessment and support with breastfeeding and lactation from an expert IBCLC lactation consultant, here are some considerations every mother should know when it comes to building and establishing a milk supply that will be abundant and deeply nourishing to both mother and baby.
It is great to have resources like the book "The First Forty Days," which has led to increased awareness of just how vital nourishment is during the postpartum and breastfeeding period. Breastfeeding and parenting are highly demanding on your healing body's energy levels and reserves. Therefore, consuming nutrient-dense foods and selecting foods for hormonal balance will support a deeper sense of well-being for you and your baby. Starting with a few facts can help you get off to the best start. Breastfeeding mothers are advised to consume an additional 300-500 calories per day to support breast milk production, which equates to around three large snacks. However, it's not just about how much you eat but also what and when you eat.
I always recommend having a protein-rich breakfast as soon as possible after waking up, and ensuring that all main meals include protein, fiber, healthy fats, and slow carbohydrates (ideally consumed in that order). Focusing on your protein intake at regular intervals will help maintain stable blood sugar levels, resulting in more consistent energy throughout the day and overall hormonal balance. Excellent sources of protein include eggs, salmon, beef, chicken, and vegan protein powders, which can help you reach the recommended intake of 25-30 grams of protein per meal or 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Please note that individual needs may vary, so it is always ideal to work with a holistic nutritionist or naturopath for personalized nutrition recommendations.
I often support mothers with low breast milk supply, which can typically drop in the afternoon and early evening. I always consider how they start their day. Are they skipping breakfast and finally having a bite at lunch? Or relying on caffeine or other stimulants like sugar and refined carbohydrates to keep them going throughout the day? We discuss their nutrition priorities and find ways to create more consistency, meeting their nutritional and caloric needs. This always starts with a protein-rich breakfast. Feelings of increased energy and well-being are noted fairly quickly, and these changes are often reflected in an increase in milk supply as well.
Hydration is also essential as breast milk is over 80% water, so a significant portion of your water intake is diverted to your milk supply. Producing breast milk also requires water. Aim for 3+ litres per day, and more during and after exercise, or if you live in a warm climate. I recommend having a water bottle at each breastfeeding station in your home. Sipping on bone broth or a nourishing herbal tea (such as nettle and chamomile) during breastfeeding will also help keep you nourished and hydrated. If you struggle to drink water regularly, you can add flavor to your water with a herbal tea (hibiscus or rosehip are lovely options) or an electrolyte powder, such as Mini + Me's Hydramama or LMNT. It's also helpful to know that watery fruits, vegetables, and soups also contribute to your daily water intake.
Your Breastfeeding Environment
While preparing your breastfeeding environment during pregnancy, aim for a tranquil space where you can rest, feel at peace, and engage your senses with soft and cozy textures. Keeping warm during your postpartum period is incredibly important for nourishing your body and allowing oxytocin levels to soar. Oxytocin is a key hormone in breast milk production and flow, and it thrives in the body when warmth, safety, and privacy are abundant. Rest is also crucial in the early postpartum weeks as your body replenishes itself from pregnancy, heals from birth, and provides nutrition to your baby through breast milk production and breastfeeding. Supporting your body to rest will allow it to channel energy into these vital functions, leading to a more sustainable postpartum and breastfeeding journey.
Touching On Postpartum Planning
To enable rest, optimal nutrition, and self-care for both you and your baby, calling upon your support network is essential. Postpartum planning will allow you to assess your resources and delegate important tasks well in advance. Family, friends, and colleagues are often willing to support you and respond well to guidance on how they can best assist you. Setting boundaries during the early postpartum period is incredibly important as you navigate the journey of becoming a parent, getting to know your baby, and establishing your breastfeeding routine and flow.
Herbs To Support The Breastfeeding Mother
Herbs are a beautiful way to nourish your body during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Mineral-rich herbs like nettle, hibiscus, rosehip, oat straw, and raspberry leaf are incredible accompaniments to a nutritious diet and high-quality supplements. Chamomile is also a great herb to consider, especially if you are new to using herbs, as it is very mild in taste and offers numerous benefits for the gut and nervous system. I love the Sleep Nectar by Heng Ou from the book "The First Forty Days," which uses chamomile, lavender, honey, and milk of your choice. It is the perfect elixir to support a sense of calm and deep sleep. Adding herbal teas to your routine or sipping them during breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish your body, mind, and milk supply.
Supporting Breast Milk Through Bodywork
Bodywork is essential during the postpartum period, as exercise is not typically recommended in the early days and weeks. It is important to allow your body to rest, and bodywork can provide many benefits of exercise without requiring movement or excessive energy from the mother. Massage, including both remedial and lymphatic techniques, helps keep fluids moving and prevents stagnation around the lymphatic system, which plays a crucial role in breast milk production and breast health. Acupuncture is another beautiful way to restore the mind and body after birth and can be a supportive component in addressing breastfeeding challenges such as low milk supply. Additionally, self-massage with breast and/or belly oil, similar to how you would massage your bump during pregnancy, is a simple act of love and self-care that can help boost oxytocin and promote healthy fluid movement in the body.
Taking a holistic approach to breastfeeding and milk supply will create a deeply nourishing and sustainable path on your breastfeeding journey. There is much to be mindful of, including diet, herbs, supplements, and bodywork, and all of this can be achieved through postpartum planning. Preparing for your breastfeeding journey begins the moment you decide to breastfeed, as there is much that can be done in advance to ensure you enjoy a positive and empowered breastfeeding experience with an abundant and nutritious milk supply that leaves your body feeling replenished.
Joelleen is a holistic lactation consultant with over 13 years of experience supporting breastfeeding families. She combines her knowledge of midwifery, naturopathy and IBCLC lactation consulting to help parents feel guided and confident in their breastfeeding journey.
As a holistic Lactation Consultant, Joelleen offers consultations at the Maternal Infant Wellbeing clinic in Parkville, in-home visits in most inner-Melbourne suburbs, and virtual consultations worldwide. If you'd like to delve deeper into preparing for breastfeeding, Joelleen teaches a live online workshop on this topic every second month. To work with Joelleen or to register for a workshop, please visit www.jwp.care. Joelleen would love to support you in achieving a positive and empowered breastfeeding journey.
Joelleen Winduss Paye
IBCLC Lactation Consultant, Naturopath, Midwife & Educator
Author – Joelleen Winduss Paye, founder of JWP.