They do NOT contain breastmilk.
I’m a fan of science, as you know, so I’ve been reluctant to write about lactation cookies, even though it’s a cool topic.
The problem is that there is a very strange lack of scientific research on many aspects of breastfeeding. We’re left to self-evaluate traditional knowledge which could either be old wives’ tales or ancient wisdom, but who can tell which?
When my son was 20 months old or so, he went through a feeding frenzy, waking several times a night to have long feeds, seemingly ravenous, despite eating plenty during the day. I was getting tired, and thought anew about the commonly googled topic ‘boosting milk supply.’
Lactation cookies (yep, they’re a thing) kept coming up, and after quite a bit of research (well, googling), I decided that they’re worth adding to one’s baking repertoire – whether you’re breastfeeding or not. Here are three reasons why, followed by a bunch of different recipes: all you need, in one handy spot!
Reason 1: Because they *might* support milk production
There are lots of different ideas about lactation cookies on the interweb. I reckon KellyMom.com is one of the best sources of evidence-based information on breastfeeding, so let’s start with some of their brilliant, exhaustive article on how milk is produced and what factors influence supply:
Milk is being produced at all times, with speed of production depending upon how empty the breast is. Milk collects in mom’s breasts between feedings, so the amount of milk stored in the breast between feedings is greater when more time has passed since the last feed. The more milk in the breast, the slower the speed of milk production.
To speed milk synthesis and increase daily milk production, the key is to remove more milk from the breast and to do this quickly and frequently, so that less milk accumulates in the breast between feedings:
EMPTY BREAST = FASTER MILK PRODUCTION
To accomplish this goal and increase milk production:In practice, this means that a mother who wishes to increase milk supply should aim to keep the breasts as empty as possible throughout the day.
- Empty the breasts more frequently (by nursing more often and/or adding pumping sessions between nursing sessions)
- Empty the breasts as thoroughly as possible at each nursing/pumping session.
KellyMom also has a brief, informative article on oatmeal/porridge, saying there’s no research showing it to affect milk supply, but it is commonly reported by mothers as beneficial (including working mums who notice on days they eat oatmeal/porridge, they pump more milk):
Some possible explanations:
- Oatmeal is is a good source of iron. It is known that maternal anemia/low iron levels can result in a decreased milk supply, so it makes sense that eating something high in iron might increase milk supply in some women.
- Oatmeal is a comfort food for many women. Anything that increases relaxation in mom can encourage let-down, and hence also influence milk supply.
- A use that some of the milk-increasing herbs share is that of decreasing cholesterol levels. Herbs used for both increasing milk production and decreasing cholesterol levels include fenugreek and alfalfa. Oat bran, which is in oatmeal, is also known to help lower cholesterol.
The KellyMom article on galactagogues (substances that promote milk production) covers a couple of prescription medications that are proven to increase milk supply, and a few herbs:
The usual, non-herbal, non-medication methods for increasing milk supply are sufficient for most mothers. If these methods have not proven sufficient and you feel that a galactagogue is needed, remember that any galactagogue will be most effective in increasing milk supply when combined with an increased nursing frequency.
This great article by lactation consultant Anne Smith has a down-to-earth attitude about traditional herbal and dietary remedies:
There are certain food supplements that may increase your milk supply. Before using any of these, it is important to rule out other problems such as illness in mother or baby. Some herbal supplements have been used for many years to increase milk production, with the most popular being Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle, Red Raspberry, and Brewers Yeast (containing B vitamins). None of these herbal remedies have been proven scientifically to increase milk supply, but they’ve been used by moms for hundred of years with varying degrees of success. In over thirty years of experience, I have seldom seen any dramatic change in milk production in moms who used these herbs. However, many moms do see somewhat of an increase, and these herbs are generally considered safe, so I recommend that moms try them along with other methods if they want to, but to have realistic expectations about the results. I usually recommend that mothers try Fenugreek capsules (2-3 capsules taken 3 times daily) along with Blessed Thistle tablets (same dosage). You many want to add Brewers Yeast tablets (3 tablets taken with meals, 3 times per day) and Red Raspberry tea or capsules several times each day. I know that seems like a lot of capsules to take, so if you don’t want to take them all, the Fenugreek seems to be the most effective. Fenugreek is rated GRAS (generally regarded as safe), but when taken in large doses may cause lowered blood sugar, so should be used with caution by diabetics. It is in the same family with peanuts and chickpeas, and may cause an allergic reaction in moms who are allergic to them. It has not been known to cause any problems for the babies of the mothers who take it, but shouldn’t be used by pregnant women because it may cause uterine contractions. If the Fenugreek is going to help, moms usually notice an increase in one to three days. Fenugreek is used in artificial maple flavorings, and may cause a maple-syrup odor in a mother or baby’s sweat. That just means that enough of it is in your system to be effective.
Oatmeal is often used by women as a galactagogue. There is no scientific evidence to show that this is the case, and I’ve never personally seen a mom’s supply increase due to her oatmeal intake, but some mothers swear by it. Again, you have to wonder about the placebo effect. It’s a good thing to try – it’s cheap, it’s good for you, and it doesn’t have any side effects. Just don’t expect a dramatic increase in your supply when you eat oatmeal cookies. If increasing milk production was that easy, every nursing mom would weigh a ton, and no one would need articles like this.
So the scientific consensus seems to be that increasing milk supply is mostly about the mechanics of feeding – basically, feed long and often – and if necessary, taking medication.
The jury is out on what a breastfeeding mother can do, diet-wise, to promote milk production, if anything. Whatever role diet might play, as long as you’re eating well generally (not actually deficient in something), changing your eating probably won’t make a huge difference in milk production.
Reason 2: Because breastfeeding is a hungry, busy business
On the other hand, breastfeeding mothers do just need to eat a lot. People talk about ‘eating for two’ when you’re pregnant and nourishing a tiny human on the inside. On the outside, if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, that tiny human is a heck of a lot bigger and more active and hungrier, and still relying on your body to grow its body.
Food ideas that make the lives of breastfeeding mums easier are always welcome. Especially things that are portable and can be eaten with one hand.
So it’s not surprising that ‘lactation cookies’ are popular. If you can have a cookie that is full of pretty good ingredients (oats and brewer’s yeast are high in iron, remember), easy to carry around (you can have a little box in your bag when you go out in case you are suddenly ravenous), and also makes a tasty treat for a tired parent, well, that sounds like a winning combination, even if it does nothing magic for milk supply.
[You might also want to check out my guide to super ninja smoothies, which you can chuck all these lactation-supporting ingredients into.]
The key foods it might be worth increasing in your diet are oats, brewer’s yeast and linseeds/flaxseeds. Fenugreek is a herb that may well be effective, but the amount you need is much more than you could get by eating cookies, and there are some other health interactions it can have (read here before thinking further about using it) so I’m not including that.
A bowl of porridge/oatmeal for breakfast, with ground linseeds in it (and brewer’s yeast if you can stand the strong taste and smell) would probably be the simplest way to get all the goodness.
But here’s where the cookie idea comes in: breastfeeding mothers eat just about constantly. Porridge is a great start, but if you’re going to be munching through the day, you’ve got to have a good array of healthy snacks for variety and so you don’t just reach for chips and chocolate (or at least not every hour). So having a nutritious and attractive option, full of oats and other good things (whether or not they have any effect on milk supply) is a great thing.
I’m a fan of making healthy food yummy and yummy food healthy. I’ve gone through phases of experimenting with breakfast cookies (no fat, no sugar) and am a longtime fan of ninja smoothies that have lots of goodness hiding behind the berries and bananas. With that in mind, and with a list of ingredients that traditional wisdom credits with milk-boosting properties, I’ve done some playing around with lactation cookies: portable, nutritious treats that are great for anyone, and might even do some special good for a breastfeeding mother.
Reason 3: Because parenting a newborn is exhausting, and there’s not much time for baking.
It’s a great idea for breastfeeding mums to have nutritious snack options handy. But for most of us, there is no time in life when you have less time and energy (and brainpower!) for baking biscuits than when you’re breastfeeding an infant.
This is why this is a post not just for new mums, but for their friends. Please bake healthy snacks for your breastfeeding friends!
There are a few recipes online for lactation cookies, and though I have rejected several of them for my own use for various reasons, I’ll include links to most of the ones I found.
Here are my personal criteria for developing a recipe to recommend:
- majoring on oats and other whole and wholesome ingredients
- not high in wheat flour (that’s not why we’re here, people! So I’m looking for a recipe that at the very least has more oats than flour.)
- not high in butter and sugar (you want to be able to eat lots of these without them being guilty treats, and easily adaptable for sugar-free folks)
- exception: chocolate is allowed!
- a small list of ingredients
- a simple method
- easy to adapt for food allergies and special diets.
So here goes. My top recommendation that ticks all of those boxes, then a more traditional, chewier version from Georgie, then a bunch of other options to peruse, catering for a range of different preferences and needs. These really should be all anyone ever needs for baking for new parents!
The 2 Best Recipes for Lactation Cookies
Make big batches of these and give them to every mother of a newborn you know. You’ll be remembered forever!
Recipe 1: Super Easy Lactation Cookies
These are based on my best-ever, allergy-friendly chocolate chip cookies, just with linseeds and brewer’s yeast swapped for some of the oats. They’re suitable for almost everyone, very adaptable and forgiving, and delicious. I’ve eaten hundreds. I’m eating one (well, five) right now.
For the full recipe with notes, options and variations, head here. Here’s the quick version (with linseeds and brewer’s yeast added) in three easy steps.
In a food processor, blend:
- 5 1/2 cups oats
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons brewer’s yeast
- 1/2 cup ground linseeds
Then still in the mixer, or tipped into another bowl, add:
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1/2 cup (or up to 1 cup) soy or other milk
- 1-2 teaspoons vanilla
Mix all together and then add treats:
- 100-200 grams chopped fairtrade chocolate (or dried fruit or nuts, or whatever you like)
With wet hands, shape the fairly crumbly mixture into balls and bake at 180C/350F for 6-8 minutes.
Let them cool, then take them around to your friend’s house and feed them to her while she feeds her baby.
Recipe 2: Georgie’s Chewy Lactation Cookies
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup dried apricots (or other dried fruit of your choice)
1 cup coconut
1 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups flour, or more oats instead
200 grams butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix together the sugars, baking soda, oats, fruit, coconut, chocolate chips and flour.
Melt the butter and golden syrup, add the vanilla then whisk in the egg.
Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, then flatten walnut sized spoonfuls on an ungreased tray with your palm.
Bake at 180C/350F for 15-20 minutes.
5 More Lactation Cookie Recipes To Check Out
A more conventional (butter, sugar, flour) version from Breastmates.
Another vegan, gluten-free, wholefood version, with coconut oil and coconut sugar.
A recipe based on chickpeas and peanut butter.
A hardcore wholefood recipe even including fennel.
Fat-free, sugar-free oaty breakfast cookies you could add linseeds and brewer’s yeast to.
[Update: one more to add!]
No-bake chocolate oat fudge cookies from Mel Wiggins.
And 5 Other Delicious Ways to Get the Goodness
For more variety, here are some other options that aren’t cookies, but that are full of oats and other good ingredients. Just add linseeds and brewer’s yeast to turn them into lactation versions.
- These fabulous Raspberry Coconut Overnight Oats (refrigerator oatmeal/Bircher muesli) are a hit in our house. My three-year-old had three servings after dinner one night (and that’s even having omitted the sweetener).
- Check out these six tempting flavour variations on Overnight Oats, made with chia seeds, too.
- I like the look of this Berry Baked Oatmeal (almost like a fruit crumble dessert).
- Friends have been making these vegan ‘porridge pancakes‘ each morning since their son started refusing porridge for breakfast.
And a world premiere recipe from my friend, Sacraparental regular and wholefood nutrition genius Frank, whose second son was born on New Year’s Day (so she’s extra brilliant and amazing to be doing any baking at all, let alone inventing recipes!):
Frank’s Allergy-Friendly Lactation Slice
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup oil (Frank uses half coconut oil, half cacao butter)
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Boil these wet ingredients together in a large pot for about 5 minutes. This ‘candies’ the honey so it sets better and if you use a big pot you can mix the rest of the recipe in there too.
4 cups of mixed dry ingredients, according to your taste and the contents of your pantry, such as:
toasted coconut chips
ground seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, linseed and chia (the last two have lots of omega 3 so are good to use)
3 tablespoons brewer’s yeast
1 teaspoon salt
treats for flavour, like dried fruit, chocolate chips etc.
Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.
Press really firmly into a greased dish and allow to set.
No need to bake this, just keep the slice in the fridge.
Pretty much every parent of a newborn needs home-baking in their lives. If you can provide some that contains nutritious ingredients as well as treats, and if that might even support breastfeeding, then please consider this your invitation. Then tell us in the comments which recipe you go with, and how it’s received!
If you have other favourite recipes that are good for nourishing new parents, I’d love to hear them. Leave a link or recipe in the comments with your recommendations.
There are plenty of ways to join the Sacraparental conversation and keep in the loop. You can get emails whenever there’s a new post here by signing up at the top of the right-hand sidebar, and/or also follow us on Facebook (for extra links and resources, daily), Pinterest (for link-plantations) and Twitter (for occasional ranting and raving).
You can also check out other posts on breastfeeding, food or kindness to new parents, especially:
- A series of posts on The Sacrament of Breastfeeding
- What to say when offering help to a new parent – so they’ll actually accept it
- How to support a new dad
- A series I love, called Making Parenting Easier
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