How much of a role does nutrition really play when it comes to how much breast milk your body creates? Here's the scoop, plus my experience testing out lactation bites postpartum.

By Cassie Shortsleeve
October 17, 2019
Courtesy of Majka

Even if you know it's coming, when your body starts creating milk after having a baby, it can be surprising and strange. And breastfeeding can be both physically and emotionally demanding, dehydrating, and (at least at first) quite confusing. Even more? Many women worry about low milk supply or wonder how on earth they'll be able to feed their baby from their milk alone for months on end.

After having my first baby this past June, all of these thoughts hit me hard. So when I came across Majka—a company that sells lactation bites and powders—I was intrigued. A quick Google search reveals plenty of companies (Mrs. Patel'sSeedlyfe) that sell lactation goodies as well as tons of promise-to-boost-your-milk-supply recipes that you can whip up at home.

So I thought: Why not try some bites? And over my maternity leave this summer, most mornings, I would wake up with a lactation bite.

What exactly are lactation cookies?

On top of aiming to boost milk supply (some research finds that about 12 percent of moms struggle with 'disrupted' lactation), lactation cookies or supplements are said to nourish the postpartum body. That's a biggie considering that making breast milk typically requires between 300 to 500 calories per day, says Kirby Walter, R.D., a board-certified lactation consultant and owner of Nourish Nutrition and Lactation.

Typically, lactation cookies are high in whole grain carbohydrates (which can make you feel relaxed and help with let-down), have a natural sugar component (read: an immediate energy boost), and contain healthy fats, explains Walter. "The ingredients are essentially 'superfoods' which help ensure mom is well-nourished so her body has the capacity, energy, and nutrient stores to produce breast milk."

Lactation bites and cookies also often boast ingredients called galactagogues—foods or herbs that can potentially increase breast milk production—such as oats (a nutritious substitute for white flour and said to boost milk supply), flax seeds (healthy fats, among other nutrients, which transfer into breast milk), and brewer's yeast (which has B vitamins, which many swear increases supply), explains Marina Lane, R.D., a certified lactation counselor and founder of The Lactation Nutritionist.

Some also contain herbs and spices, such as fenugreek, goat's rue, ginger, or Shatavari, she says.

Do lactation cookies work?

Well, first things first: Lactation bites are in no way necessary to maintaining milk supply. "Our bodies post-baby can make breast milk, no matter our nutrition," says Lane, who explains that a change in hormones after delivery and the stimulus from baby's latch (or a breast pump) enable our bodies to produce milk.

Of course, nutrition does play a role. "It affects the composition of our breast milk. Most vitamins, some minerals, the brain-boosting fatty acids, and many beneficial phytonutrients such as antioxidants increase in our breast milk when we include them in our diets," says Lane.

But bites likely aren't an elixir. Take the herb fenugreek: Walter notes that it's been shown to have an effect at no less than 3,500 mg per day (which would be almost impossible to consume via lactation bites) but that it has also alternatively been shown to reduce supply. (So, it's always important to talk to your doctor before supplementing.)

There's also only limited research to show that galactagogues are actually effective at increasing milk supply, but there are many anecdotal reports of it, says Walter. "Many of the herbs have been used for thousands of years to increase milk supply." Plus, even the American Pregnancy Association notes that herbs and foods like fenugreek, goat's rue, oatmeal, and more are supposed to help with milk supply.

Should you try them?

My feelings about the bites? Well, for one, breastfeeding was leaving me starving and the bites tasted good, were fairly filling, and I looked forward to eating them. If they helped with milk supply (Majka's products have ingredients like rolled oats, fenugreek, almonds, and more), great. But if they didn't? I truly enjoyed them.

After using the bites for a few days, I did feel like I was producing more milk, though, admittedly, it's hard to know whether that's because I was simply getting more calories or because of some magic blend of ingredients.

It's also important to note that I never personally struggled with my milk supply. I feel lucky in that my daughter latched on right away and when my milk came in, I found that it stabilized fairly quickly. I never worried that I wasn't making enough. That said, some days when I pumped—especially stressful days or days that I knew I just wasn't eating enough—it did seem as though I could never get more than a few ounces out. (Lane says that the amount of breast milk we produce can suffer if we cut calories too much.)

If you are struggling with your supply, experts say that on top of regular feedings and latch, it's important to make sure you're simply eating enough (if you're consistently eating less than 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day, that could hinder your supply), taking in enough protein (eggs, nuts, and fish!), and staying hydrated.

But as long as the ingredients in lactation goodies are safe and beneficial for mom and baby, Lane says lactation cookies and bites can be a great addition to a breastfeeding mom's diet. As for me? I don't know if lactation bites truly have an effect on my supply (though anecdotally, I do notice a difference), but as of now, I plan to keep them in my morning routine. After all, I need extra calories, I'm crazed for time, and I look forward to eating them — a win-win(-win).

The bottom line

Ingredients like galactagogues in lactation bites are only effective (if effective at all) when used in conjunction with frequent nursing or pumping. "Making sure your baby nurses frequently and efficiently is more effective than any galactagogue. Breast milk is produced 'on-demand', so being separated from your baby for extended periods of time or having an improper latch are the most common reasons for reduced milk supply," says Lane.

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