Alcohol, Breastfeeding, and Breast Milk Supply

Can Beer and Wine Help Make More Breast Milk and Is it Safe?

How does beer, wine, and alcohol affect breastfeeding, your baby, and your breast milk supply?
Is it safe to have a glass of wine if you're breastfeeding?. JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

Is Alcohol a Galactagogue and Is it Safe?

In many cultures, beer and wine are thought to be galactagogues. They are offered to breastfeeding mothers to help them increase their breast milk supply and bring about a better let-down of milk. So, can alcohol actually help a breastfeeding mother make more breast milk? And, more importantly, is it safe?

Will Drinking Beer or Wine Help Increase Your Breast Milk Supply?

Studies do show that beer can raise the levels of prolactin, a hormone responsible for milk production.

However, since beer is made from barley and hops, the reason some women report an increase in their supply of breast milk after drinking beer is most likely a result of these two known milk-making (lactogenic) items rather than the alcohol. The alcohol itself will not help you to make more breast milk. It can potentially help you to relax and, therefore, aid in the let-down of your breast milk, but it will not cause an increase in the amount of breast milk that you produce. Non-alcoholic beer containing barley and hops can produce the same effect without the dangerous side effects of alcohol.

Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol if You're Breastfeeding?

If you do drink alcohol, an occasional alcoholic beverage is believed to be safe. However, regular or heavy use of alcohol is considered to be dangerous and should be avoided. Indulging in more than just an occasional drink can actually cause a decrease in your breast milk supply and have a negative effect on your let-down reflex.

Also, since the alcohol will enter your breast milk, it can change the smell and taste of your breast milk. These issues may make breastfeeding more difficult and cause your child to take less milk during a feeding, breastfeed less often, or even refuse to breastfeed.

Excessive alcohol consumption can also be dangerous for your child.

Studies show that babies do not sleep as well when they receive breast milk containing alcohol. Plus, regular exposure to alcohol in breast milk is associated with developmental delays in children.

Here are some basic safety tips to consider if you're breastfeeding and plan on consuming alcohol:

  • One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
  • Don't drink alcohol right before you plan on breastfeeding or pumping your breast milk. The amount of alcohol that reaches your child will be much less if you have your drink immediately after you pump or nurse your baby, instead of before.
  • Wait two or more hours after you have one drink of alcohol before you breastfeed or pump. The amount of alcohol in your breast milk will depend on how much you've had to drink and how much you weigh. The more you drink and the less you weight, the longer it will take the alcohol to leave your body. In general, if you have more than one drink, wait at least two hours per drink before breastfeeding again. The level of alcohol in your breast milk will be much less, the longer you wait to breastfeed.
  • If you are going out to a special event or a having a girls night out and plan to drink more than you normally would, you may have to pump to relieve the pressure in your breasts and prevent breast engorgement while you wait until the alcohol leaves your body. Alcohol remains in your breast milk for as long as remains in your blood. If you pump before you are sober, you can pump and dump. Do not give that breast milk to your baby. Once you feel sober again, you should be able to resume breastfeeding.
  • If you know you will be drinking, you can collect and store your breast milk ahead of time. This way your child can have breast milk while you are waiting for the alcohol to leave your body.
  • If you are not sober, you should not be caring for your child. Arrange for someone to care for your baby if you think you may become intoxicated.
  • You should never place your baby in your bed to sleep with you if you are under the influence of alcohol. It can be very dangerous.

Safer Ways to Increase Your Breast Milk Supply 

If you would like to make more breast milk, there are many other, safer ways to boost your supply. You can try to increase you breast milk supply naturally and add some milk-making foods to your diet. You could also try using a nursing tea or some of the common breastfeeding herbs that have been used by nursing mothers for centuries to help increase their breast milk supply such as fenugreek, fennel or blessed thistle.

Talk to Your Doctor for More Information About Alcohol and Breastfeeding

You should always talk to your doctor, and your baby's doctor if you have any concerns or questions about your supply of breast milk and whether or not your child is getting enough breast milk. Your doctor can also answer your questions about the safety of using alcohol while you're breastfeeding, and how it can affect you, your baby, and your breast milk supply.  A lactation consultant or a local La Leche group are other great resources when you need assistance.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Ho E., Collantes A., Kapur BM., Moretti M., Koren G. Alcohol and Breast Feeding: Calculation of Time to Zero Level in Milk. Neonatology. 2001; 80: 219-222.

Koletzko B, Lehner F. Beer and Breastfeeding. Advances In Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2000;478:23-8.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition.  Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.

Little RE., Anderson KW., Ervin CH., Worthington-Robers B., and Clarren SK. Maternal Alcohol Use During Breast-Feeding and Infant Mental and Motor Development at One Year. New England Journal of Medicine. 1989; 321: 425-430.

Mennella, JA, Beauchamp, GK. Beer, Breast Feeding, and Folklore. Developmental Psychobiology. 1993: 26; 459–466.

Mennella JA, Gerrish CJ. Effects of Exposure to Alcohol in Mother's Milk on Infant Sleep. Pediatrics. 1998;101: E2.

The United States Department of Agriculture. Report of the DGAC on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010. Part D. Section 7: Alcohol; 13-14.

Continue Reading