My son is now almost 17 months old, and I'm still breastfeeding him. While I’ve successfully been his only source of liquid nourishment for the first six months of his life, my supply recently took a dip following a stressful family move, and I've had to supplement. My son is able to drink formula from a sippy cup like a champ, but in my effort to be the Best Mom Ever, I’ve made sure to breastfeed him at least once a day, or more often if he's being fussy. Recently, he came down with a teething-induced fever that essentially put me on nonstop nursing patrol. Pretty soon, I found myself literally tapped out, my breasts deflated like sad bags, prompting me to search for hacks to boost one's milk supply. That's why I recently drank dark beer for a week to increase my supply.
I never thought about increasing my milk production before, because I didn’t think I needed to. I thought that as long as my son nursed daily, the stimulation of my nipples would be enough to keep the flow going. Based on recent results, however, nursing him when he wakes up in the morning and when he conks out at night is not enough to keep my supply going.
So I looked up ways to boost milk production and focused on food items that were easily available to me. I read that mother’s milk tea tasted gross and fenugreek sounded scary, so I scoured through pages of search results until a familiar word caught my eye: dark beer. Perfect! It’s a thing that I already love to drink, and even though booze is pricey where I live, this seemed like good enough reason to splurge a little.
The whole concept of beer drinking to make more milk seemed too good to be true. Yes, beer contains barley, which has polysaccharide, a carbohydrate that stimulates prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production. It’s also true that yeast, found in beer, is informally rumored to be a galactagogue (AKA a food or drug that promotes better breast milk flow), but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support it. At the end of the day, beer has alcohol, "alcohol inhibits the milk-ejection reflex," as lactation consultant Danielle Downs Spradlin, who runs Oasis Lactation Services, tells Romper plainly by email. She also warns that chronic alcohol use is associated with early weaning — it can even affect the baby’s sleeping schedule, among other things. The good news for beer-lovers? "Non-alcoholic beers may provide extra calories, which may be helpful for a mom who is having a hard time maintaining weight or accessing nutritious foods," says Spradlin.
I wanted to try it, though. I wanted to see if drinking dark beer would work for me the way it supposedly has for other moms. It’s not like I was going to transform into a boozehound overnight.
I decided to drink one can of Guinness every night for a week and pump for ten minutes as soon as I got up in the morning. I haven’t really pumped in ages (only during a recent solo trip where I pumped and dumped in order to keep my flow going) since my baby drinks formula anyway, but it was the only way to determine how much milk I was making for the purposes of this experiment.
Day 0 / Pre-beer: A nightly can of Guinness sounds nice
Milk pumped: 85 ml, or about 3 ounces
Three ounces is actually not bad, especially considering I had to get up at 1 in the morning to pump because my son was screaming his head off, and I was still groggy. It should be noted that my pump runs on 110V and I live in Singapore, where the norm is 220V, so I had to run it on battery pack, which makes it suck weaker. I wasn’t getting any milk on my usual setting, so I had to turn it up.
Come to think of it, looking at my results kind of makes me sad and remember how I used to average 100 ml (3.4 ounces) per boob back in the day. I really hope the dark beer works.
Day 1: It’s always a hopeful beginning
Milk pumped: 135 ml, or 4.5 ounces
I had a hard time finishing a whole can of beer last night. In fact, I gagged after I took my last gulp. Either I’m suddenly not a stout fan, or motherhood has made my alcohol tolerance take a giant nosedive. Either way, it should be worth it if it means producing more milk in the end.
Day 2: Oh, when the doubts come marching in
Milk pumped: 128 ml, or 4.3 ounces
I pumped 45 minutes later than I did yesterday because I woke up this morning super sore from a yoga class I took yesterday. I haven’t worked out in ages and that was the class that’s supposed to jumpstart my fitness routine. Apparently, certain yoga movements increase milk production, so what gives? Why the dip in my supply?
Day 3: I hate beer
Milk pumped: 120 ml, or 4 ounces
My boobs actually felt fuller when I woke up this morning, and I had a feeling I’d pump more milk today, but no dice. This whole one-beer-a-night thing is also starting to suck. I came home from an evening restorative yoga class that entailed the use of lavender oils, massage balls, and relaxing breathing techniques, so I was not in the mood for beer. I ended up not finishing the can, so I drank a bunch of water to compensate.
Is there someone out there who claims eating ice cream made them produce more milk? Maybe I should have signed up for that one, instead.
Day 4: Things are looking up
Milk pumped: 130 ml, or 4.4 ounces
Since my cousins are in town for the weekend, I actually went out with them last night and had a couple of beers, one of which was a stout. I don’t know if that had something to do with the extra mls I produced, but it makes me happy that finally, I am seeing results.
Day 5: I’m out
Milk pumped: 100 ml, or 3.4 ounces
Last night before drinking my beer, I actually felt dread rather than excitement over the prospect of alcohol consumption in the name of breastfeeding my child more. I felt like a big bag of bleh. My husband implored me to stop my experiment, and I agreed.
It wasn’t a complete waste of time, though. If there was one important takeaway from all this, it’s that beer isn’t a sustainable way to boost your milk supply. During the past few days, I found myself wanting water, juice, and milk tea. Not beer though, at least not everyday.
My daily results fluctuated enough that I feel like the beer isn’t necessarily doing anything to increase my supply. I’m sure there are other drinks and food items out there that have milk-boosting properties that are more doable on a daily basis, ones that won’t make me feel queasy and tired.
While the idea of drinking beer nightly sounds awesome to 25-year-old me, 33-year-old me is just plain over it. Besides, why should I subject myself to a routine that I obviously do not enjoy? I feel like I am doing my baby a huge disservice that way, because it makes me associate horrible things to breastfeeding — an experience that I actually love. So while this experiment was a bit of a bust, on the plus side, I did get to add to my frozen breast milk stash.
Bazzano, A., Cenac, L., Brandt, A., Barnett, J., Thibeau, S., Theall, K. (2017) Maternal experiences with and sources of information on galactagogues to support lactation: a cross-sectional study. International Journal of Women's Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5338995/
Danielle Downs Spradlin, lactation consultant and owner of Oasis Lactation Services
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