Jessica D’Argenio Waller, MS, CNS, LDN, is a mom of two and a board-certified clinical nutritionist with a focus on women’s health.
If your baby’s feeding journey includes breastfeeding or chestfeeding, you’ve likely had a panic or three about keeping up your milk supply. Being solely responsible for producing your child’s every meal can be, well, draining, to say the least.
And whether you’re just trying to meet demand or stock up on extra milk for a return to work, plenty of parents turn to lactation cookies to help them boost their nutrients in an effort to increase their body’s milk production. A quick Google search yields several brands selling milk-boosting baked goods and thousands of recipes to make your own at home.
But do those oaty bites actually work, and are they really necessary? We spoke with Jadah Parks Chatterjee, Registered Nurse, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and Bobbie Medical Advisor, to get the low-down on lactation cookies.
Lactation Cookies: What are they and do they really work?
Lactation cookies are small cookies packed with vitamins and nutrients to help keep breastfeeding and chestfeeding parents nourished while their bodies work (overtime) to produce milk. Think more oats and flaxseed, less white sugar and chocolate (though, yes, also necessary at times). The cookies are also formulated to contain special compounds known as galactagogues.
Galactagogues are substances that increase milk production. They range from medications to herbs and even food ingredients, and have been used throughout history and across numerous cultures to stimulate breastmilk production and help breastfeeding parents produce more milk.
But lactation cookies aren’t just useful for making milk. When breastfeeding, you’ll need an extra 300 to 500 calories per day to produce milk. Lactation cookies offer your body the nutrient-dense calories it needs, plus essential vitamins and minerals which can be passed on to your baby.
Which lactation cookie ingredients actually work when breastfeeding?
A simple search can lead you down a deep rabbit hole of lactation cookie recipes, which can be overwhelming if you just want a quick fix.
And while there have yet to be any scientific studies on lactation cookies, there are several galactagogues, such as fenugreek, that have good evidence supporting their use. Just know that galactagogues can affect people in different ways (they might work for you, but not your best friend, for instance)—it’s about trial and error.
Ultimately, even if lactation cookies aren’t directly supporting your milk quantity, they can still improve your milk quality—thanks to the nutrients packed inside.
We asked Chatterjee about which ingredients to look for before breaking out your mixer.
- Oatmeal: “Oatmeal is a soluble fiber, packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants,” says Chatterjee. “It can increase the hormone prolactin, which supports increased milk volume and production.” It’s also a healthy, filling snack that can provide a soothing effect on the body, thanks to all the magnesium and B vitamins.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseed contains essential micronutrients such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and selenium, as well as phytoestrogens, a plant compound that can influence milk supply. “Flaxseed is also a great source of DHA and EPA, which is passed through human milk to your baby and supports growth, development and sustainment,” says Chatterjee.
- Fenugreek: Fenugreek is an aromatic spice that has been found to increase milk supply in some lactating parents, but not all. It has a mild galactagogue effect that’s a result of the herb working to increase sweat gland production—and because mammary glands are similar in structure, it can increase their production as well. Though be forewarned: because fenugreek is an aromatic spice, you may start to develop a mild, sweet maple syrup smell.
- Brewer’s Yeast: While not a true galactagogue, brewer’s yeast is a stellar source of B vitamins, which are key players in energy production—and highly necessary for nursing parents.
Which ingredients should you avoid while nursing?
There aren’t many foods to avoid while nursing unless your baby develops a sensitivity to something in your diet. Even eating parsley and sage and sipping peppermint tea here and there will not have a drastic effect on your milk supply (regardless of what that internet forum said!).
Stress is the number one offender in terms of decreasing your milk supply. It’s a vicious cycle: In the early weeks when you’re attempting to establish a supply, suffering from lack of sleep and adjusting to life with a new baby, this new stress can cause your cortisol levels to rise, negatively impacting your supply, and making feeding somewhat frustrating.
Tips to support milk production while breastfeeding
To avoid stress as much as possible and make sure you’re a milk-making machine, keep these tips in mind:
- Study up on breastfeeding knowledge: Chatterjee says that knowledge of infant feeding is the best support you can seek when you begin your breast/chest feeding journey. Work with a certified lactation consultant or consult references such as The Nursing Mother’s Companion.
- Have an infant feeding plan: It’s also helpful for the lactating parent and family to have a written feeding plan and identify support for infant feeding, ideally before the baby is born. “A written plan highlights what your feeding goals are, and this can be shared with your provider, birth, and postpartum care team,” says Chatterjee.
- Get as much sleep as possible: “Having a new member of the family whose sleep pattern isn’t clear can be exhausting,” says Chatterjee. “When you sleep, your body gets a break. Cortisol levels decrease and allow space for prolactin and oxytocin (milk-producing hormones) to increase in volume.”
- Work in gentle movement: Staying active through light exercise (walking, yoga) can help your milk supply by alleviating stress and decreasing cortisol so that prolactin and oxytocin can be released, which are essential for maintaining your supply.
- Keep up with snacks: Don’t forget that breastfeeding requires more calories than in the last trimester of pregnancy. “It’s a good idea to have many small snacks throughout the day,” says Chatterjee. Try protein- and fat-rich foods, like yogurt, nuts and nut butter, avocado, as well as complex carbs like brown rice cakes or whole grain crackers.
- Focus on hydration: Chatterjee recommends lactating parents drink half their body weight in ounces of water a day. “Fill up a large container of water at the beginning of your day. When you move to your nursing chair, be sure to bring it with you and sip water throughout the feeding.”
- Work with a consultant: Having a few sessions with a certified lactation consultant can help you feel more confident and empowered about your decision to breastfeed/chestfeed. They’ll be able to assess your latch and determine your supply quantity and offer more tips to encourage good feeding habits.
Consider combo feeding while breastfeeding
Combination feeding is a style of feeding your baby both human milk and baby formula. Many parents choose this option so that they can feel less stressed about their own milk supply and still ensure their babies are well fed.
Combination feeding can be a great solution for your family: Speak to your child’s pediatrician and your lactation consultant about how to introduce formula to your baby along with human milk to ensure it’s a successful transition.
The takeaway when it comes to lactation cookies
Lactation cookies are a smart way to keep your body nourished and encourage your milk supply naturally. In addition to keeping up with nutrient-dense snacks, you’ll also want to make sure you’re getting enough water and sleep and remaining as stress-free as possible to keep up your production.
We know that’s sometimes easier said than done, especially with an infant. If you’re struggling, reach out for support. You’ve got options: A lactation consultant can be a wonderful resource for questions and suggestions, and supplementing with formula also can help take some of the pressure off.
Verified by Jadah Parks Chatterjee, BS, RN, IBCLC, Nurse, Lactation Consultant and Bobbie Medical Advisor.