Beer is traditionally used as a cure for women having trouble breastfeeding, however the dangers posed by its alcoholic content makes non-alcoholic beer a much wiser choice. Common advice for treatment of breastfeeding issues includes reducing distractions around mother and baby. Applying warm compresses to the breasts, taking a warm shower or massaging the breasts prior to nursing may also help. Yet some women continue to not only experience problems with milk let-down during nursing, but with overall milk production. Non-alcoholic beer may decrease these problems.
Nursing mothers have been told for centuries to drink beer to facilitate nursing. Beer is believed to help increase milk production and to encourage the “let-down” reflex, or the release of milk to the baby. The correlation between beer and successful breastfeeding in some women may be more than anecdotal. Barley, from which beer is produced, contains a polysaccharide that stimulates the milk ducts in nursing mothers.
Why Go Non-Alcoholic?
While beer and breastfeeding were once thought to be a beneficial combination, beer and other alcoholic drinks are now known to make nursing dangerous. The small size of an infant, coupled with her body’s inability to eliminate alcohol as efficiently as adults can, makes even the small amount of alcohol ingested through breast milk dangerous. One daily beer consumed by the mother can result in poor sleeping patterns and delays in motor development in an infant. Alcohol also has been shown to decrease, rather than increase, milk production. In addition, babies consume about 20 percent less breast milk from mothers drinking alcoholic beer than from those drinking non-alcoholic beer. Decreased intake may be both because the alcohol makes babies too sleepy to continue feeding, and because the taste of breast milk alters more from alcoholic beer consumption than non-alcoholic beer consumption.
Because the polysaccharides in barley – not the alcohol – is the key beer ingredient that helps some women who are nursing, non-alcoholic beer may offer breastfeeding benefits while eliminating the dangers. While research continues about how helpful these compounds are in increasing milk production, non-alcoholic beer offers the undeniable advantage of keeping alcohol out of a baby’s system. Always read labels carefully, because some beers labeled non-alcoholic may actually have a small amount of alcohol. “Near beer" also has a low level of alcohol.
Aside from the barley used in beer, other plants are believed to be effective galactogogues, or substances for increasing milk production in nursing mothers. Try barley in soup or as a breakfast porridge. Other potential milk-increasers include oatmeal, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots and green peas. If your baby’s pediatrician approves herbal teas, consider traditional galactogogues such as milk thistle and alfalfa, which are not known to cause side effects for mother and baby. Alfalfa should not be taken by anyone with an autoimmune disorder or who is taking blood-thinning medications.