In many cultures around the world, the first weeks to months postpartum are a time for the mother to be cared for by other family or community members while she focuses on caring for her baby and recovering from giving birth. Most often, the focus is on lactogenic foods and herbs that contribute to making more milk, boosting overall milk supply and increasing the nutrition of the parent’s milk. Lactogenic ingredients are made into tonics, soups, stews, gruels and broths for the new parent to eat and drink often as their primary source of nutrition.
Did you know there are also foods and herbs that do the opposite? Anti-lactogenic foods lower milk supply. An anti-galactagogue prevents or decreases the secretion of milk of a nursing parent. There may be times when eating or drinking an anti-galactagogue is helpful, but if you are concerned about your supply or notice an unwanted dip in your supply, avoiding foods and drinks known to be anti-lactogenic can make a big difference.
Anti-galactagogue Foods & Herbs
- Sage - Drinking sage tea or using sage tincture is very effective for drying up milk supply. Some babies are more agitated when their parent has had sage while others do not seem bothered by it at all.(1)
- Peppermint & spearmint - the amount of menthol is much greater in peppermint compared to spearmint and each may have a different effect on milk supply. Menthol has been shown to help reduce the pain of cracked nipples when it is applied topically (2). Diffusing peppermint oil should be avoided with young babies and children because it can be irritating to the lungs.
- Lemon balm - This relaxing herb is part of the peppermint family. It is great at calming and relaxing, but may reduce milk supply.
- Parsley & cilantro -These bright green herbs are packed with vitamins and minerals and can be eaten in small amounts for a nutritional boost if you do not notice a dip in your supply. Drinking parsley juice can dramatically and quickly reduce milk supply so avoid adding it to your green drinks in large amounts.
- Fenugreek - although it is considered to increase milk, for some people it dramatically decreases milk supply. It can cause parents and babies to have an upset stomach and diarrhea. All of the Legendairy Milk products are Fenugreek free.
- Rosemary - Like some of the other herbs, rosemary is considered safe for breastfeeding with very low risk, but some people are sensitive to it. It may not be a problem for you if you eat a dish seasoned with rosemary at dinner, but if you have it for days at a time, you may notice it start to have a negative effect on your supply and need to eliminate it for now.(4)
- Jasmine - Using the oil massaged on the chest/breasts is used to decrease milk supply. Jasmine flowers have been shown to reduce prolactin levels.(3)
- Astringent foods - foods that are sour, making you pucker up your lips when you eat them or that contain a lot of Vitamin C which has citric acid can lower milk supply. Astringent foods can make tissue constrict and reduce circulation of blood to the chest leading to lower milk supply.
- Certain adaptogens - some herbs are adaptogenic meaning they can help your body adjust based on individual needs. It may raise or lower a hormone to bring the body back to balance. Vitex or Chasteberry is one example of an adaptogen that has been shown to be a very helpful herb to increase milk supply in small doses, but in larger doses reduces milk supply because of its influence on prolactin levels.
- Alcohol - drinking alcohol inhibits the milk ejection reflex or milk let-down.
- Sugar - too much sugar can cause an increase in insulin. When insulin is constantly being released from you eating sugar or too many carbs which turn into sugar in the body, it can increase the risk of becoming insulin resistant. Your cells do not respond by opening to let the glucose in and the excess sugar remains in your bloodstream increasing your blood glucose. High blood sugar levels or the rollercoaster of high and low blood sugars can cause low milk supply and lead to more serious thyroid issues and type 2 diabetes.(6)
- Caffeine - large amounts of coffee, black tea, green tea and chocolate may also make your baby more fussy and cry more often. Caffeine is a stimulant and can actually lead to you feeling more stress not less. Instead of using caffeine for an afternoon boost of energy, try some breathing exercises to get more oxygen flowing and feel refreshed.
When anti-galactagogues are helpful
- Engorgement - this can be uncomfortable and lead to plugged ducts and mastitis. Sometimes engorgement is caused by excess fluids that were given during labor and delivery. Cabbage leaves can help give relief. Effective milk removal and your baby having a deep latch are important to establish and maintain milk supply.
- Oversupply - Too much milk can cause excessive weight gain or low weight gain(5). Oversupply can cause your baby to be fussy while nursing. Compromised gut health can be a cause of oversupply.
- Sudden weaning - there are certain circumstances when a parent needs to wean quickly. Anti-galactagogues can help make the process more manageable and comfortable.
There are many factors that influence milk supply. We are complex beings and must consider the whole body including our gut health, hormone balance and how they affect our ability to make enough milk for our babies. The composition of a food or herb and how it interacts with our body helps us determine if it will help boost supply or reduce supply. Herbs, including the ones listed above do have many vitamins and minerals and can be beneficial to your health and milk supply in small amounts.
Everyone is different and what reduces milk supply for one person may not have the same effect on someone else. For most people, having a small amount of an anti-galactagogue herb or food will not disrupt your milk supply. If you struggle with low supply, you may find you are more sensitive to anti-galactagogues and need to avoid them altogether.