When you’re a new mom and your breast milk isn’t coming in — which is super common, by the way — you’ll do just about anything to get your milk flowing. And sometimes, that’s as simple as eating a cookie. Lactation cookies have long been hailed as miracles for moms who need to give their milk supply a jolt, but the jury is still out there as to how much they can really help.
“Lactation cookies work by boosting the supply of milk production through the presence of milk enhancing ingredients called ‘galactagogues,’” explains Robert C. Hamilton, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA and author of 7 Secrets of the Newborn. “These substances include things like whole grains (specifically oats), dark green leafy vegetables, fennel, ginger, papaya, garlic, chickpeas, nuts (almonds) and seeds. How galactagogues work is not clear and there is no compelling scientific evidence that there is a substantial increase in milk production when these foods are consumed.”
However, many new moms swear by them. Shortly after Whitney Rowell gave birth to her first child, she struggled to feed her daughter. A friend baked a batch of lactation cookies and gave them to her with an encouraging note. For Rowell, it was a true gamechanger. “The first couple of days your milk doesn’t come in, so you might not have milk until after you leave the hospital,” she says. “I was crying every time I breastfed because it was such a struggle — all you want is to keep your baby alive and heathy, and I was determined to breastfeed. When I got these cookies, it was like an answered prayer.” Rowell realized she could make her own, so she took her favorite oatmeal cookie recipe and added brewer’s yeast and flaxseed.
Lactation cookies typically have ingredients such as brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, flaxseed meal and whole oats, Hamilton says. “The ingredients in lactation cookies vary with the recipe that is used,” he says. “There are several popular varieties on the market and, as one would imagine, the list of their individual ingredients are unique and different from each other.”
Rowell wanted other moms to experience the relief and support she did, so she posted the recipe on her blog. She jokes that her mother was her only reader, but the post ended up going viral, with the recipe covered in major media outlets. She realized there was a need for freshly baked lactation cookies, so she launched Miracle Milkookies in the summer of 2017, when she was pregnant with her second child. It has since expanded from a small business run from her Dallas home to shipping cookies across the country, including to pediatricians. “We aren’t FDA approved because we haven’t had a clinical trial, but only two out of 300 responders on Instagram said they didn’t help,” Rowell says.
To get the most out of lactation cookies and boost your supply, Rowell recommends eating two cookies per day: One after breakfast and one after lunch. “With the whole breastfeeding journey, there are some weeks you are making tons of milk and then others you have a dip — maybe you’re going back to work, have a stressful event, or you have a cold, and that’s when lactation cookies really help,” she says.
However, it’s important to remember that lactation cookies are still cookies, and eating too many is not the healthiest choice. Be sure to check the ingredients to ensure that the lactation cookies of your choice contains ingredients that will actually help your milk supply. Otherwise, the cookie might be more of a calorie trap than a milk booster. “By definition, cookies are sugary treats,” Hamilton says. “There is no way around this truth. That said, yes, there are ingredients that historically have been considered to improve mother’s milk production. Many of these galactagogic claims, however, have not been verified by scientific research.”
Ultimately, we can’t say for sure whether lactation cookies really help. “The amount of ‘active’ ingredients in lactation cookies is not that much,” Hamilton says. “To really have a bump in milk production, mothers must have a much greater quantity of galactagogues than lactation cookies provide.” But, Rowell has moms reach out to her all the time, sharing photos of their kids and showering her with gratitude. “It’s so cool to be able to connect with these moms,” she says. “Supporting moms has been the biggest blessing.” And if mothers believe they’re helping, then why not have a cookie?