You’ve probably heard the old wives’ tale before about having a beer when breastfeeding. But does beer boost milk supply?
Firstly, know that most mothers are able to make plenty of milk for their babies.
Although many women worry about whether they’ll have enough, most of the time their supply is fine.
Occasionally, though, a breastfeeding mother really does have a low supply.
Having a low milk supply can cause her significant worry and stress.
She will probably try to find out whatever can be done to boost it.
Many people claim that certain foods and drinks will increase milk supply. One of them is beer.
The theory is that the alcohol in beer tends to relax the mother so that her milk is let down more easily. Therefore, this is said to allow the baby to remove more milk, which causes more milk to be produced.
Does Beer Boost Milk Supply?
So, does beer boost milk supply? The short answer is no.
In fact, it can have the opposite effect. Read on to find out how.
Research Shows Beer Can Lower Supply
Research has shown a baby drinks about 20% less milk for 3 to 4 hours after her mother has consumed beer, compared with babies whose mothers didn’t consume beer.
If a baby drinks less milk at one breastfeed, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on supply.
However, since a mother’s milk production works on a ‘supply and demand’ basis (i.e. the more milk removed, the more milk made and vice versa), if less milk is removed time and time again, a mother’s milk supply will also reduce over time.
After the mother’s alcohol consumption, the decrease in milk intake does not occur because babies are breastfed for shorter periods of time or because they reject their mother’s milk due to its altered flavour.
In fact, the alcohol is impairing the let-down reflex (by inhibiting oxytocin release) and slowing the flow of milk. This is what reduces a baby’s milk intake after her mother has consumed beer.
So why do some mothers feel beer increases their supply?
Beer Can Fool Mothers Into Thinking It Helps Boost Supply
Due to the inhibited let-down reflex after the mother consumes alcohol, less milk is removed.
That means more milk than usual actually remains in the breast after each feed.
This can make a mother’s breasts feel fuller than usual after the feed, fooling her into thinking she’s producing more.
Putting the alcohol content of beer aside, what about the other ingredients (e.g. yeast) in beer?
Could they help to increase prolactin levels and help to boost supply?
Frequent And Effective Milk Removal Is Key To Supply
Anecdotally, while some mothers find certain foods or drinks helpful to increase supply, there is no scientific research to show that any particular food or drink can actually do this.
Some people believe certain foods increase prolactin production.
Since prolactin is the milk-making hormone, they believe such foods will increase milk supply.
However, even if there are foods that increase prolactin levels, it takes more than just prolactin to establish and maintain supply.
Once a baby is born and a mother’s placenta is delivered, this sets into motion a series of hormonal events which lead to a mother’s milk coming in. Because this process is hormonally driven, it occurs whether milk is being removed or not.
Shortly after a mother’s milk comes in, however, the amount of milk made is determined within the breast, depending on how often and how well milk is removed.
If it’s removed often and well, more milk is made and vice versa.
At this point, prolactin is needed but has more of a background influence.
Even drugs which inhibit prolactin production are much less effective after the early days for this reason.
This means that even if there are foods which increase prolactin levels, they are unlikely to play a significant role in boosting milk supply.
Drugs and Breastmilk Production
Once milk production is no longer hormonally driven, but controlled within the breast, how might drugs such as domperidone (which increases prolactin levels) be helpful for mothers who genuinely have a low milk supply?
For these women (even those with normal prolactin levels), such drugs can increase supply.
How do they work? By increasing the amount of prolactin available to ‘bombard’ the lower number of prolactin receptors in the breast.
The most important factor in stimulating milk production is frequent and effective removal of milk from the breasts. If low supply is still an issue, it’s important to seek prompt help from a breastfeeding support organisation such as ABA or LLLI, or from a lactation consultant (IBCLC). They can help you to work out why your supply might be low, and what can be done to help.