Breastfeeding has never been easy for me. My first two babies struggled to gain weight, so supplementing became a normal part of my breastfeeding routine. I tried a lot of methods for increasing my milk supply, such as taking fenugreek supplements and pumping frequently, but eventually I learned to accept that using old wives' tales to increase my milk supply wouldn't be the miracle cure I'd hoped it was. The reality was that I needed both breast milk and formula to feed my two daughters. When my third baby arrived, however, I really wanted to give exclusively breastfeeding another try. I felt more confident in my ability to breastfeed this time around, not only because I was more experienced, but also because I wouldn't be heading off to work at six-weeks postpartum and that was going to make breastfeeding him for the first year so much easier.
I know a strong start is a big part of breastfeeding success, so I wanted to start my first month of breastfeeding off strong. After we got home from the hospital and settled into a new routine, I consulted Google right away from the best old wives' tales for increasing milk supply. I found a lot of the typical advice I had heard many times before: eat a lot of oatmeal; drink a lot of water; breastfeed on demand. But I also stumbled onto some sage advice I'd never heard before about breastfeeding. I’ll admit, I wasn’t convinced that these suggestions would work, but I decided to give them a try.
Operation: Make More Milk
I chose from some of the most popular old wives’ tales for breastfeeding and decided to give them the old college try. I chose these nuggets of advice because they had the most reports of success both on the internet itself and for women in parenting groups with me. Not only did I find sources online who said they made more milk after drinking beer, eating Oreos, or upping their dairy intake, I actually had real-life friends who swore they did the trick. Since I am a work-from-home mom, I'm not pumping, so I decided the best way to measure my success was by keeping an eye on my baby’s weight. For a little over a week, I drank beer before bed, consumed extra dairy products, and ate Oreos in hopes of chunking my baby up.
Here’s what happened.
Old Wives' Tale #1: Drink Beer To Increase Your Milk Supply
The most common of the old wives' tales I ran into was the suggestion to drink beer at night in hopes of increasing breast-milk output. My mother-in-law told me that, after the birth of her first, she broke a fast from alcohol to start sipping on a beer each night at the advice of her pediatrician. Interestingly enough, there isn’t any research to back up this commonly used strategy for increasing milk production. In fact, alcohol may actually get in the way of letdown, according to Kelly Mom.
I decided to give it a try, drinking a single beer each night before bed for five days. All in all, I wasn’t impressed. Not only did I notice no increase in my supply, I felt I wasn’t as clear headed when I woke at night to feed my baby. Honestly, it wasn't just that it didn't work, the habit of drinking beer daily made a little uncomfortable. I am a very conservative person when it comes to alcohol intake, typically only drink one or two on special nights out. So even though a single beer probably isn't excessive, it felt out of the ordinary for me. And then there was the issue of mixing alcohol and breast milk. Even though experts insist a single drink isn't enough to warrant pumping and dumping, I couldn't help but wonder if even a small amount of alcohol on a daily basis might have a negative effect on my nursling.
I've watched breastfeeding mom after breastfeeding mom give the Oreo method a try, so I decided to give it my best shot, too.
Old Wives' Tale #2: Drink Milk To Make Milk
Grandmas everywhere still hold strongly to this old wives’ tale, even though it's largely held as a myth by the medical community, simply because they experts believe cow's milk is the best source of calcium for breastfeeding moms. The truth is, moms can obtain calcium from much healthier sources, such as vegetables, and needn't drink a lot of dairy to produce a healthy amount of milk. This time around, however, I decided to side with grandma and increase my dairy consumption for five days. I starting eating whole milk yogurt for breakfast and had a glass of milk at least once a day.
When my daughters were nursing, I remember the desperation and heartbreak I felt each time I thought I'd found the "perfect solution" for my low supply, only to realize it was just a myth.
But after three days, I cut back on my dairy intake. I noticed my baby was spitting up more frequently and showing symptoms of reflux that were waking him from sleep. I'm not sure that the increased diary I ate was to blame, but since nothing else had changed, it made sense to abandon this attempt to increase my milk supply. After I cut back, my baby did seem happier, spitting up a little less. Honestly, I was annoyed that my attempt to increase my milk supply had actually upset my baby's tummy and interrupted our sleep. Additionally, I didn’t notice any increased breast-milk output over the course of the three days I adopted this strategy, so I wasn't sad to see it go.
Old Wives' Tale #3: Oreos Increase Milk Supply
In a breastfeeding support group I've belonged to for four years, many members insist Oreos are the trick to making more milk. Some members insist it's a specific ingredient called soy lecithin (a food additive, according to Healthland.com) that does the trick, while skeptics think it's just the increased fat content that helps make more milk. I've watched breastfeeding mom after breastfeeding mom give the Oreo method a try, so I decided to give it my best shot, too. For five days, I ate three Oreos each day to see if it'd help me make more milk.
Fitting with the overall theme of my experiment, I didn’t notice any increase in my milk supply. When I chimed in on the group discussion about this old wives’ tale, one woman suggested I needed to be eating an entire sleeve of Oreos each night! She insisted that was the only way to consume enough of the "magic ingredient" present in the cookie. I suspect the only reason these women were making more milk was because they were eating an added amount of calories each day. But since I don’t think I can stomach an entire sleeve of Oreos each day, I stuck with three at a time and noticed no increase in my supply. I didn't really care that this experiment was a failure — I mean, I wasn't about to complain about having an good reason to eat a few Oreos each day. Still, if the added calories was the only reason Oreos are believed to increase milk supply, I knew there were much healthier ways to add fat to my diet.
Did It Work?
In the end, none of the old wives’ tales I tried out made any difference in increasing my milk supply. Normally, I think I would have been really upset by the results, but weight gain hasn't been nearly as difficult for my little one this time around. When my daughters were nursing, I remember the desperation and heartbreak I felt each time I thought I'd found the "perfect solution" for my low supply, only to realize it was just a myth. I'm grateful I wasn't relying on these methods alone to make sure my baby boy was getting the milk he needed.
But moving forward, I'll stick with the proven methods that actually help to increase my milk supply for breastfeeding: feeding my son frequently, eating a healthy, high calorie diet, and drinking plenty of water to maintain my supply. In the past, these basics have been the only things that have helped me to make more milk when I was struggling to keep up with my hungry baby, and I'm not about to give up on the methods I know worked. As for the Oreos, I'll keep those.