Breastfeeding and Alcohol
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs, alcohol is compatible with breastfeeding when not consumed in large amounts. If large amounts are consumed, it may lead to a number of symptoms in the baby, such as:
- Deep sleep
- Poor weight gain in the infant.
In general, reasonable alcohol consumption does not appear to be particularly harmful to breastfed infants. Studies have shown that the total amount of alcohol transferred into milk is relatively low. In fact, it is common folklore in many cultures that beer can stimulate prolactin levels and breast milk production.
While some may take this information and gleefully run with it, there is a little more to the story. It is believed that the polysaccharide from barley may be the ingredient that seems to stimulate prolactin levels. Thus, nonalcoholic beer may be equally effective at stimulating breast milk production.
Before you go out and buy a pack of beer, however, let's take a closer look at the history of this theory. For centuries, many cultures believed that alcohol could optimize breast milk production. The belief was that if the mother drank a small amount of alcohol shortly before nursing, it would facilitate the release (let-down) of the milk and relax both the mother and infant.
This belief was so strong in American culture that in 1895 a major U.S. brewery manufactured a product called Malt Nutrine, a low-alcohol beer that consisted of barley malt and hops. It was sold in drugstores only and prescribed by healthcare providers for lactating women. It was even prescribed as a nutritional beverage for children. However, it was pulled from the shelves during Prohibition because it contained more than 0.5 percent alcohol.
Although beer is sometimes referred to as a "magic elixir," it may not have all the beneficial effects that have been ingrained into the tradition of many cultures. Folklore suggests that alcohol may boost breast milk production, but studies have found that breastfed infants consumed, on average, 20 percent less breast milk during the three to four hours following the mother's consumption of an alcoholic beverage.
Animal studies have also shown similar findings, with a decrease in milk intake because the infant rats nursed for shorter periods of time or rejected the milk because of an altered flavor. These studies also showed that when the mother consumed alcohol, it reduced the amount of milk produced without altering its quality.