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20 Jun 2024 2:19
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  •   Home > News > Business

    Do lactation cookies and nursing teas increase breastmilk supply?

    Despite the testimonials by businesses selling lactation cookies and nursing teas, the evidence around the efficacy of these products is limited.


    Many new mums who are breastfeeding worry about milk supply, so it's perhaps unsurprising that a 2021 study found 60 per cent of them reach for products promising to increase it.

    "You can't measure how much milk your baby is getting when you breastfeed, and society doesn't necessarily support women to feel that their bodies are brilliant and effective and awesome," says Victoria Marshall-Cerins, executive officer at the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA).

    That creates a marketing opportunity where mums are bombarded with 'boobie biscuits' and 'nursing teas' in their Instagram feed.

    They're known as galactagogues, and are promoted as effective ways to boost milk supply.

    But despite the testimonials from businesses, such as images with bags of expressed milk credited to the relevant lactation snack, the evidence around the efficacy of these products is limited.

    We share what the science says about increasing milk supply — and how to know if your baby is getting enough.

    What's the theory behind lactation cookies?

    A galactagogue is a food, herb, or medication that is thought to help increase breastmilk production, explains Evelyn Volders, a paediatric dietitian and adjunct senior lecturer at Monash University.

    She is also qualified as a lactation consultant.

    Most galactagogues are believed to work by increasing the level of prolactin (one of the many hormones involved in milk production) in the body.

    As well in the form of cookies and teas, you might see them sold as shakes, balls, bars and supplements.

    They usually contain ingredients such as oats, barley, flaxseed and brewer's yeast, explains Ms Volders, while herbs such as fenugreek and milk thistle can feature in teas, for example.

    Are galactagogues effective?

    Galactagogues can be natural (such as herbs) or synthetic/made-made (such as medications).

    Natural galactagogues have been used by different cultures for centuries, although there is little scientific evidence to say they are effective, says Ms Volders.

    In the form of medication, like Domperidone, galactagogues are proven to help some women increase milk supply, explains Dr Treasure McGuire, a pharmacologist at Bond University and Queensland University.

    In a "tightly controlled" 2023 US study into the effectiveness of lactation cookies, she says participants consumed ether placebo or lactation cookies.

    After one month, no significant difference was found between the groups.

    More than 1,800 breastfeeding women in Australia took part in a 2021 study examining the use of galactagogues. More than 60 per cent reported using galactagogues, with those taking herbal or dietary types reporting they were most often recommended by the internet and friends.

    Perceived effectiveness was highest in those who used medication.

    So why is it that synthetic galactagogues are more effective than natural?

    "Some food and herbs have the properties, but they may not have the sufficient potency to make them clinically effective," Dr McGuire says.

    "The difference with synthetics like Domperidone [is] the duration of action is longer, and the effect is consistent."

    Can lactation cookies and teas be harmful?

    While the cookies and teas themselves aren't harmful, Ms Marshall-Cerins says they can "undermine" women's confidence in their breastfeeding abilities.

    "The challenge we have with [these products] and other breastfeeding support products is it does connect to the deficit model of women's bodies — that you have to have these things in order to breastfeed [successfully]."

    Ms Volder says while some women may experience a confidence boost by making a "dietary change", others might feel inadequate.

    "[They think] I have to eat these things, so maybe I'm not good enough.

    "Believing you can [breastfeed] is really important, and that is easily undermined by some of the commercial players who do portray breastfeeding as difficult."

    And with some brands charging upwards of $2.50 per cookie, our experts say there are more affordable ways to snack while breastfeeding.

    "There are homemade recipes available on the web … but that takes time, and breastfeeding mums don't have that usually," says Ms Volders.

    What are the best ways to increase milk supply?

    There are "tried and trusted" ways to increase milk production while breastfeeding, says Ms Marshall-Cerins.

    "Breastfeeding is a supply and demand physiological process — the more milk removed from the breast, either by baby suckling or by expressing, the more milk your body will produce."

    She says the best way for women to feel reassured their baby is getting enough breastmilk is to keep an eye on wet nappies.

    "If your baby has at least five heavily wet disposable nappies, or six to eight cloth nappies, in a 24-hour period, then you can be pretty sure they're getting enough milk."

    Weight gain and baby being generally "happy and content" are other ways parents can quantify breastmilk intake, Ms Marshall-Cerins says.

    "We're keen to help women understand that if you follow your baby's lead, and feed according to their needs, in most cases that will keep milk supply going well."

    She says for women who "genuinely" have low milk supply, prescribed pharmaceutical galactagogues could be helpful.

    "There are sometimes when milk supply does drop … there are baby-related reasons and woman-related reasons."

    That could include the baby not removing milk effectively due to issues with their latch, or the woman being unwell, Ms Marshall-Cerins says.

    Our experts note there can be side effects with the medications.

    Talking to your doctor and/or lactation consultant can help you decide on the best course of action if you're worried about breastmilk supply.

    Women looking for breastfeeding support can reach out to the ABA's free 24-hour hotline.

    This is general information only. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified medical practitioner who knows your medical history.


    ABC




    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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