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Breastfeeding: What to do when Mom runs out of milk

by Naturopathes de La Boite à Grains 05 Jun 2024
Allaitement : Quoi Faire lorsque Maman Manque de Lait - La Boite à Grains

Breastfeeding - a natural and ancestral gesture that has accompanied human beings since ancient times. Although breastfeeding is natural and accessible, it's not always simple and easy. Some mothers encounter problems when breastfeeding, causing a great deal of stress and worry. Among these worries is the lack of milk. Which raises the question:

What should we do when mom runs out of milk?

Breastfeeding: Signs of low milk supply 

Lack of milk is a common problem for breastfeeding mothers. According to most breastfeeding studies, insufficient milk (or the perception of it) leads 35% to 44% of mothers to stop breastfeeding prematurely. 1

However, a mother can produce enough milk without her baby getting an optimal supply. Sleepy babies, poor latching on, incomplete feedings and strong ejection reflexes (FER) are all factors that can reduce the milk supply an infant obtains.

To correctly identify a lack of breast milk, simply pay attention to the following signs:

  • Baby has insufficient weight gain;
  • Baby is not swallowing enough during feedings (chin down and swallowing sound should accompany feeding);
  • Baby is irritable during and/or after feeds;
  • Mom's breasts do not empty after feeds;
  • Stools are abnormal (they should be mustard yellow);
  • Baby shows signs of dehydration, including lack of urine or dark urine, sunken fontanelle, irritability, lethargy and dry mouth. 2

To avoid stimulating an already adequate milk supply, it's best to consult a health professional specialized in lactation to identify the cause of the milk shortage. Otherwise, an overproduction of milk will cause engorgement and discomfort for the mother.

Breastfeeding: 3 plants to boost milk production

Women all over the world have practiced breastfeeding. Each culture has developed its own breastfeeding medicine to address the specific needs of lactation. Often turning to plants, most cultures have discovered remedies to stimulate the production of breast milk and thus satisfy the hunger of newborns.

Even today, so-called galactagogues - plants with the ability to stimulate and/or increase breast milk production - are recommended for women needing support for lactation. These include three allied plants.

Fenugreek (Trigonella Foenum-Graecum) Of all the galactagogue plants, fenugreek is probably the best known. Its action is not well understood by the scientific community, but there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to support fenugreek's galactagogue action. Many claim that fenugreek stimulates the production of breast milk, while improving its nutritional quality thanks to its rich supply of essential fatty acids. 3

Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus) Often used for digestive ailments, blessed thistle also has a galactagogue action. It stimulates prolactin, the maternal hormone that naturally increases milk production, and is generally used in conjunction with fenugreek. 4

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) A medicinal plant often used for its hepato-protective properties (protective for liver cells), milk thistle contains a mixture of active components called silymarin. It is silymarin that gives milk thistle its galactagogue activity. Standardized tablets are the best way to obtain the galactagogue benefits of milk thistle. 5,6

These galactagogues seem to be most effective when taken together. Their action is rapid, with benefits generally appearing within the first 24 hours. To make it easier to take these plants regularly and ensure their effectiveness, the Quebec company Leo Désiletsmaster herbalist, offers this botanical remedy in this Trio Breastfeeding Kit.

Breastfeeding : Protocol for better milk production

In addition to encouraging milk production Trio Allaitement kitkit, mom can follow these recommendations.  

  • Eat enough. A diet providing around 2,500 calories a day is recommended during breastfeeding. Avoid adopting a calorie-restricted diet in order to regain a slim waistline. Prolonged breastfeeding (6 months or more) and a healthy diet are excellent ways to regain your pre-pregnancy weight. 7
  • Avoid nutritional deficiencies. During breastfeeding, certain restrictive diets may require supplementation. This is particularly true of vegan (normally not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding) and vegetarian diets. A quality multivitamin designed for the lactation period will help to overcome any potential deficiencies. 7
  • Get some rest. Physical and psychological exhaustion can reduce breast milk production. It's vital that mothers get support from those around them to avoid excessive fatigue and exhaustion.
  • Address any underlying health problems Certain health problems can reduce breast milk production. These include thyroid disorders, diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and arterial health.
  • Beware of medication and natural health productsMedication and natural health products: While some pharmaceutical and natural health products can promote breast milk production, some will have the opposite effect. A mother taking medication (including the contraceptive pill) should inform her pharmacist if she is breast-feeding. Certain herbs should be avoided, including all forms of peppermint and parsley.


About the author

Naturopaths of La Boite à Grains

Team of licensed and certified naturopaths (ND) in Gatineau, Outaouais.

Original article written by Véronique Cousineau, Naturopath



  1. Gatti L. Maternal perceptions of insufficient milk supply in breastfeeding. Journal of Nursing Scholarship. 40:355-63. 2008
  2. Protocol to Manage Milk Intake. Revised by Jack Newman MD, FRCPC, IBCLC and Edith Kernerman, IBCLC, 2008, 2009©. Canadian Feeding Foundation.
  3. Mowrey DB. The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. New Canaan, CT: Keats. 1986
  4. Bazzano, Alessandra N et al. "A Review of Herbal and Pharmaceutical Galactagogues for Breast-Feeding." The Ochsner journal vol. 16,4 (2016)
  5. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Milk Thistle. Accessed October 7, 2019.
  6. Milk Thistle. Health Canada Kit. Leo Désilets, master herbalist. Accessed October 7, 2019.
  7. Maternal Diet. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Center for Disease Prevention. Accessed October 7, 2019.

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