Breastfeeding: Will beer really help increase your milk supply?

I am currently breastfeeding my one-month-old daughter and I don't think I'm producing enough milk. I have heard that drinking a half can of beer each day would help. Will this really help?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

The Subcommittee on Nutrition During Lactation (1991) found "there is no scientific evidence that consumption of alcoholic beverages has a beneficial impact on any aspect of lactation performance." They recommended that if alcohol was used by the nursing mother it be limited to no more than 0.5 grams of alcohol per kg. of body weight, which for a 132 pound woman (60 kg) would allow no more than 2 beers, 2 ounces of liquor or 8 ounces of wine per day.

Not too many years ago it was common to hear nursing moms advised to have a drink in the evening to help them relax, and help their milk to flow. An ingredient in beer has been shown to increase maternal prolactin levels, but this is with non-alcoholic beers as well (DeRosa et al. 1981). There is a lot more involved in establishing an abundant milk supply than merely increasing a mother's prolactin level. Zuppa, in 1988, found prolactin levels to be higher in first time moms, while milk production was significantly higher in mother's who had previously given birth (with lower prolactin levels). They concluded that mammary gland receptors were responsible for this increase in milk supply, so the receptors, rather than the prolactin were responsible for an abundant milk supply.

Today we rarely hear nursing moms being advised to drink. This is probably for several reasons. First, it is doubtful that drinking is an effective way of increasing diminishing milk supply. Daily consumption of alcohol while nursing is probably not the best idea, even if it is fairly small amounts. Though heavy, long-term use of alcohol has been found to possibly affect a nursing baby's development, the effects of daily consumption (one or two drinks) are not known. Alcohol enters breastmilk quickly, about 30 minutes after consumption. It may have a mildly sedating effect on your baby. While drinking, and for about 3 hours afterwards, it is best to avoid nursing your baby.

Some of the basics in establishing a good milk supply are:

  • Good positioning and attachment of the baby at the breast
  • Effective sucking and swallowing in the baby
  • Untimed feeds - let your baby control the feed. Nurse at one breast until baby is relaxed and satisfied, and then offer the other side.
  • Nurse frequently. In the early months babies need to be nursed at least 10 to 12 times a day. (If the baby is sleepy, gently wake by undressing for feeds.)

In a baby under 6 weeks of age normal output for a well-nourished baby is 6 to 8 wet diapers and at least 2 to 3 stools each day. After 5 to 6 weeks of age, average output is 5 to 6 wet diapers each day, and regular substantial bowel movements. Until a baby is 3 to 4 months of age, normal weight gain is 4 to 8 ounces each week. If your grandchild is healthy, happy and growing well, there is probably nothing at all to be concerned about as far as your daughter's milk supply.

If insufficient milk supply is really a problem it is very important for your daughter to be working with a Lactation Consultant who can help to determine the cause of her compromised milk supply (if that is truly the case), and to get breastfeeding off to a good start.

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