Study reveals drinking alcohol reduces breast milk supply in women


Alcohol and lactation: Myth vs. science

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.

"This information is important for women," comments Julie Mennella, PhD. "If a mother is drinking alcohol just to improve the quality or quantity of her milk, she needs to know that there is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, the hormones underlying lactation and her milk production will be altered in the short term."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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