What Are ‘Lactation Cookies’ and Why Are They All Over Pinterest?
A nutritionist breaks down the ingredients in these treats meant to help breastfeeding moms boost their milk supply.
If you're having trouble breastfeeding, you are not alone. As many as 92% of first-time mothers encounter issues, according to a Pediatrics study. Along with pain and trouble getting the baby to latch, low milk supply is one of the most distressing concerns for new moms. But many women swear that a special cookie (of all things) can work wonders, and it is taking off on Pinterest.
So-called "lactation cookies" have been around for ages, but pins for recipes like Miracle Milk Cookies and Coconut Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies have grown by a whopping 41% in the last year. And the cookies often rank among Pinterest's top parenting searches.
Most of the recipes on the social network include four ingredients, each of which is touted for its milk-boosting properties: Oats, fenugreek, flaxseed meal, and Brewer's yeast. But can these cookies actually help with supply?
"When used in conjunction with other methods, such as hydrating and ensuring you're eating enough, absolutely," says Stephanie Middleberg, RD, founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York City. And even if you don't notice an increase your milk supply, the healthier recipes can't hurt: "Clean lactation cookies contain extremely nutritious ingredients for a nursing mother."
How do lactation cookies work?
Let's start with the ingredient you know best: Oats. They contain a high concentration of saponins, an immune-stimulating compound that may help increase levels of prolactin, a key hormone for milk production. Oats are also packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, says Middleberg, making them a healthy choice regardless of whether or not you're nurising.
Next up: Fenugreek. The seeds of this plant are rich in phytoestrogen, a compound that helps your body balance your estrogen levels, which in turn helps regulate prolactin levels for optimal milk production. Middleberg explains that fenugreek also enhances perspiration, which triggers your body's letdown reflex, to release milk.
Then there's flaxseed meal, which contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Not only are these healthy fats good for mom (they may protect against cardiovascular disease, for example), they also give her breast milk a nutritional boost: "While omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are necessary for everyone, these concentrations in a mother's milk are essential for a baby's developing immune system," says Middleberg. "They are also thought to help prevent allergies."
The fourth key cookie ingredient is Brewer's yeast. While there's no conclusive evidence that this yeast increases milk supply, it is chock-full of B vitamins and the trace minerals chromium and selenium. B vitamins may be particularly important for nursing moms since "they're involved in many of the body's processes," Middleberg explains.
What other foods should breastfeeding moms eat?
Middleberg recommends filling your plate with dark leafy greens, carrots, and sesame seeds, as well as foods that contain fiber and protein. "[The combo] helps the body recover and satisfies a ravenous appetite," she explains. And in addition to flaxseed, load up on other healthy fats like avocado, wild salmon, eggs, olive oil, nuts, and coconut oil. "Fat is really essential for many reasons," says Middleberg. "It's vital to baby's organ and brain development, and your own metabolism."
New moms may also want to get in on the bone broth trend, which involves simmering the bones of healthy animals with veggies, herbs, and spices. "Bone broth has been popping up everywhere, and for good reason," Middleberg says. "It's delicious and comforting and has become known as a bit of a cure-all, as it builds strong bones, boosts the immune system, improves digestion, and supports joints, hair, skin, and nails."
Last but definitely not least, make sure you drink plenty of water, urges Middleberg. After all, she points out, "breast milk is 70% water."