By Angela Pittenger The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson.
Milk and cookies go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Which is why a new Tucson company -- Moo n Cookies -- has created a cookie recipe that purports to increase a nursing mother's milk supply, and is already doing booming business.
The cookies' main ingredients -- flax seed, oats, almonds and brewer's yeast -- are known as galactagogues, or items that induce and increase lactation, said Lindsay Parsons, owner of Moo n Cookies. Plus, "A lot of moms forget how many extra calories they need, so these have healthy extra calories, which also helps increase supply," she said.
Galactagogues work by increasing blood flow, increasing prolactin and stimulating or even increasing milk receptor sites in the breast, said Renee Palting, a board-certified lactation consultant at Mindful Lactation.
Parsons started making the cookies for herself and friends when her baby was born almost three years ago. She said her friends kept telling her she should start a business selling them.
"But I didn't have time. I had a little baby," Parsons said. "So this year, when my little one became more independent, I started a Facebook page. I started it when my husband left for work that day and literally, when he came home, I was all, 'I started a business today and I already have sales.'"
Moo n Cookies started out in February as her attempt to make a little extra cash. Sales have far surpassed Parson's expectations. "When I started it I said I'd be happy if I made $50 a week. That would be a little extra spending money, and now, I'm projected this year to bring in right around $200,000," Parsons said.
Parsons estimates her overhead to be about 50 percent of that, so her profit will be about $100,000 at year's end. "Working from my home has really reduced costs, as well as has keeping my staff small," she said. "It means a lot of work for me, but I don't expect running a business to be easy."
To get started, Parsons offered giveaways on her Facebook page to get impartial feedback on her products. "My business grew from there, as moms talked and shared with each other," she said. "I've had many moms post on national breastfeeding chat groups about Moo n Cookies, which always brings lots of new customers."
Indeed, Holly Busse, a mother and school teacher, said she heard about lactation cookies through online mom groups she belongs to.
"A lot of them were suggesting teas or cookies, and I'm a cookie fan, for sure," Busse said. "But, I didn't feel like making them because I have a lot going on."
Busse did an online search for lactation cookies, and the first company to pop up was Moo n Cookies.
Parsons ships nationally at an average of 25 shipments a day. She bakes 100-125 dozen cookies and bars per day out of the kitchen in her home, with one full-time employee, and her son at her feet.
Cookies and bars can be customized to suit each customer. Parsons bakes gluten-free, since she and her son both have celiac disease, but she can also bake vegan, soy free, dairy free or nut free.
"That's why I like that I can talk to all of my customers because if they have a special need, I can meet it," Parsons said.
Not wanting to lose the ability to chat with each customer has thus far kept Parsons from selling her products out of retail stores. "I'm contemplating approaching Whole Foods about our trail mix," she said. "But, we're not in stores yet because I don't want to sell things individual. The products need to get into your system. You won't see the effect in just one or two cookies and I don't want people buying them without knowing that."
Galactagogues historically have helped women increase milk supply, but typically, it is not an overnight fix and scientific research supports that most galactagogues take weeks to cause a change, Palting said.
Although lactation cookies may offer a tasty way to help improve milk supply, "there is no magic fix from doing the basics, such as breastfeeding or pumping regularly, drinking fluids and eating a minimum of 1,800 calories a day," Palting said.
"Many of the mentioned ingredients, especially oats, have been used for centuries as a traditional remedy for low breast milk production," said Siri Beringer, a registered nurse and board-certified lactation consultant for Tucson Medical Center. "It's my opinion that if there were not some effect, then the recommendations would not have survived a millennia."
However, the power of the mind cannot be underestimated, Beringer said. "If a mother believes that these foods will help increase supply, she'll be more relaxed. A more relaxed mother is able to have a good let down. This could be perceived as an increase in supply."
Beringer has worked with many mothers who have experienced decreased milk supply and have used foods, such as lactation cookies, in conjunction with correcting the underlying cause, and have gotten positive results.
Tucson mom Amanda Solis, who has been a customer of Moo n Cookies for close to seven months, said she has seen a noticeable increase in her milk supply since starting the cookies.
"I would normally pump an ounce on each side," Solis said. "But when I'm eating the cookies, I can do three to four ounces, no problem."
Solis said she had tried a couple of other brands of lactation cookies before she found Moo n Cookies. "One of them, I didn't notice an increase in my supply, but they tasted OK," she said. "Another one tasted terrible and I didn't notice an increase." Solis estimates she spends between $40 and $50 a month on the cookies.
Stay-at-home mom Jamie Howell said she's found Moo n Cookies to be about $15 to $20 cheaper per month's supply than those from other companies. And, since it's a Tucson company, locals can pick up their cookies directly from Parsons' house.
As part of Parsons' marketing campaign, she offers flash deals and coupon codes on the business Facebook page, said Busse. "She caters to different people's budgets, so people can purchase her cookies and bars."
Howell had never heard of lactation cookies until her doula suggested she try them if she had trouble nursing her son. She's pleased with the results.
"They've made a huge increase in my production," Howell said. "After the first two weeks, I was having to supplement and feed him frozen milk because I wasn't producing as much. Since I started the cookies, I've produced enough to feed him and have extra in the fridge."
Success has been quick for Parsons, and she credits that largely to the one-on-one attention she gives. "I speak with each of my customers, once their product is delivered, and do continual follow-up," she said.
Facebook has also proved lucrative, as far as boosting sales and getting the word out. Parsons said she pays about $100 per month to boost posts on Facebook.
"My biggest source of advertising, though, comes from my customers' success stories," Parsons said. "I post pictures of moms' pumped breast milk, which excites other moms and entices them to try our products."
Business is going well, but that doesn't mean there haven't been challenges. For one, Parsons was hesitant to hire anyone at first because she wasn't sure how strong business would be. "Honestly, I think I waited too long and worked too much," she said.
"I made the decision one day when my son said 'mommy, no more baking.' That helped me to open my eyes and hire somebody." These days, Parsons' main challenge is balancing work and life, she said.
"With a new business, you have to put everything into it to be successful. I'm hoping in the years to come I'm able to balance that better, so I don't miss out on life."