Growing Milkful: How Dina Carey Created a Lactation Oat Bar Company from a Personal Struggle

Written by Meg Seitz · Photography by Julia Fay

Late last year, Dina Carey Googled: “Co-working spaces in Charlotte.”

Hygge popped up in the search results.

“I was probably Google searching with my toddler screaming in my ear while I nursing the baby. I had a lot going on and trying to balance it all,” Carey says. “But then I toured Hygge, and, right off the bat, I loved the feel. And I really liked that I could get away from the house for a couple of hours and get work done.” {Continued below}

Carey is up to some pretty important work. She is wife, mother of two – a toddler and a baby under six months – as well as CEO and Founder of Milkful, the wholesome, gourmet lactation oat bar company, a business idea that came to her in a personal time of need.

Prior to motherhood, Carey worked for eight years for Carolinas Healthcare System’s Levine Cancer Institute. And, at the same time, went through the bakery arts program at the Art Institute of Charlotte. As an avid baker and foodie, she started baking cakes on the side – it was a lot of fun and a lot of work.

Then, in the summer of 2014, after giving birth to her first daughter, Lawson Rose, she decided to stay home. “I was really excited to do that, and to be there with her,” Carey says. “I also knew that staying at home would allow me to breastfeed her as long as I could. That connection is so special, and breastfeeding has so many health benefits.”

“But, I didn’t want to eat cookies all day,” she admits. “I just didn’t understand why there wasn’t a wholesome, healthy lactation granola bar on the market.”

But, Carey started to struggle to produce milk; she wasn’t making enough and feared having to give up breastfeeding before she wanted to. She shared her frustration with friends who experienced similar struggles. They recommended lactation cookies.

“But, I didn’t want to eat cookies all day,” she admits. “I just didn’t understand why there wasn’t a wholesome, healthy lactation granola bar on the market.”

Despite the frustration of having to let go of breastfeeding her daughter before she wanted to , Carey was starting to think more seriously about creating a product to help mothers struggling as she was: a granola-like lactation bar to stimulate a mother’s milk supply.

“Breastfeeding is more encouraged now which is great,” Carey states. “But I know the impact on moms; if you can’t produce milk, you feel like you’re failing, and it shouldn’t be that way.”

Carey, ever the foodie, felt the itch to get back to baking and experimenting in the kitchen.

To do it well, she did tremendous research on galactagogues, foods or ingredients that promote or increase the flow of a mother’s milk supply, foods including (but not limited to) whole grains, like oat, black sesame seeds and flax seed.

And she spent just as much time then perfecting the recipes.

“It would have been easy to dump a lot of honey or sugar in these bars, but I didn’t want to do that,” Carey states. “I wanted a low sugar, high fiber bar that’s good for you, so you can take care of your baby and your body.”

“I wanted a low sugar, high fiber bar that’s good for you, so you can take care of your baby and your body.”

A little over two years from her initial frustration, Carey had created a company that was unique combination of her previous life in healthcare and food – and, more importantly, a reflection of her journey as a mother.

Then, in October 2016, Milkful started to take off. They shifted from grass roots marketing to more serious promotion. And the market responded – positively.

Today, Milkful sell three different flavor bars: Blueberry Almond Coconut, Chocolate Banana Nut, and Maple Walnut. All bars are manufactured at Golden Grains Bakery in Charlotte. They ship approximately 10,000 bars a week all over the United States.

They’re on the cusp of serious growth and a need to invest in new equipment to support that growth.

It still takes Carey time to wrap her head around how she’s created something that helps and supports so many other women. “I get so excited every day to read the reviews and hear from moms,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed connecting with them and their personal stories from all over the country.”

Though it’s different for every woman, she’s heard success stories ranging from production doubling after eating one Milkful bar to an increase in a number of ounces – and an increase in ounces can be a huge win for a breastfeeding mother. Personally, Carey has been able to breastfeed her second child Isla, longer than her first child since starting Milkful.

Carey speaks of Milkful as both rewarding and stressful – in great ways. With two, small daughters at home and a young business on the cusp of growth, you have to wonder how she does it. Carey has learned to leverage her resources – Hygge being one of them.

“Being able to come work at Hygge for a two or three hour time block has been so helpful. It’s helped me find balance and to be able to do what I need to do, and then go home,” Carey says. “And I’m excited to leverage the talent in this space as Milkful grows.”

You can find more about Dina on her website here, Facebook and Instagram.

Meet the Author: Meg Seitz is the Founder and Managing Creative Partner of toth shop, an agency with one goal: Elevate your brand’s content through powerful writing, creativity, and strategy. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor with Queens University and Founding Partner of the children’s book series, “Bea is for Business”.

She’s an English major with an MBA, so she can talk Homer’s “The Odyssey” just as well as she can talk sunk costs – though she’d much prefer the former.

Meet the photographer: Hi, nice to meet you! I’m Julia. I’m my happiest self when my camera is in hand and I’m taking in this big beautiful world around me! People are my jam and the fact that this job brings so many wonderful people into my life is pretty special.

I grew up performing mostly in front of the camera! Singing, acting, comedy improv – anything on a stage or in front of a lens. The roles began to switch as I entered my freshman year of college and found a creative outlet through photography. My first “real” shoot was when an engaged friend of mine asked me to photograph her and her fiancé. Within moments of getting started, I knew that this was it. Telling peoples love stories, that is what I’m supposed to do! I shot my first wedding at nineteen, and well you know what they say..the rest is history! We’ve been together ever since 🙂