#tbt One from the Archive: Top 10 Lactogenic Foods for Breastfeeding Mums: Barley

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(First published on The Contented Calf website on 23rd October 2014.)

Robinson's Lemon Barley WaterAs a child of the 70s & 80s, say the word Barley and I think ‘Water’ (Mallet’s Mallet style) – the image that pops into my head is that of Robinson’s Barley Water. And perhaps summer. And tennis. The other thing that comes to mind, as someone whose mum is a coeliac, is “wheat, rye, barley, oats”, as her major glutinous no-no list.

However, until recently, I would not have thought ‘breastfeeding’ or ‘lactogenic food’. Yet it is one of the Top Ten lactogenic foods that can help with a breastfeeding mother’s milk supply.

So why is Barley a lactogenic food that helps breastfeeding mums? Let's learn a bit more...


Barley definition

Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) is a member of the grass family. It was one of the first cultivated grains, widely by peasants in Medieval Europe and is now grown globally[1]. Barley has a rich nut-like flavour and a chewy, pasta-like consistency. Its appearance resembles wheat berries, although is slightly lighter in colour[2].

The history of barley as a lactogenic food

Mother Food by Hilary JacobsonHilary Jacobson tells us in her book Mother Food that many of the lactogenic foods and herbs that are used today are recorded in a book called “The Material of Medicine”, written over 2,000 years ago by a Greek military doctor called Dioscorides. He includes six medicinals for increasing milk (and thirteen for let down). And one of those lactogenic foods for increasing breastmilk supply is Barley-water. (Nursing mothers a new market for Robinson’s?)


So why is it such a great lactogenic food?

1. Tryptophan

Barley is considered a lactogenic food because contains Tryptophan. Tryptophan serves as a precursor for Serotonin (our feel good neurotransmitter), and Serotonin supports the chemistry of lactation - it counter-acts Dopamine, which suppresses Prolactin (needed for milk production).

So anything that keeps Dopamine levels low, in turn keeps Prolactin levels high; thus making them lactogenic and helping to combat low milk supply.

High tryptophan = high seratonin = high prolactin = increased breastmilk suppply[3]

2. Polysaccharides

Barley also contains the Polysaccharide beta-glucan, again making it a lactogenic food. Polysaccharides are natural forms of long-chain sugar, which have healing or immune stimulating effects on the body.

Foods containing polysaccharides, specifically beta glucan, are able to stimulate prolactin secretion and so raise prolactin levels in the blood. (Lactation studies on rats and cattle showed beta glucan measurably raised prolactin levels in the blood and increased milk production[4].)


What else is great about this top ten lactogenic food?

1. High in fibre

It’s the highest in fibre of all the whole grains, averaging around 17% fibre, with some varieties being as high as 30%! (For comparison, brown rice contains 3.5% fiber, corn about 7%, oats 10% and wheat about 12%.) Plus, although most grains’ fibre is found in the outer layer, the fibre for barley is found throughout the whole grain[5]. Its fibre also provides food for ‘friendly’ bacteria in the large instestine[6].

2. Brilliant beta-glucans

On top of helping nursing mummies with their milk supplies, beta-glucans seem super-charged in their health benefits. They can help control blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and improve the immune system. Plus new research even indicates that beta-glucans may be radioprotective: they may help our bodies stand up better to chemotherapy, radiation therapy and nuclear emergencies[7]. How amazing are they?

3. And if that wasn’t enough...

Barley is also a good source of niacin, a B vitamin that protects against cardiovascular risk factors[8].

Vegetable & Barley Soup from The Contented Calf Cookbook for Breastfeeding Mums

To get your fix of this fantastic lactogenic food The Contented Calf Cookbook includes, amongst others, the following recipes containing barley:

  1. Nutty Granola with Mixed Seed
  2. Chicken & Barley Soup (pictured above)
  3. Vegetable Barley Soup
  4. Apricot & Ginger Flapjacks

Top Lactogenic Foods for Breastfeeding Mums


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As ever, with love from our family to yours,

Elena x

Elena Cimelli Signature


references & further reading

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barley

[2] http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=127

[3] Mother Food: A Breastfeeding Diet Guide with Lactogenic Foods and Herbs for a Mom & Baby’s Best Health (Rosalind Press – 2007).

[4] Mother Food: A Breastfeeding Diet Guide with Lactogenic Foods and Herbs for a Mom & Baby’s Best Health (Rosalind Press – 2007).

[5] http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/barley-february-grain-of-the-month

[6] http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=127

[7] http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/barley-february-grain-of-the-monthp

[8] http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=127

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