Breastfeeding mothers have been frequently told throughout the years that drinking beer can help produce more milk for their baby. This advice, along with the current recommendations to generally avoid alcohol when nursing your baby can confuse moms as to what exactly is safe for you and your baby. I will clarify the conflicting advice and see what current research tells us is safe.
So what do experts say about breastfeeding and drinking beer? Taking one standard drink daily, which is the equivalent to 12 ounces of 5% beer, is not known to cause harm when breastfeeding your baby. However, drinking beer beyond this recommended limit or at a higher alcohol content beer can negatively affect a breastfeeding infant and impair a breastfeeding mother’s judgment and ability to take care of her baby. You can enjoy an occasional beer while breastfeeding, but the key to keeping it within safe limits. There is currently no scientific research to say that beer acts as a galactagogue or that it can cause thrush in an infant.
I will discuss the negative effects of drinking more than the recommended allowance as well as popular beliefs that we have associated with drinking beer and what impact it can have on the breastfeeding mother and her baby.
Beer And It’s Effect On Breastfeeding
The most important factor to be considered when drinking beer is its alcohol content. Here are some important considerations with regard to drinking beer while breastfeeding.
How long does beer stay in your breast milk?
Studies show that once alcohol reaches your bloodstream, around 2% of the total amount drank can be transferred to your breast milk. Alcohol reaches its peak levels at about 2 to 3 hours after you have consumed beer. Beer’s alcohol content is not stored in breast milk. Instead, it will equal the mother’s blood alcohol levels. Once the mother’s blood alcohol level decreases, the amount of alcohol present in her breast milk is also reduced. This fact is why experts recommend that if a breastfeeding mom has consumed an alcoholic beverage such as beer, she should wait at least 2 hours before nursing her baby.
Effects of 2 glasses of beer While Nursing Your Baby
Another essential consideration for nursing moms when drinking beer is the quantity consumed. As mentioned earlier, 1 standard drink of beer, which is equivalent to 12 ounces of 5 % beer, is not known to be harmful to the breastfed baby, particularly if you wait at least 2 hours before you nurse.
To determine its effects, let us first define the approximate quantity of 2 glasses of beer. Beer is often served using a pint glass which can hold around 16 ounces of fluid. If you consumed 2 glasses of 5% beer, this would amount to approximately 24 ounces due to each 12-ounce serving.
Here are some of the things to expect after you consumed 2 glasses of beer:
- The length of time that alcohol can be traced in your breast milk is doubled, so generally, you’ll be expected to abstain from nursing for around 4 to 5 hours.
- According to the CDC, drinking alcohol beyond 1 standard drink per day can affect the milk ejection reflex (let down) while the mother’s alcohol levels are high.
- One study suggests that heavy daily intake of alcohol (more than 2 standard drinks daily) may have negative effects on the breastfed baby, and decrease the length of time that the mother nurses her baby.
- Other studies suggest that having 2 or more drinks daily has links to psychomotor delays in the breastfed infant.
Effects of 3 glasses of beer While Breastfeeding
Consuming 3 pint glasses of beer is equivalent to around 36 ounces, which is 3 times more than the recommended daily limit for breastfeeding mothers. Here are some possible effects after you have drunk 3 glasses of beer while breastfeeding:
Any drink containing alcohol can be detected in your breast milk and it is best to wait to nurse your baby for at least 6 to 8 hours after having drunk 3 glasses. Generally, you’ll be expected to refrain from nursing your baby until you are sober and feel neurologically stable to resume breastfeeding.
This excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a shortened breastfeeding duration over time as your milk production will have significantly decreased.
It can affect your baby’s early development and sleep patterns.
La Leche League suggests that heavy alcohol consumption can lead to drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness, abnormal weight gain in the infant, along with the possibility of a decreased milk-ejection reflex in the mother.
Is drinking half a beer safe While Also Breastfeeding?
Half a pint glass is equivalent to approximately 6 ounces of beer, which is below the recommended daily limit of 12 ounces for breastfeeding mothers. With regards to the quantity, this amount can be considered within the safe limits, especially if you wait at least 2 hours before breastfeeding your baby. However, there are other factors you need to take note of when it comes to drinking this alcoholic beverage, particularly if you’re planning to do it regularly. Among them are the following:
The data only refers to 12 ounces of 5% beer. This contains around 14 grams or 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. This can vary as many other beer preparations contain more alcohol, also known as alcohol by volume (ABV). For example, drinking 12 ounces of 9% beer is past the recommended levels for a breastfeeding mother as it contains an increased amount of alcohol, which is almost equivalent to 2 standard drinks.
Newborns have an immature liver, which means that even a small dose of alcohol can be a burden. In addition, 3-month-old babies can metabolize alcohol at half the rate of adults, while toddlers can break down alcohol at a much faster rate. So, if you are breastfeeding a newborn baby, it is best not to drink alcohol while your baby is this young.
Your body weight
According to the AAP, breastfeeding mothers should limit themselves to an occasional alcohol intake of no more than 0.5 g alcohol per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh less than average BMI, consult a health care provider as a safety measure before you engage in occasional beer drinking.
How you consumed the beer
Drinking an alcoholic beverage with food delays the time that alcohol peaks in your bloodstream and breast milk. So if you drink beer with food, you might need to wait a little longer before breastfeeding your baby.
Additionally, drinking beer at a faster rate will lead to an accumulation of high levels of alcohol in your bloodstream and breast milk. Also, take note that on average adults normally metabolize alcohol at a rate of 1 ounce in 2-3 hours. So give your body a little time to break down the alcohol you just consumed before nursing your baby.
Is drinking beer good for breast milk production?
I mentioned earlier that in some cultures, beer is hailed as a ‘galactagogue’ or a substance that can boost breast milk production. Some notable examples are:
- In America, there is a century-old practice of drinking a small quantity of alcohol shortly before nursing to promote milk let down and increase the mother’s milk yield. In 1895, a famous US brewery even produced “Malt Nutrine,” which is a low alcoholic beer made out of barley, malt, and hops. This beer was sold at drugstores and prescribed by physicians as a breastfeeding tonic for pregnant and lactating moms. It was eventually prohibited due to its high alcohol content.
- In Mexico, women are advised to drink as much as 2 liters of “pulque,” which is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of a plant called Agave atrovirens. This is also given as it was believed to promote lactation even in recent times.
- In Germany, malt beer is called a “magic elixir,” which can boost milk production
So is drinking beer really good for milk production? Experts suggest that there is little scientific evidence to back up this claim.
One study mentions that beer may increase the serum prolactin levels during breastfeeding due to the polysaccharides of barley and hops. However, with 5 or more drinks, its alcohol content can decrease milk production, and even the milk let down while the mother’s blood alcohol levels are high.
Women with a history of alcoholism tend to have a blunted prolactin response upon breast stimulation. They then compensate by breastfeeding more frequently. This might be one reason that people believe they produced more milk.
After heavy consumption of beer, a mother’s judgment and perception are impaired. This will make it less likely for her to correctly evaluate if her baby has consumed more milk from a breastfeeding session.
Studies are contradicting this folklore of beer acting as a galactagogue. It has been suggested that infants who are breastfed within 3 to 4 hours after drinking an alcoholic beverage consumed up to 20 percent less breast milk.
Overall, there might be a little help coming from some of the beer’s ingredients, like barley and hops. However, the probability of beer helping to boost breast milk production is low, primarily due to its alcohol content.
Non-alcoholic beer while breastfeeding
Due to a multitude of types and alcohol strengths of beer, some breastfeeding moms opt to have non-alcoholic beer instead. For those breastfeeding mothers who wish to have a drink, this is a much wiser option. Non-alcoholic beer will include the beneficial effects of the polysaccharides from the barley and hops. In the meantime, you will avoid the negative effects of alcohol on your breastfed baby. However, it’s important to mention that some non-alcoholic beers can contain more ethanol than what is indicated on the label. In one study, ethanol was detected in breast milk after consuming up to 1.5 liters of non-alcoholic beer. In this study involving 15 women, ethanol was detected in the breast milk of 2 women immediately after the consumption of non-alcoholic beer. However, ethanol was not detectable 1 hour later. The study concluded that such levels are less likely to be harmful to the breastfed infant. But since there is a lack of safety information and variation in the alcohol content of non-alcoholic beverages, it is better to delay breastfeeding after consuming these drinks briefly.
Can drinking beer while Breastfeeding cause thrush in a baby?
Thrush is a type of infection caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida albicans. These yeast-like organisms are usually found in the warm and moist areas of our body like the mouth, skin, and genital area. However, some conditions can make these microorganisms multiply in number and infect a specific body area. When it infects the mouth’s lining, it is referred to as oral thrush or oral candidiasis. The characteristic symptom of oral thrush in babies is the presence of a white coating on the tongue, which cannot be easily removed.
Currently, there is no scientific evidence to link the maternal consumption of beer and thrush on the breastfed baby. There is one study among Koreans who had undergone a medical procedure on their throat. This study revealed that drinking too many alcoholic drinks is a risk factor to esophageal thrush. According to experts, thrush is very common among babies, especially those who are born prematurely, primarily due to their weakened immune system.
Can a baby get drunk through breast milk?
The term “drunk” is a state where a person becomes intoxicated from an alcoholic drink, up to a point when they are physically and mentally impaired. As mentioned earlier, 2 percent of the alcohol a mother consumes reaches her breast milk, and thus not likely to get her breastfed baby drunk. The data is quite vague regarding the possibility of her baby getting drunk if the mother consumed too much alcohol and continues to breastfeed. However, experts strictly advise against breastfeeding following an immediate heavy consumption of alcohol due to its detrimental effects on the baby’s early development.
In general, not drinking beer or any other alcoholic beverage while breastfeeding is the safest option. An occasional half pint of beer after dinner or special occasion won’t hurt as long as you are aware of the safety precautions and plan ahead of time. Be extra careful before following some breastfeeding myths, particularly using beer as a galactagogue. Consuming too much alcohol can have negative effects on your breastfed baby. If you have any doubts regarding your baby’s safety, consult a health care expert for more information and guidance about breastfeeding and drinking beer.