Scientific researchers have turned folklore on its head by showing that alcohol consumption by women who are breast feeding reduces their milk supply, rather than boosting it.
New evidence shows that alcohol consumption causes hormonal disruption, decreased lactation performance and diminished milk supply. The findings were published today in the April issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, one of the four journals of The Endocrine Society.
With April as Alcohol Awareness Month -- an annual program designed to shed light on the importance of identifying alcoholism and intervention -- breastfeeding mothers are now armed with scientific data highlighting the health risks associated with moderate alcohol consumption during lactation. For centuries, physicians and mid-wives around the world have claimed that alcohol is a galactogenic (milk producing) substance and have recommended consumption to mothers in order to enhance the quality and quantity of milk to infants.
The present study, led by Julie Mennella, Ph.D., at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, examined levels of the hormones oxytocin, prolactin and cortisol, as well as the lactational performance of 17 nonsmoking, healthy breastfeeding women. Breast stimulation was provided by an electric breast pump and the hormonal responses were measured after they consumed a moderate dose of alcohol (0.4 g/kg). The results showed a significant decrease in oxytocin level, which correlates with the decline of milk ejection and production, dismissing the lore that alcohol is a galactagogue. Furthermore, the increased prolactin levels are directly associated with the lactating mothers' perception of breast fullness explaining why the folklore may have persisted for centuries.
"Since breast milk is a critical form of nutrients to infants," explains Dr. Mennella, "it is important that women remain as healthy as possible during the breast-feeding stage. This means dismissing the age-old myth that alcohol assists in milk supply."