When Wendy Poon found herself as a young mum with her first child five years ago, she faced the reality of the demands a newborn can bring not only on routines, but also on the physical ability to ensure she was feeding her young son enough milk.
At the time she was fortunate enough to draw on the experience of her Malaysian-born mum and grandmother, with a heritage and understanding of lactating superfoods to help her make more milk. In her case it was a long-standing Malaysian recipe that included near-green papaya and fish soup.
“And if you look at cultures there are many different dishes that aim to do the same thing,” Poon said.
“Indian mums may be encouraged to eat dhal, United States mums oat cookies and South Korean mums are given seaweed soup after birth.”
Mothers in parts of Africa will eat moringa leaves, a type of kale often cooked in an omelette.
The foods are all known as galactagogues, a term not usually the topic of young mums’ groups, but foods that play a big role indirectly in helping their young charges grow and stay healthy.
They are foods that can help increase breast milk supply, usually by lifting prolactin hormone levels, the hormone responsible for helping mothers make milk during pregnancy and after birth.
She started considering the potential for a food product during lockdown and two years later Mammas Milk Bar has grown by 500%, been approved in 13 countries and includes 17 products.
Order volumes sit at 115 a day, up from three a day last year through her online site.
With products ranging from a vanilla toffee lactation blend to salted caramel or hot chocolate, Poon has hit on a combination of flavours and formulations that appeal as much for their taste as their purpose.
“Our products include New Zealand oats blended with yeast, maca, moringa leaf, organic coconut cream, all used in cultures around the world to support breastfeeding,” she said.
As is often the case with NZ-sourced ingredients, the quality of the Otago-sourced oats is higher than the lower priced Lithuanian equivalent also available here.
The high iron content in oats, along with a concentration of compounds including saponins, known to also have a positive effect on breast milk hormones, and the plant estragon oats also stimulate milk glands.
Despite the move to a nutrition product formulator and marketer from her role as an architect with Fletchers Construction, she has had her keeping her full-time professional role but as the business grows she is assessing how that will change in the future.
She said the exercise from developing a formulation in the kitchen at home, to final marketing and sales has been an interesting challenge, with processing done under contract here in NZ.
After coming up with a good blend in the kitchen, she trialled it on young mums in Auckland Hospital and awareness grew from there through midwives and young mums’ chat groups.
The powdered product is easily blended as a smoothie, sprinkled on cereal or added to recipes.
The market for the range represents possibly the most health aware of any market segment, with new mums now well aware that what they are putting into their bodies will ultimately be passed onto their young infant while breastfeeding.
But relying upon breastfeeding also often comes with its share of guilt and self-doubt on what sort of job is being done.
International research has also shown about three-quarters of mothers reported that while breastfeeding they felt as though they were not making enough milk to meet the needs of their child. Just over half also reported they were not making up for that by supplementing with formula.
“When you have a child, you want to feel you are doing the best job possible. In NZ and in the West in general, there is quite a bit of pressure for you to do it ‘naturally’, using breastfeeding over formula,” she said.
With one eye on the next generation, Poon has also ensured the milk bar containers are designed to appeal as useful, attractive containers that offer sensory stimulation to the young beneficiaries of their contents.