Although there is very limited, or in some cases, no scientific research to prove that the following foods help increase breastmilk, they have been served for generations to lactating mums and many mothers feel that these foods helped them.
Fenugreek seeds (Methi):
Methi seeds have been used for generations around the world to increase breastmilk supply. There is a small amount of research to back this ancient belief, but not enough to be sure that they are effective at this.
Fenugreek seeds are a source of healthy vitamins that are good for lactating mums such as omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are important for your baby’s brain development. Fenugreek leaves (methi ka saag) are rich in betacarotene, B vitamins, iron and calcium.
Fenugreek tea (Methi ki chai):
It is a popular drink given to new mothers. Methi can also be added to many dishes, especially vegetables, and meat dishes and can be used while making paranthas, pooris or stuffed rotis.
Fenugreek (methi) is a member of the same plant family as peanuts (moongphali), chickpeas (chhola) and soyabeans. If you are allergic to any of these foods, you may also react to fenugreek.
Fennel Seeds (Saunf):
Fennel seeds are another traditional remedy for increasing milk supply. They are also given to new mums to help prevent gas and colic in their baby. The logic is that since fennel seeds are used by adults to ease tummy upsets and aid digestion, the benefits of fennel can be passed to a baby through the breastmilk. There is no research to back either of these beliefs but many mums feel that fennel seeds have helped them or their baby.
Among its many curative properties, such as benefitting the immune system and preventing heart disease, garlic is said to help increase breastmilk supply. However, there isn’t much research to back this up.
If you eat a lot of garlic, it can affect the taste and smell of your breastmilk. One small study found that the infants of mothers who ate garlic tended to feed for a longer time, suggesting that babies may like the flavour of garlic in breastmilk. However, the study was too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. And some mums say that their baby gets colicky if they eat a lot of garlic.
Garlic milk is a popular traditional post-delivery drink given to nursing mums.
Green leafy vegetables:
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach (paalak), fenugreek leaves (methi), mustard greens (sarson ka saag) or lamb’s quarter (bathua) are an excellent source of minerals such as iron, calcium and folate, and vitamins such as betacarotene (a form of vitamin A) and riboflavin. They are also believed to enhance lactation.
Breastfeeding women are recommended to eat one or two portions of green leafy vegetables daily. You could cook these vegetables with spices or make snacks like thepla, vegetable poha or idlis.
Cumin seeds (Jeera):
As well as stimulating milk supply, cumin seeds are said to improve digestion and provide relief from constipation, acidity and bloating. Cumin seeds are an integral part of many Indian dishes and are a source of calcium and riboflavin (a B vitamin).
Sesame seeds (Til):
Sesame seeds are a non-dairy source of calcium. Calcium is an important nutrient for breastfeeding mums. It is important for your baby’s development as well as your own health. Perhaps this is why it’s an age-old ingredient in breastfeeding mums’ diets.
You can try til ke ladoos and use black sesame seeds in foods like pooris, khichri, biryani and lentil dishes. Some also prefer to use white sesame seeds in gajak or revdi.
Holy basil (Tulsi):
Holy basil tea (tulsi ki chai) is a traditional beverage for breastfeeding mums. There is no research to suggest it increases breastmilk production but it is believed to have a calming effect, improve bowel movement and promote a healthy appetite. As with most herbs, holy basil (tulsi) should be had in moderation.
Dill seeds (Suwa):
Dill leaves are a source of iron, magnesium and calcium. Dill is believed to improve milk supply, ease digestion and wind, and improve sleep. Dill is a mild diuretic and should be consumed in moderation.
You can use dill seeds whole or ground in many foods such as pickles, salads, cheese spreads and curries. Dill tea (suwa ki chai) is a popular postnatal drink.
Vegetables from the gourd family like bottle gourd (lauki), apple gourd (tinda)) and sponge gourd (tori) are traditionally believed to improve milk supply. Not only are these vegetables low in calories and nutritious, they are also easy to digest.
Pulses or lentils (Dals):
Pulses, especially red lentils or masoor dal are not only believed to improve milk supply but are also a source of protein, and are high in iron and fibre.
Nuts and dried fruits (Meva):
Almonds (badaam) and cashews (kaju) are believed to boost breastmilk production. They are high in calories, vitamins and minerals, providing energy and nutrients. They make an excellent snack and are easily available.
You could blend them with milk to make delicious badaam milk or kaju milk. Dried fruits and nuts are used to make traditional foods such as panjiri, laddoos and halwa for breastfeeding mums.
Oats and porridge (Daliya):
Oats are a great source of iron, calcium, fibre and B vitamins, and are popular with nursing mums. Oats are also traditionally believed to ease anxiety and depression.