Alcohol Doesn't Help Breastfeeding
Science Contradicts the Folklore, Say Researchers
April 6, 2005 -- Alcohol doesn't improve breastfeeding, a new study
That flies in the face of folklore, says researcher Julie Mennella, PhD, of
Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center. She and her colleagues tested the
popular belief -- and alcohol flunked.
A drink might make moms briefly feel more relaxed, but it doesn't help
breast milk production, says Mennella's team in The Journal of Clinical
Endocrinology & Metabolism.
In fact, alcohol could hinder milk production. "Recommending alcohol as
an aid to lactation may be counterproductive," they write in the journal's
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding alcohol while
nursing, as the alcohol can pass through breast milk to the baby. "If you
choose to drink alcohol, drink it just after you nurse rather than just
before," says the AAP's web page on breastfeeding and diet.
For centuries, traditional wisdom in many cultures has held that alcohol
helps moms produce breast milk. But that belief lacks scientific evidence,
according to the study.
Mennella's study amounted to a showdown for folklore. To see if alcohol
lived up to its reputation, 17 healthy, breastfeeding moms drank orange juice
with alcohol on one day and straight juice on another day. They didn't know
which drink was which, since the drinks' smell and flavor were masked.
After each drink, the women's milk production (via a breast pump) was
measured. The moms also gave blood samples every few minutes for an
hour-and-a-half during the experiment, and their moods were noted.
The results showed that alcohol had no advantages for breast milk
Alcohol's Effects on Breastfeeding
Twelve of the 17 women produced less breast milk on the day they had the
alcohol-spiked drink. On average, they produced 13% less breast milk than they
did after drinking the alcohol-free juice.
Alcohol consumption affected two key hormones involved in milk production
and breastfeeding. The women had lower levels of a hormone called oxytocin, a
hormone believed to be responsible for milk released into the breast.
Alcohol also increased levels of two other hormones, cortisol and prolactin.
Prolactin helps in milk production.
As prolactin levels rose, it took longer for the women to produce breast
milk. Higher prolactin levels also accompanied feelings of drunkenness,
As for cortisol, it wasn't significantly linked to how much breast milk was
produced or how long that took. The data didn't show that the tests themselves
Not surprisingly, the women reported feeling drunk, sedated, and not all
that great (dysphoric) after drinking the alcohol. Blood alcohol levels peaked
43-51 minutes after downing the drink.
Sleep Shortfall Ties In
Sleep deprivation -- typical among new moms -- can also increase feelings of
sedation and dysphoria, say the researchers.
"We hypothesize that sleep deprivation, which is common among mothers of
young infants, contributed to the increased feelings of sedation and dysphoria
observed on the day lactating women consumed alcohol," they write.
So where did the folklore go wrong? Increases in prolactin after drinking
alcohol can make breasts feel full, but that doesn't necessarily mean more
milk, say Mennella and colleagues.