Not having enough milk for your baby is a top concern of many breastfeeding parents. Because of this, there is a whole market for galactagogues, or lactogenic foods, that claim to help boost milk supply. Do they really work?
Until recently, most of our evidence was anecdotal, based on claims people were making with very little science to support it. At best, there were some theories on how these foods *may* work. At worst, claims were completely unsubstantiated.
In March of 2023, a study was released trying to determine the effectiveness of lactation cookies on human milk production (1). It was a randomized controlled trial, which is the gold standard for conducting research. While no study is perfect and no one study should be used to make broad claims, this one did try to answer a question many have been asking on whether these lactation cookies really do help.
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The lactation cookies in this study didn’t seem to help milk supply that much.
“Recommendations to consume [lactation cookies] for increasing objective or subjective milk supply may deliver false hope and unnecessary financial costs at a vulnerable time.”Palacios et al.
The study used commercially available lactation cookies that contained oatmeal, yeast, fenugreek, and flaxseed meal. These are all common galactagogues found in lactogenic foods.
They used exclusively lactating parents in the US (you can see their specific inclusion and exclusion criteria here). Researchers broke participants into 2 groups. Both the participants and the researchers were blind to which group each participant was put into. This is important, because knowing you are receiving a treatment can affect the treatment.
One group was given the lactation cookie. The control group was given a different cookie which was similar in calorie content and presentation, but did not have the galactagogues.
Participants’ milk production rate was calculated at the beginning of the study along with some subjective measurements such as their perceived adequacy of milk production. They were instructed to eat 1 bag of cookies everyday for 30 days. After this, they completed another subjective survey as well as measurement of their milk production rate.
They found no statistically significant difference between groups for any of the outcomes they measured. This includes the more objective measurement of breast milk production rate as well as the more subjective measurements of perceived milk supply and breastfeeding self-efficacy.
Researchers note that there was some missing data and some participants did not make it all the way through the study. This is common in many studies. This study was fully remote due to COVID. There was a large time commitment which is difficult for parents with young babies. These factors could affect participation.
They noted that because milk collection was completed at home, there could be differences in protocol. Also, some parents may not have eaten the cookies as instructed.
Researchers note that the cookies used in this study were not effective and they acknowledge that cookies made with other products may be more effective.
The best way to increase milk production is to increase demand. Whether this is more time spent at the breast or more pumping sessions, increasing demand will likely have a bigger impact than lactogenic foods. That being said, if it is not financially prohibitive, cookies likely will not harm your breastfeeding journey either.
Having a bowl of oatmeal in the morning may be a more cost-effective way to include lactogenic foods in your diet. If you are truly concerned about your milk supply, it is always better to address the root cause. Have you been able to keep up pumping while returning to work or through the holiday rush? Is there a problem with a shallow latch? Working with a lactation consultant can help figure out the problem.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.