Step away from the cookie jar: no scientific evidence cookies work for lactation

Do lactation cookies actually work?
Do lactation cookies actually work? Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Breastfeeding can be incredibly stressful, especially if you're suddenly faced with a dwindling supply. So, if you've found yourself googling recipes for lactation cookies then you're not alone. Lactation cookies are big business, with many women turning them into impressive maternity leave side hustles.

But while some mums swear by their milk-producing magic, is there actually any scientific evidence to suggest that lactation cookies work? The short answer is no, probably not - but they're unlikely to do any harm, either.

Let's take a look at why.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Lactation cookies come under the umbrella of galactogogues - foods, herbs or medicines used to increase milk supply. 

A study, published in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine notes, "Because perceived or actual low milk supply is one of the most common reasons given for discontinuing breastfeeding, both mothers and health professionals have sought medication(s), in addition to other non-pharmacological interventions, to address this concern."

The research looked at different galactogogues to examine just how effective they are. And while the results showed that medications such as Domperidone (sold under the brand name Motilium) do work, the same can't be said for other commonly used options.

"In non-Western cultures, post-partum women are assisted in a number of ways that are intended to ease their transition to motherhood and to optimise breastfeeding," the authors note, explaining that there are many traditional foods and herbs for women, "that are meant to increase the mother's strength and enhance lactation."

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Some of these include fenugreek, goat's rue, milk thistle  oats, dandelion, millet, seaweed, anise, basil, blessed thistle, fennel seeds, marshmallow, moringa leaf, shatavari, and torbangun. And while the researchers highlight that many have been used for centuries without harm, "there is also little or no scientific evidence for their effectiveness or safety."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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So why do some women swear lactation cookies work? Most likely, it comes down to the placebo effect

The Australian Breastfeeding Association notes that anyone considering using a galactogogue should consult a lactation consultant and/or medical professional.  They, too, cite the limited evidence and lack of formal studies -  whether it's cookies, oatmeal or dark beer.

 "Galactagogues only work when breastmilk is being removed frequently and effectively from a mother's breasts," the ABA notes. "When all factors contributing to a low supply have been identified and addressed, then galactagogues may help to speed up the process. And while the ABA acknowledge that there are many substances that have been used by mothers for centuries that are claimed to help them make more breastmilk, "there is limited scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness". 

Dr Marjorie Atchan, Assistant Professor in Midwifery, lactation consultant and spokesperson for the Australian College of Midwives agrees that snacking on a lactation cookie won't do any harm, but notes that there are other ways to assist milk supply. 

"Midwives and lactation consultants always recommend women eat a wide variety of nutritious foods, drink plenty of water and have regular periods of rest while breastfeeding," she says. "Having good energy levels and being well hydrated will help lactation. Lactation cookies certainly won't do any harm if they are made with whole foods and not full of sugar.

"The increase in vitamin B intake will help with energy and mood."