You might have seen the rumor floating around the internet this week that a particular ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s (Oats of This Swirled) has the power to increase a breastfeeding mom’s milk supply. As much as I adore a nice pint of Ben and Jerry’s myself and would love to believe that something like this is true, I’m going to have to put my fancy lactation consultant hat (or bra?!) on to deliver the not-so-good news to you that this rumor just isn’t true — at least not according to the science of how milk production works.
The claim that this particular ice cream would boost a mom’s milk supply is based on the fact that the ice cream has oats in it, and oats are thought to increase milk supply. (Though it should be noted that oats are the 13th ingredient in the ice cream, which means that even if oats did do wonders for milk supply, you’d have to eat a ton of this ice cream to get a good enough dosage).
But it remains to be seen if oats really do much at all in terms of milk supply. As the evidence-based breastfeeding site KellyMom.com points out, eating oats has been recommended by lactation consultants and mothers for years as a milk-boosting agent. KellyMom.com surmises that this might be because oats are high in iron, and women who are anemic sometimes have lowered milk supplies as a result (most breastfeeding mothers are not anemic, however). Another possible explanation is that the warm, comforting association of oats and oatmeal relaxes women, thus aiding in the release of their milk.
However, as KellyMom.com reports, and as many of us lactation consultants know, there is absolutely no scientific proof out there that oats do a anything to increase milk supply. All of the evidence is merely anecdotal, and in many instances, the increase that mothers see may very well be because of the placebo effect.
Here’s how the placebo effect would work in term of oats or any other food that is supposed to increase supply: When it comes to the “milk ejection reflex” (i.e., your milk “letting down), relaxation and all those warm fuzzy feelings are proven to have a positive effect on releasing oxytocin, the hormone that causes the “letdown.” So perhaps just the mere thought that a mom is ingesting something that will boost her supply relaxes her enough to get her milk flowing.
But even if it’s just a placebo — if the cozy comforts of oats, and probably also the creamy comforts of the ice cream itself, work their magic despite the lack of evidence — what’s the problem, and why am I even bothering to point something like this out?
Well, first of all, most breastfeeding mothers don’t actually have milk supply issues, and the idea that a mom has to eat or drink anything special is a myth that perpetuates the idea that women are somehow unable to breastfeed their babies with the bodies (and boobs) they were born with.
The fact is, the single most important way to ensure a good milk supply is to breastfeed your baby often, on demand (which does include the middle of the night, I’m sorry to say, at least for a while). Too often, we try to grab some quick-fix solution like a lactation cookie, tea, or tincture when most moms just need to go back to basics and breastfeed more regularly. Breastfeeding works by “supply and demand,” and while a mom has every right to demand delicious treats while she nurses, none of them are going to instantly boost her supply. The same goes for drinking gallons of water or milk; neither is proven to increase milk supply.
Of course, some mothers truly DO have milk supply issues. But grabbing a package of Oreos or bottle of Gatorade off the shelf isn’t going to help (and yes, you read that right: Oreos and Gatorade have also been falsely purported to boost milk supply). True milk supply issues involve things like hormonal imbalances, breasts with insufficient milk-making tissue, and babies who have issues with how they suck.
If you were dealing with a medical issue, you wouldn’t listen to something you read on the internet and then go to the grocery store to stock up on sugar-filled desserts to heal yourself, would you?
I know it sounds much more pleasant to go snag a pint of ice cream than to call your doctor, lactation consultant, or breastfeeding counselor, but if you are concerned that you aren’t producing enough milk for your baby, please reach out for help. Chances are good that you actually are doing just fine and don’t need to do anything more than breastfeed and snuggle.
My best advice for ensuring you have enough milk for your baby is to breastfeed often, and then sit back and trust your body and your baby. After that’s been established, go ahead and eat as much ice cream as you damn well please because breastfeeding makes you freaking starving. Just don’t rely on it to boost your milk supply because the truth is that it simply will not.
(Any extra ice cream you don’t need can be sent directly to me, though, mmmkay?).