“Have a beer! It will help stimulate milk production.” This assertion is pretty common advice given to new moms by friends, family and even healthcare professionals. Where did it come from and is there any truth to it?
Decades ago, doctors and midwives commonly prescribed a nice dark, hoppy brew to a mother as her milk came in to help increase milk production. Today, friends and family will bring some beer to a new mother assuring her that this is what she needs for producing more milk. It turns out there is some truth to it. A study conducted in Munich, Germany discovered that the polysaccharides in the barley of beer acted as a galactagogue , a substance that stimulates lactation. The actual alcohol did not help lactation and other studies have shown that it could decrease lactation. However, a mother needs to be relaxed to get a good let down and alcohol can help with that.
It seems moderation is the key. A beer can relax a new mom and make her less anxious about breastfeeding, which can be so difficult in those first few weeks of giving birth. The barley polysaccharides give the lactation process an extra little boost. Having more than one or two beers, though, can make your baby not want to nurse as much and decrease your supply. It can also give baby too much alcohol.
Countless women swear by beer to help their increase their milk. From a personal standpoint, I find that a Guinness or a Cream Stout really does increase milk. I will usually nurse my baby to sleep in the evening and then have a beer before bed. When the baby wakes me up a couple hours later to nurse, I have some serious milk. Baby is happy and sleeps longer the rest of night and I am happy because I get a longer stretch of sleep.