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Breastfeeding: To Drink or Not is the Question


I am often asked in my prenatal breastfeeding classes whether it is ok to drink and breastfeed.   

Being true to my Irish roots, with a wee twinkle in my eye, I answer this question with a question.  I ask,” Have you heard about Guinness?”  I quickly follow up with this disclaimer, ” I am a nurse and a health care professional. It is my duty to recommend that you examine your own relationship with alcohol and act accordingly to moderate or avoid it while breastfeeding.  Alcohol is not brain food nor is it acceptable to be impaired if you are caring for an innocent child.”

I deliberately bring up the Guinness because it shows the mixed messages being bandied about with regard to alcohol.  

Against the backdrop of my heritage, a la Sonia Sotomayer, I can bring out the various aspects of this debate.

I am well versed on the supposed merits of Guinness having been to the brewery in Dublin.  Indeed, I can share with them information straight from the Guinness website which is currently celebrating the 250′th anniversary of the brew.   Apparently the water comes from near the place of my father’s birth in Wicklow.  According to their FAQ, “Key ingredients -other than inspiration-are roasted, malted barley, hops, yeast and water”  (This would explain its strong association with promoting a mother’s milk supply.) 

In fact, ad campaigns from the 1930’s touted Guinness as being “Good for Health”.  Such claims are no longer legal, but the lore persists especially outside Ireland.

Believe it or not, some of these expectant mothers in my classes claim they heard you should drink Guinness in order to have enough milk.  “Like Water to Chocolate” even if drinking the Guinness could make milk flow in abundance-it is best done on a case by case basis. 

If a future mom ever enjoyed a beer or stout before becoming pregnant, she might enjoy a Guinness, on occasion, while breastfeeding.  If she does not like beer or stout, or has issues with alcohol in general, then she should not begin drinking it while breastfeeding.  It should be noted that there is a non-alcoholic version of Guinness that contains the main ingredients, sans the alcohol, which may increase milk supply.

It is human nature to want to do things that are forbidden. Pregnancy lasts 9 months and is a time frame during which most moms can maintain  healthy lifestyle choices.  However, if this period of refraining from certain foods and alcohol extends well beyond birth, it may impact their resolve to continue breastfeeding.  A just say no policy on alcohol consumption while breastfeeding may lead some to wean early. 

On the other hand, mothers should not be encouraged to drink with reckless abandon.  The use of dip-sticks to check on alcohol content in breastmilk and/or the common practice of  “pumping and dumping” does not do much to encourage moderation.   I point out to the moms-to-be in my classes that most of them will be the proverbial “cheap date”.  Having abstained from alcohol for a long time they will have a lower tolerance for its effects.  To savor the social experience and slow the absorption rate, they should be sure to eat whenever they consume alcoholic beverages.  In college frats when they intend to become inebriated, they avoid food.

Studies do show that alcohol is processed rapidly into the blood stream; the speed will vary depending upon the amounts they have drunk and whether they have eaten.  What ends up in the milk will also be affected by where it falls in relation to the breastfeeding patterns of their babies.  What is pumped is not necessarily the same as what their baby would access from direct breastfeeding.  So I am suspicious of the results of these dip sticks.

I encourage the mothers in my practice to examine their drinking history honestly when deciding whether or not to drink while breastfeeding.  The consequences go far beyond the risk of a hangover now that they will be parents.  Annie, from PhdinParenting, has a wonderful post which sums it up so well You Should Not Be Drunk While Caring For Your Baby

I view breastfeeding as a golden opportunity for mothers to further expand upon the conscious choices they made while pregnant to promote their own health and the well-being of their child. 

The question has come full circle. It is not merely whether it is ok to drink and breastfeed.  The old adage of eating for two while pregnant could be expanded to drinking while breastfeeding.

You need to think before you drink because it’s not just about you now…you have become a parent.

July 18, 2009   1 Comment

Octoberfest: Breasts and Breastfeeding Trump Guinness

Octoberfest is the month for beer and celebration in Germany.  Here in the States, October is the month of the breasts.  The focus primarily being on prevention and detection of Breast Cancer.  

For at least one month every year, I am happy that there is a conversation that centers around breasts.  However, these discussions do not generally highlight the impact of breastfeeding upon the health of women’s breasts and/or the powerful connections that are made during the breastfeeding relationship.

The first week of October, 1 Oct.-7 Oct., also marks National Breastfeeding Week in Ireland.

This year it will focus on promoting the wide range of support and information available to women who are considering breastfeeding.   A new website is launching today to coincide with this annual health initiative. TheBreastWay.ie will be a platform that will continue this theme for years to come and increase the numbers of Irish mothers who are happily breastfeeding their babies.

Having been breastfed by my Irish mother, this hits close to home.  Margaret modeled breastfeeding as a norm for me and my siblings.  In fact, she gave a withering look to the doctor who asked her why she was breastfeeding me, the first of five.  He turned tail and fled the room when asked “What are they (the breasts) there for?” 

I am thrilled that in this month of Octoberfest that there is an Irish light shining upon Breastfeeding rather than on the Guinness, which is often recommended as an elixir to enhance breastmilk production. 

I can add my multi-media book/course

, this blog, The Breastfeeding Salon  and The Breastfeeding Salon Show  to this mix.  Focusing on the positive and promoting a healthy reverence for the breasts and Conscious Breastfeeding the world over.


October 1, 2008   No Comments