Moms, how would you feel if you were told that you can and should drink beer while breastfeeding to help boost your milk supply?
It is interesting to see what mothers around the world would do to increase their breast milk supply. Some use massage techniques, while others focus on diet and exercise. Some moms are more intentional about it and include galactogogues, which are substances known to increase milk supply, in their food.
According to Joyce Ann Martinez, RN, MSN, IBCLC, a nurse-lactation consultant, and founder of the Center for Lactation Care, the choice and intake of galactogogues varies from culture to culture.
“In the Philippines it’s malunggay. The Chinese have the Gelai practice to balance yin and yang in the body. In Hispanic culture, they use malt beer as a galactogogue,” says Joyce.
Yes... there are those who believe that drinking beer while breastfeeding can increase the flow of breast milk. The question is, is there any truth to this or is it merely a myth?
What makes beer a galactagogue?
While it may seem like an unlikely choice of drink for increasing breast milk production, Joyce says that beer contains malt, which is what makes it a galactogogue.
The malt in beer is produced by germinating barley, a whole grain that is known to help boost lactation, as stated in a medical abstract on beer and breastfeeding published on the The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website.
The study indicates that a polysaccharide or carbohydrate found in barley is responsible for an increase in prolactin, a hormone that stimulates the production of milk after child birth.
The downside to drinking beer while breastfeeding
However effective barley may be as a galactogogue, one cannot help but question how safe it actually is to drink beer and breastfeed. After all, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises mothers to minimize drinking alcoholic beverages while breastfeeding as alcohol passes on to the mother's milk and to the baby.
Another issue that is associated with drinking beer while breastfeeding is how it affects a mom’s behavior and willingness to feed. “Studies conclude that alcohol intake during pregnancy can inhibit milk let down,” shares Joyce.
The milk let down reflex happens when your baby starts to suck, and the nerves in your breast release signals to release the milk in your milk ducts.
Joyce also says that there are cases where a mother loses her interest to feed and even refuses to breastfeed after consuming alcohol. This can lead to failure to thrive and possibly even poor weight gain.
How to go about drinking beer while breastfeeding
If you do find that drinking beer while breastfeeding benefits you and your milk supply - or you really just want a break - go ahead and have one or two. With the proper precautions, drinking beer while breastfeeding can be done without harming your baby.
You should start by drinking in moderation, says Joyce. Limit your intake to one to two bottles only. You should also take into consideration the amount of time that it will take for the alcohol content in your milk to return to zero so that it would be safe to feed your baby.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should wait at least two hours after you have an alcoholic beverage before breastfeeding. This helps to minimize the concentration of alcohol in your milk. The longer you can afford to wait, the better.
On the other hand, if you would rather abstain from alcohol while nursing, you could consider other ways to incorporate barley into your diet, like in soups, salads, or teas.
Remember, though, that drinking beer while breastfeeding, like the intake of all other galactogogues, can only do so much to help your milk flow. “In general, galactogogues do not really promise results, and the true key to increased milk is stimulation by direct feeding,” says Joyce.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patricia de Castro-Cuyugan
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