If you’re a mom to be or already a breastfeeding mother, I can almost guarantee you that you’ve heard all about lactation cookies. Whether it’s by doing a Google search on how to increase your milk supply when you fear that you may have a low milk supply or hearing about it from someone else. You’ve probably had the question of how lactation cookies work, what the best lactation cookies are and whether it does in fact work to boost milk supply.
What are lactation cookies?
Lactation cookies are cookies with specific ingredients that are believed to boost milk production and increase the milk supply, also known as galactagogues.
Lactation cookies are usually made with natural ingredients including coconut oil, flax seeds or ground flaxseed, chocolate chips, brewer’s yeast, oat flour instead of white flour, whole oats, brown sugar instead of white sugar and other nutritious ingredients. It differs from regular cookies in the sense of it being a healthier option for new moms.
What are galactagogues?
The word galactagogue comes from the Greek word “galacta”, which means milk. Galactagogues come in two different forms, synthetic galactagogues and natural galactagogues.
Synthetic galactagogues are medicinal and include medications such as Domperidone, Metoclopramide and Metformin.
Synthetic galactagogues are used as off-label galactagogues. Each medication comes with its own risks and side effects and should only be used as a last resort while working with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and a highly knowledgeable healthcare professional.
Natural galactagogues include herbs and food. It includes herbs and foods such as Fennel, Fenugreek, Malunggay (Moringa), Garlic, Goat’s Rue and Milk Thistle There are many herbs and foods that are considered natural galactagogues. But it should be noted that just because it’s natural, does not mean it comes without its own risks and side effects.
Caution should be taken when using natural galactagogues. It should only be used as a last resort for true low milk supply after trying other methods to increase a low milk supply. It should also only be done while working with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
What makes lactation cookies so popular?
Lactation cookies are made with different ingredients which are considered natural galactagogues.
It’s popular partly because it can potentially help to increase some mothers’ milk supply. It could be due to the additional calories or even due to a placebo effect. The biggest reason lactation cookies have become so important is all due to marketing, companies making money off of vulnerable mothers.
How do lactation cookies work?
Lactation cookies consist of different natural galactagogue ingredients. Some of these ingredients may increase the breastmilk supply in some mothers for a variety of reasons.
The most common ingredients:
- Brewer’s yeast
- Pumkin seeds
There are many different ingredients and variations when it comes to lactation cookies. Let’s have a look at each of the most popular ingredients, why it may potentially work and what the potential risks of using them are.
Raw nuts such as cashews, walnuts, and macadamia nuts, are all packed with antioxidants and healthy fats.
Raw nuts may help to increase the milk supply by adding healthy nutritional value and more calories into your daily diet.
Oats are packed with so much nutritional value. It provides protein, fats, carbohydrates and fiber. It also provides many minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and thiamine.
Oats may help some breastfeeding mothers with their milk supply because of all the nutritional value and additional calories that they may have lacked before.
Brewer’s yeast is packed full of vitamins and minerals, including selenium, chromium, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and lots of b vitamins: thiamine (B-1), riboflavin, (B-2), niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6), biotin (B-7) and folic acid (B-9).
Just like with nuts and oats, brewer’s yeast may help some breastfeeding mothers with their milk supply because of all the nutritional value and additional calories that they may have lacked before.
The risk of taking brewer’s yeast:
Brewer’s yeast contains a chemical called tyramine. Large amounts of tyramine can cause high blood pressure when it interacts with MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A) inhibitor antidepressants) this can cause a hypertensive crisis.
Fennel’s reputation for increasing the milk supply is believed to be related to its natural estrogen-like properties. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds contain the volatile oil composed largely of anethole, which is a phytoestrogen, Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds derived from plants.
There isn’t any relevant research that proves it to be true.
The risks of using fennel:
One study found that the excessive maternal use of herbal teas containing fennel, anise and other herbs appeared to cause toxicity in 2 breastfed newborns that was consistent with toxicity caused by anethole, which is found in fennel and anise.
Fennel can also cause allergic reactions after oral or topical use affecting the respiratory system or skin, including photosensitivity.
Diarrhea and hepatomegaly occurred in a woman taking fennel, fenugreek, and goat’s rue as galactagogues.
Elevated liver enzymes occurred in another woman taking Mother’s Milk Tea, which contains fennel.
Mothers should avoid fennel if they or their infants are allergic to carrots, celery, or other plants in the Apiaceae family because of the possibility of cross-allergenicity.
Pumpkin seeds are a source of healthy fats, magnesium, and other nutrients. They’re also rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants such as selenium and beta carotene. They’re also a high source of iron.
Pumpkin seeds may help some breastfeeding mothers with their milk supply because of all the nutritional value and additional calories that they may have lacked before.
The risks of taking pumpkin seeds:
Pumpkin seeds have mild diuretic powers and could interfere with diuretic drugs.
Pumpkin seeds may lower the blood sugar levels.
It’s recommended that breastfeeding mothers and infants with hypoglycemia and hypotension should avoid eating pumpkin seeds.
Fenugreek is by far the most popular natural galactagogue out there and also tends to be one of the key ingredients in lactation cookies. There are a few studies done on fenugreek as a natural galactagogue. Some studies have found it to be effective while other studies have found no difference in milk supply at all.
The galactagogue effect of fenugreek may be primarily psychological in humans; however, animal studies indicate that fenugreek might work primarily by increasing insulin and oxytocin secretion.
The risks of taking fenugreek:
Liver toxicity has been reported with the use of fenugreek, both taken alone and in herbal combinations that included fenugreek.
Diarrhea and hepatomegaly occurred in a woman taking fennel, fenugreek, and goat’s rue as galactagogues.
Another mother reported increased heart rate and breast congestion.
Allergic reactions, exacerbation of asthma, and a 14% decrease in serum potassium have been reported with the use of fenugreek.
One nursing mother developed toxic epidermal necrolysis thought to be caused by her intake of fenugreek as a galactagogue.
Cross-reaction with chickpeas, peanuts, and other legumes is possible.
Fenugreek may cause lowering of cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
It can also interact with warfarin to cause bleeding.
Caution should be used in giving high dosages to women with diabetes mellitus or those taking warfarin.
Flaxseed or flaxseed meal
Flaxseeds contains phytoestrogens, meaning they have estrogenic like properties that are believed to help increase breast milk production.
Flaxseeds provide fats, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, vitamin c, calcium, iron, vitamin d, vitamin b6 and magnesium.
It’s clear that it’s high in nutritional value and calories, which can explain the possibility of an increase in the milk supply in some mothers.
The risks of taking flaxseed or flaxseed meal:
Taking flaxseed might decrease absorption of oral drugs.
Flaxseeds and oils may possibly reduce blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding.
It can lower blood pressure and shouldn’t be used with blood pressure medication as it can then lower the blood pressure too much.
Flaxseed might lower blood sugar levels. Taking flaxseed with diabetes drugs or herbs or supplements with hypoglycemic potential might lower blood sugar too much.
Flaxseed might have an anti-estrogen effect. Taking flaxseed might decrease the effects of oral contraceptive drugs and estrogen replacement therapy.
What does the research say?
A recent study found no evidence of lactation cookies being an effective way to treat low milk supply. Thre was no significant difference in the milk supply between the two groups of mothers from the study the one group of mothers eating regular cookies and the other group of mothers eating lactation cookies.
Just like with other galactagogues, there are no real scientific evidence to prove its efficiency. It’s widely believed to have a placebo effect on mothers. It’s usually recommended that mothers consume many of these cookies on a daily basis which means it will help with the daily requirements of calories to maintain a good milk supply.
The general consensus
The general consensus is that lactation cookies are not some magical cookies that will give you more milk just like that. It’s an expensive predatory product that prays and benefits off mothers’ insecurities and difficulties.
Breastfeeding mothers need additional daily calories as breastfeeding burns calories. If enough calories are not being consumed, the milk supply may reduce in quantity. Lactation cookies may work for some breastfeeding mothers if they were lacking essential nutrients and calories in the first place.
Although lactation cookies can give you a nutritional boost and be a quick snack and a healthy choice for those extra calories, those same nutrients and calories can be found in many other foods and snacks. The financial burden of having to buy lactation cookies should not be placed on breastfeeding families. Especially since many of the ingredients may also have risks and side effects related to its use.
There is no conclusive evidence on the efficiency of lactation cookies and there is very limited scientific evidence on the efficiency and safety of galactagogues. Therefore, lactation cookies cannot be medically recommended.
There’s no need to waste your time money on lactation cookies, most healthy snacks will be just as good. Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Ensure that your diet has adequate nutrients and calories needed for a breastfeeding mother and drink enough fluids to keep up your hydration levels.
The best way to naturally boost your milk supply is by doing lots of skin-to-skin care, responsively breastfeeding or frequently pumping and getting the support from a healthcare professional when it’s needed.
If you’re ever worried about your milk supply or whether you have enough milk, it’s best to contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable and experienced in working with breastfeeding mothers and their babies. They can help assess you, your baby and breastfeeding and help with referrals and treatments when necessary.