Posted by: Admin | April 7, 2011

Dear LC, I’ve been told that drinking a beer will help my milk supply. Is that true? What about an occasional glass of red wine with a meal or for a special occasion?

1) I’ve been told that drinking a beer will help my milk supply. Is that true?

No. Drinking beer containing alcohol will not increase your milk supply. We used to think the barley used in the fabrication of beer helped increase the milk supply. Older studies done mostly on animals did show that barley had a certain beneficial effect on the quantity of milk produced. However, we now know that alcohol reduces the milk ejection reflex and the amount of milk available for the baby. As beer contains alcohol, it will not help to increase the milk supply. It is possible that drinking non-alcoholic beer can have a small positive effect on milk production, but the data on this is conflicting and the evidence not very solid. Be careful to make sure it has 0% alcohol, as some non-alcoholic beverages still contain a small percentage of alcohol. As a general rule, a beverage can be called “non-alcoholic” if it has less then 0.5% alcohol per volume.

2) Can I have an occasional glass of red wine with a meal or for a special occasion?

Yes, you can! Having an occasional alcoholic beverage is considered compatible with breastfeeding, although regular alcohol intake is discouraged. Read the rest of this post to obtain more detailed information.

First, it is important to know that drinking alcohol while breastfeeding your baby will NOT cause FAS or FASD! Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are related to alcohol intake during pregnancy.

Most experts say that there is a significant amount of alcohol secreted into breastmilk when the mother is drinking, although it is not considered harmful to the baby if the amount and duration are limited. One study mentions it is better not to take any alcohol at all during the first month of the baby’s life because younger babies have more trouble metabolizing substances. It then goes on to say that after the first month, a mother could have 1 or 2 standard drinks (12 oz beer,  5 oz glass of wine or 1,5 oz of hard liquor) per day. They also recommend that she drink them immediately after breastfeeding to limit the amount received by the baby. If a mother wishes to drink more than this, she should remember that the more alcohol she takes, the longer it will take to leave her body.

However, because both eating and the rate of milk production affect how alcohol is metabolised and secreted into the breastmilk, enjoying a good meal and expressing some milk in the hour before drinking will reduce the availability of the alcohol in the mother’s system and, consequently, in her milk.

For those of you not wanting any alcohol at all to reach the baby, Motherisk (a Canadian web site and hotline on drugs during pregnancy and breastfeeding) offers a table that gives you the exact time to wait according to the number of drinks taken and the mother’s weight. This would bring the alcohol level down to zero. But you can also bring the quantity of alcohol down quite a lot if you resume breastfeeding only once you feel good enough to safely pick up your baby. This guideline also applies for breastfeeding after binge drinking. Be aware that if you intend on partying hard, there needs to be someone who can take care of your baby. If you know that you are a chronic user of alcohol, you need to make sure your baby is always safe and well looked after. Get someone to help you.

As for the recommendations concerning chronic alcohol use and breastfeeding, they are contradictory. Some sources say you should not breastfeed if you are a chronic drinker, but other sources say the benefits of breastfeeding still outweigh the possible negative effects of alcohol on the baby.

Information that all experts agree on is that alcohol reduces the milk ejection reflex, which in turn lowers the quantity of milk received by the baby by about 23%.  A high alcohol intake can also have effects on the baby, such as drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness, decreased linear growth, and abnormal weight gain. Furthermore, the baby seems to have a decreased sucking reflex and does not take as much milk when his mother has alcohol in her milk, but he does compensate once the alcohol is eliminated from her breastmilk. Some studies mention the possibility that the baby will score below normal on motor development, but the results are controversial.

In conclusion: Yes, you can have an occasional drink, but moderation is always best!!!!


Motherisk information on alcohol during breastfeeding

Next week’s Dear LC post will answer: Will breastfeeding my baby disrupt the introduction of solids?

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