Spend enough time in breastfeeding support groups and soon you’ll start to see that whenever someone thinks they’re struggling with their milk supply people will start suggesting foods, drinks and herbs to increase their supply. These can include things like oats, yeast, avocado, chocolate, fenugreek, drinking more water etc. The list goes on.
So what’s the harm? I mean, these are all perfectly natural foodstuffs, many of which we probably eat as part of our diet anyway, what could possibly be the harm in these well meaning suggestions to eat and drink your way to more milk?
Well, for one thing, they don’t work. Nothing you eat or drink, no amount of water, oats, herbs, teas etc. will make your produce more milk.
Making suggestions that Mums need to eat certain foods in order to produce an adequate supply of milk undermines breastfeeding, and frankly undermines women. Female bodies do not need special foods, or teas to work properly. With the exception of very rare cases all your breasts need in order to produce the right amount of milk is this: Ensure that baby is latched on well, and is able to remove milk effectively, and feed responsively (if baby cannot feed then express milk when baby would normally feed).
The suggestion that we need special foods to make our breasts work just reinforces the constant societal message that low supply is a common problem, and that female bodies are generally faulty and incapable of fulfilling their biological purpose.
And while that’s bad enough the real harm lactation cookies, teas, herbs etc. do is to mothers with genuine supply concerns. While it’s very rare that a mother will be unable to produce enough milk for her baby, what is more common are milk transfer issues. Cases where the baby isn’t able to transfer milk effectively- due to issues such as a shallow latch, and it’s common in these cases where baby is feeding very frequently but not gaining weight well for a Mum to worry about her supply.
Regardless of whether issues are being caused by an inherent low supply, or milk transfer issues what that mother needs is skilled and effective breastfeeding support, and she needs it fast.
Suggestions of cookies, and teas and herbs and drinking a reservoir dry can delay or even prevent a Mum accessing the skilled support she desperately needs. Now you might be reading this thinking, well why not both? Why can’t she eat the cookies and access that support? Because accessing support can be difficult for many Mums for a whole host of reasons. Ordering a box of cookies off the internet that claim to cure your problem is not.
Almost every story I hear from Mums who stopped breastfeeding because they thought they didn’t have enough milk includes an account of how they tried herbs, teas, cookies. And it’s honestly, heart breaking to hear from a Mum who clearly really wanted to breastfeed, who tried all these different things, none of which were ever going to work, and missed out on the one thing that could’ve actually helped- skilled support.
And some of this stuff is not cheap. OK, a pack of porridge oats isn’t going to break most budgets, but some of these packs of biscuits and bottles of herb capsules can cost more than £20 a time. For a desperate Mum who wants to make breastfeeding work and will try anything and everything, that can add up really fast. So vulnerable mothers are being coerced into spending an awful lot of money on products that don’t work, and won’t help them at all. That’s exploitation.
But that’s not all. Chances are no-ones going to get ill eating some flapjack (not unless they eat an awful lot of it, that is) but some of the things being suggested are not as harmless as a packet of biscuits. Fenugreek probably won’t do you any harm if you’re using a small amount to season a curry. But in large amounts, like the amounts a Mum might be ingesting if she’s taking several capsules a day, it has some very real risks of side effects. These can include: Hives, swelling of the lips and tongue, difficulty breathing, hypoglycemia, diarrhea and abdominal pain. In people with diabetes taking fenugreek can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels. So essentially what this means is that Mums are being exposed to the risk of potentially serious side effects, when there’s no real evidence of any benefit.
So what’s the harm?
Potentially delaying or preventing a Mum with genuine issues accessing support
Exploiting vulnerable mothers
Exposing mothers to the risk of serious side effects for no benefit
If a mother you know is worried about her milk supply sign post her to a local breastfeeding drop in, the national breastfeeding helpline, or an IBCLC. That will help her, and could save her breastfeeding journey.
Flapjacks will not.