How to Make More Breastmilk WITHOUT Fenugreek
by Sarah Long, IBCLC, Clinical Coordinator, The Milk Bank
Becoming milk donor is something we value here at the milk bank. Being in a position to have excess milk after meeting the needs of your own baby or donating your precious resource after the loss of a child is both rewarding and hard work. We often receive phone calls from mothers who have been protecting their milk supply by taking herbal remedies such as fenugreek, mothers' milk tea or milk thistle. The use of such galactagogues will prevent us from accepting the milk from an otherwise suitable donor. So how can you make more milk without the help of herbs?
Back to basics, the supply and demand phenomenon
Your body is an incredible factory when it comes to making milk! Your body makes milk because your baby or pump signals your brain when the nipple and breast are stimulated. The brain then makes hormones and these hormones tell your body to make milk. These hormones also are responsible for releasing the milk.
I like to think of breastmilk as a product in a store. The store will order a set amount of the product for sale, if the product, your breastmilk, flies off the shelf and the shelf is empty, the shelf being your breast, the store will contact the manufacturer, your brain and body to order more of the product, your milk. In contrast the opposite can occur if the product, your milk does not sell, then store will hold off ordering anymore until it is sold, therefore telling your body to stop making breastmilk.
An empty breast will therefore stimulate your brain for more milk to be made, therefore regular removal of milk is the most basic way any mother can make more milk.
Another sometimes overlooked method of ensuring a good supply comes from the power of touch. Your baby, your hands, all have the power to help increase milk production. Your breasts are very sensitive and extremely receptive to massage, this increases blood flow. Therefore helping with milk production and milk flow. Here is great information on Hands on Pumping.
Whether your baby or your breast pump, the key to maintaining a good milk supply is a good latch when breastfeeding and a well-fitting pump flange while pumping. If you have any concerns with flange size or the effectiveness of your pump, Let us know, we want to help!
The art of pumping effectively lies in frequency, it is not usual for mothers to pump after they have fed their babies, this further helps to stimulate the breast as it is “empty”. Regular pumping sessions, coupled with breast massage and compression are the most effective ways to remove milk. Pumping sessions should not typically last longer than 15mins, or two “let downs” when pumping both breasts simultaneously. Relaxation techniques and a warm compress also can help with supply and milk ejection.
Why the exclusion of herbs and alternative therapies
We are often asked, "If herbs are safe for my own baby, why do you exclude donors who use herbal remedies?" The answer is this: donated breastmilk is provided to the most vulnerable and fragile NICU infants and any potential donation that may have un approved medications can run the risk of harm to an infant recipient. To date there is little evidence to support the safe use of herbal remedies. To ensure the safety of all recipients, we do not accept milk that has been pumped with the use of herbs. If you have been using herbs and would still like to become a donor, please contact us for wait times. The occasional use doesn't eliminate a donor, it does eliminate milk that is pumped while taking herbal remedies.
Diet and lifestyle
This is simple, a healthy, well balanced diet will provide excellent breast milk. There are no special foods that have been proven to increase supply. Eat to hunger and drink to thirst is a general rule of thumb. Remember, those “lactation cookies” may contain herbs which would prevent us from accepting your precious resource. Always let us know of any supplements and vitamins you may be taking as some may contain hidden herbal supplements or excessive high doses of vitamins.
Please let us know if you have concerns, we have a lactation consultant on staff, who is always happy to discuss and milk supply issues.