By Dr Seema Khanna
Breast milk is produced by the breasts or mammary glands to feed a child. Milk is the primary source of nutrition for newborns before they are able to eat and digest other foods. Women produce breast milk under the influence of hormones prolactin and oxytocin.
When the baby sucks at a mother’s breast, hormones that trigger the breast to produce milk are released. That’s the let down reflex, when muscles in the breast contract and move the milk through ducts, which happens shortly after your baby begins breastfeeding. The more you breastfeed, the more milk your breasts make. Breastfeeding your baby 8 to 12 times a day can help establish and maintain milk production.
What affects breast milk production?
If your newborn isn’t getting sufficient nutrition, it’s more likely because she is not latching onto your breast correctly because, maybe, your breasts are not producing enough milk. There are some factors that can cause your breast milk production to decrease:
- Ideally, breastfeeding should be started about an hour or so after giving birth, but in some cases, this may not be possible. However, waiting too long to start breastfeeding may affect the production of milk.
- Using certain medications, such as those containing dopamine, ergotamine and pyridoxine.
- Your baby not latching on correctly and therefore not prompting the production of milk.
- Having had breast surgery.
- If your baby was born prematurely.
How to increase breast milk production
- Since the old days in India, there is a common practice of consuming cumin seeds (jeera) panjiri with dry fruits and jaggery instead of sugar, which is given to a new mother after five to six days of delivery. Cumin seeds enhance milk production.
- Milk should be regularly consumed during the period of pregnancy and after delivery too for at least 3-4 months. Moreover, garlic should be consumed by mothers who face a lot of challenges in the flow of milk. One crushed garlic clove is to be consumed every morning with water. If gastritis persists, then it should be consumed on alternate days; some foods filled with good quality protein like almonds should be consumed after 15-20 minutes of having garlic.
- Oats and other whole grains are lactogenic and a good source of beta glucan (a polysaccharide) that has been shown to increase prolactin levels in humans. These can be mixed with flours and added to soups.
- Roasted sesame and fennel seeds and can be consumed raw or added to any vegetable or salads.
- Taking good care of yourself can also impact your breast milk supply and might potentially increase breast milk production. Try keeping healthy snacks and bottles of water by your side.
Every food contains specific nutrients. Increased consumption of certain foods like oats, barley and papaya will be helpful in overcoming the problem of low breast milk production.
(The writer is a Consultant Nutritionist.)