Updated: Dec 4, 2019
There's one ingredient you find in just about every lactation recipe: Oatmeal.
Every time a recipe has oatmeal, somehow it instantly (*pun intended*) turns into a lactation recipe. Just about every breastfeeding mom (and many lactation consultants) swear by it.
But, is it justified? Can eating oatmeal really increase one's milk supply?
Let's dive into Part 3 of the series Review of Natural Galactagogues and see if Oatmeal lives up to its bold claims!
1. Backgrond Information
Also available as: Steel Cut Oats, Rolled Oats, Quick Oats, Instant Oats
Botanical Name: Avena sativa (Oat)
(per 1/3 cup dry Instant Oatmeal)
Energy: 150 kcal
Protein 6.56 g
Fat 2.58 g
Carbohydrates 27.47 g
Fiber: 4.0 g
Iron 1.72 g (17% RDA*)
Magnesium 61 mg (20% RDA*)
Phosphorous 194 mg (28% RDA*)
Zinc 1.26 mg (11% RDA*)
Thiamine 0.299 mg (21% RDA*)
*recommended daily intake during lactation
2. Oatmeal is very nutritious
No doubt, oatmeal can be considered one of the most nutritious foods.
Just one third of a cup (dry) delivers a healthy portion of energy and carbohydrates, fiber as well as a little protein and fat to stabilize blood sugars and help with the absorption of some fat soluble vitamins.
As it's considered a whole grain, it is not just 'empty calories'. Each portion delivers important vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc and some B Vitamins.
Oatmeal also delivers 4 grams of fiber per 1/3 cup (dry) (breastfeeding moms should aim for about 28 grams of fiber per day), most notably a group of soluble fibers called beta-glucans, which are what turns your oatmeal a bit slimy as you heat it up in water or milk.
Beta-glucans have shown promising health benefits in some studies, including the ability to lower cholesterol levels (1), improve digestion, inhibit the growth of tumor cells in the colon (1, 2, 3) and, as a prebiotic, they promote a healthy gut microbiota (1).
3. Oatmeal is rich in Bioactive Phytonutrients
A lesser known fact is that oatmeal is also rich in some bioactive phytonutrients, most notably Avenanthramides.
These natural plant compounds have been investigated over the past years for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, and anti-itching activities (1, 2, 3). The latter is the reason oatmeal baths are sometimes recommended to soothe eczema.
Interestingly, Avenanthramides have also shown to increase nitric oxide (NO) production (1), which in turn increases blood flow to the cells. This helps increase the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to your organs, including your mammary glands (remember this when we get to Chapter 5!).
Bonus: As far as we know, phytonutrients such as Avenanthramides from Oatmeal transfer into breast milk (1), so all of these health benefits are available to your breastfed baby as well!
4. Breastfeeding Moms swear by it
There are anecdotal reports all across the internet from mothers who feel oatmeal boosted their milk supply. The testimonials range from "Can't hurt to try." to "It has tripled my milk supply!".
Most lactation consultants recommend oatmeal to breastfeeding moms because it's a safe, nutritious and comforting food which may boost ones milk supply.
Most lactation recipes include oatmeal as one of the main ingredients and the business of oatmeal lactation cookies is booming!
A mom's article on Romper went viral a few months ago, (I remember it being shared in several facebook groups I'm in!) claiming Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream flavor "Oat of this Swirled" may increase breast milk supply due to its oatmeal content.
Oatmeal Ice Cream to boost milk supply? Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Let's dive into the research!
5. Research on Milk Supply is lacking
Wow, this paragraph is going to be shorter than I had expected.
Basically, there is zero research on the effect of oatmeal on breast milk supply. Nada. Nil. Nothing. Look it up on pubmed: Not a single researcher has investigated the claim whether oatmeal can actually increase breast milk production (*hint, hint*).
That does not mean it's not effective. It just means we need somebody smart to take a look at it! (*I'm looking at you, Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell U*)
This is actually a perfect example that there truly is a lack of (and need for!) good research in the area of galactagogues, because it is truly the one topic I get the most questions about!
6. There may be an explanation for a Milk boosting effect after all
There isn't any scientific evidence directly linking oatmeal to an increase in breast milk production (yet). However, most mothers report a definite effect.
Granted, the placebo effect could be at work here.
However, I'm not settling for it in this case. There are just too many moms, too many testimonials, all claiming oatmeal helped to increase their milk supply.
Kellymom thinks this may be due to oatmeal's iron content. But I'm not convinced: There are certainly better sources of iron, and I haven't heard anybody say a juicy steak boosted their milk supply.
Another theory: Oatmeal is a 'comfort food' which helps mom relax and encourage a let-down. But I gotta' tell ya', as a mom of 2 small kids, I don't think a bowl of cereal is gonna make much of a difference in my 'comfort level' (a bowl of ice cream might?). So, I believe this theory is a bit far fetched also.
So, what's really going on?
Remember in Chapter 3, I talked about how avenanthramides in oatmeal increase nitric oxide (NO) production (1). NO, in turn, dilates blood vessels and helps to bring more nutrients and oxygen to the cells.
I would therefore theorize, avenanthramides from oatmeal increase NO production, which in turn increases blood flow to your breast tissue. Better oxygenation along with more available nutrients then leads to an increase in breast milk production!
To me, this makes a lot of sense as NO producing phytonutrients have also shown to boost exercise performance (1) by increasing the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles, and in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (1) by increasing blood flow to the penis.
Again, this is just my theory (for lack of actual available research), but I think this would explain why so many women see an increase in their milk production from oatmeal.
There are other foods which increase nitric oxide production: Dark chocolate, spinach, kale and beets are among the foods which release this beneficial gas in our body. Could these also increase milk supply? Would be interesting to find out!
There isn't any actual scientific evidence for a milk boosting effect; there is only anecdotal evidence for now. However, the anecdotal evidence is strong with oatmeal being one of the most recommended lactation boosters out there!
Oatmeal is a very nutrient dense food, and also comes with some bioactive nutrients which work to increase blood flow to your body's tissues. This could be a viable theory for a milk boosting effect!
On top of that, oatmeal is a safe and nutritious food which can be incorporated into many delicious lactation recipes. I'd say: go for it! It probably helps with milk supply, although we don't yet know why. If anything, it delivers important nutrients to you and your baby!
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