Many cultures promote the galactagogues properties of beer and encourage mothers that are nursing to consume this beverage to increase their milk supply. Beer is also believed to make the let-down of milk easier for mothers. But is there any truth to this old wives’ tale and is it safe to consume alcoholic beverages while breast feeding?
Does Beer Increase Milk Supply?
Some studies have indicated that beer raises the body’s prolactin levels, the hormone that triggers the production of milk. The barley and hops in beer are also believed to be responsible for women seeing an increase in their milk supply because these are two common galactagogues. The alcohol in beer will not help with breast milk production, but it could help a mother to relax so it is easier to let down the milk that the body has produced. It is possible to increase milk production with non-alcoholic beer to reduce the risk of harm that the alcohol presents.
Explanation and experience from others:
The following two paragraphs were cited from members of Baby Center:
“As an owner of a natural food store who has nursed three children, I have found that the flavors and plant ingredients in beer help to encourage breast milk. Teas made from oatstraw, stinging nettle, red clover blossom or raspberry leaves can produce a similar effect, and these items are free of alcohol which could be dangerous for nursing mothers. Hops is considered an ideal galactagogue because it provides a calming effect for the digestive system which can help to prevent colic after night feedings.
“I personally opt to use a high quality beer with little to no additives and a low alcohol level when nursing my children. I got this advice from my grandmother who in turn learned from her mother, a British midwife. This allowed me to produce enough milk for twins, and on this feeding schedule they were rarely fussy and were sleeping 7-9 hours a day 2-3 weeks after birth.”
Does Drinking Alcohol Harm Breastfeeding?
1. Will There Be any Harm?
Consuming alcohol during breastfeeding can cause harm if you do not take proper precautions. The amount of alcohol that moves into your bloodstream when drinking will in turn move into your breast milk, and your child’s immature liver may not be able to process this alcohol well. Studies have found that a baby with alcohol in its system consume about 20 percent less milk or become drowsy and fall asleep, though they sleep for shorter periods of time.
Studies also indicate that exposing a baby to alcohol may hinder their development. 400 babies that were breastfeed were monitored and those with mothers that drank one alcoholic drink a day during their initial three months of life were found to lag in development at the one year benchmark.
Ultimately, the effect of alcohol on breastfeeding infants is unknown, so it is highly advised that mothers abstain from alcohol until their child is at least three months old. If you are concerned about how your alcohol consumption may affect your child, speak to your doctor.
2. How to Drink Safely During Breastfeeding
If you have consumed an alcoholic beverage, wait at least two hours before breastfeeding to allow the alcohol to clear from your system. The blood alcohol level is usually highest 30-90 minutes after consuming an alcoholic beverage, but the amount of time it takes for the alcohol to leave the system will vary by individual.
Timing your drinking so it will not conflict with your feeding schedule, perhaps having a drink while the child is likely to sleep for a few hours, for example is an easy way to ensure that you can drink safely.
You can also pump your milk and store it, feeding your child from a bottle when you know you will be consuming alcohol. If you are worried about the level of alcohol in your milk you can eat before drinking and consume water in addition to alcoholic beverages to limit the amount of alcohol that makes it into your breast milk.
3. How Much Is too Much?
It can be difficult to determine if consuming more than one drink is safe when you are breastfeeding because the more drinks you consume, the longer it will take for them to leave your system. The height and weight of a woman will also have an impact on how long alcohol will stay in her system. In general, larger women tend to process alcohol somewhat faster than those that are more petite.
To be safe, women that are breastfeeding should limit themselves to no more than one drink a day, and only consume alcohol occasionally if they choose to drink at all. Do not breastfeed your baby while intoxicated and throw away any milk that is pumped during this time. You may not be able to properly co-sleep or care for your baby when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, so it is not advised to use these substances when your child is young even if you are not breastfeeding.