Does Beer Actually Help Breastfeeding?

By Brian Lemay 2 comments


We all know that it’s a bad idea to drink
alcohol when you’re pregnant – it can cause problems with the pregnancy and with the
baby’s health. But have you heard from people that it might
be okay, or even helpful, for a mother to drink beer while breastfeeding? Some people say drinking beer supposedly helps
a mother produce milk, also known as lactation. So is there any truth to it? Well, maybe. But different scientific studies seem to disagree. Lactation relies on two main hormones: prolactin
and oxytocin. Prolactin helps trigger cells in the mammary
glands to synthesize milk and fill up little sacs called alveoli. On the other hand, oxytocin causes the let-down,
or milk-ejection, reflex – where the cells surrounding the alveoli contract, basically
pushing out the milk. So most of the research on beer, or any alcohol,
and breastfeeding focuses on these two hormones. Some experiments have found that prolactin
levels might increase thanks to one of the components of some beer: barley. A carbohydrate in barley has been shown to
make lab animals, like rats and ewe — ewe being female sheep, not, not YOU, you are
not a lab animal — it makes them synthesize more prolactin. So that could possibly mean that barley, in
alcoholic or non-alcoholic beer, could have a similar effect in new mothers, and the extra
prolactin might stimulate some more milk production. But that’s a lot of “maybe”s in that
sentence. Another study with 13 lactating women found
if they drank alcohol – in this case, alcohol mixed with orange juice – the levels of
prolactin in their breast milk changed. If the woman’s blood alcohol concentration,
or BAC, was rising when the milk was pumped, prolactin levels were higher. If her BAC was falling, prolactin levels were
lower. And despite those changing prolactin levels,
the women consistently expressed less milk after drinking alcohol. So, all these prolactin studies don’t really
tell us much about beer and breastfeeding. But what about the other hormone: oxytocin? Well, some research has shown that drinking
alcohol may decrease oxytocin levels and inhibit the milk-ejection reflex. Like one study which focused on 12 lactating
women, who breastfed their babies within four hours after drinking alcoholic or nonalcoholic
beer. The researchers found the babies drank less
milk if their moms had an alcoholic beer – possibly because of an inhibited milk-ejection reflex. And on top of all this hormone stuff, as long
as a lactating woman has alcohol in her bloodstream, a tiny fraction of it will enter her milk
– and that could affect how infants breastfeed. Basically, lactation is just complicated,
and there’s still a lot that scientists don’t know about how beer – or any alcohol
– affects breastfeeding. More research, with more participants, is
definitely needed to understand how all these hormonal changes work together. And because of that, if you’re a new or
expectant mother, and you want to have some beers, you might wanna talk to a lactation consultant
or a doctor for breastfeeding advice. Thank you for asking, and thanks especially to
all of our patrons on Patreon who keep these answers coming. If you’d like to submit questions to get
answered, or get some videos a few days early, you can go to patreon.com/scishow. And don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow
and subscribe!

2 Comments

Habibo

Feb 2, 2017, 12:19 pm Reply

alcohol is toxic so why the fuck would you expect it to be good?

UHFStation1

Apr 4, 2019, 4:14 am Reply

What about breast size? Does beer contain chemicals that simulate estrogen?

Jayde O

Jun 6, 2019, 7:33 pm Reply

I never understood this myth… Why would you want alcohol in your breastmilk? Even before watching this I figured it would do more harm than good.

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