Not all foods and herbs increase milk supply. In fact, some plants, herbs, and medications can decrease milk supply. Some, like alcohol or parsley, will slowly decrease milk supply, while others, like pseudoephedrine, will dramatically stop the production of milk within hours of the first dose.
Learn all about the food, herbs, and medications that can decrease your milk supply.
For many years, health care providers recommended that mothers enjoy a beer before nursing to help with the milk ejection reflex, offer relaxation, boost milk supply, and improve milk quality. However, this advice was a bit misguided. While alcohol certainly has the ability to help one relax, it does so by acting as a depressant of the central nervous system. It also blocks the release of oxytocin, which results in a decrease of circulating oxytocin and a decrease in the amount of letdowns a mother will have in each nursing session.
In studies, after mothers consumed a modest amount of alcohol, infants initially seemed to suck more frequently. However, pre- and post-feed weights revealed that infants who are fed milk by mothers who have consumed alcohol tend to take in less milk than mothers who were consuming a nonalcoholic placebo. The reason behind this is not yet understood, although it has been noted that alcohol can change the taste and odor of human milk.
Mothers have reported that their breasts feel much fuller after drinking alcohol; however, we now know the full feeling is the result of inefficient milk transfer to the infant due to alcohol consumption by the breastfeeding mother. It turns out that the myth that alcohol improves milk supply is rooted in the fact that many types of beer used to contain therapeutic levels of barley or barley malt, which are known galactagogues. However, modern beer-making results in subtherapeutic levels of barley or oats.
The recommendation still stands that four ounces of wine, one ounce of hard liquor, or eight ounces of beer will not have any appreciable negative impact on your infant, your milk supply, or your infant’s ability to nurse. Any amounts beyond this should be avoided.
While the occasional alcoholic beverage won’t negatively impact your milk supply, in the long term, chronic alcohol consumption will negatively impact your milk quality and milk volume. Additionally, after a night of heavy drinking, you’ll notice that your milk supply rapidly declines. Some women are able to recover quickly from this rapid decline, usually within 24 to 48 hours. For other women, frequent pumping in addition to galactagogues will be needed to build back a healthy milk supply that will meet the nutritional needs of your baby.
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Many herbs are naturally lactogenic foods that can provide you with the boost in breast milk production you’re looking for. However, not all herbs are created equal. Sage, parsley, peppermint, and menthol have all been noted to decrease milk supply in women who consume large quantities of each. There are no formal studies that look at the exact quantity needed for each herb to make a negative impact on breastfeeding; however, anecdotal evidence has shown that these herbs can and do decrease milk supply.
You don’t need to worry about avoiding each of these herbs altogether, but be mindful of dishes that contain large amounts. For instance, sage is a popular herb used around on Thanksgiving, parsley is found in large quantities in dishes like tabbouleh, and peppermint is often found in teas, gums, and candies.
Chasteberry, the dried fruit of the chaste tree, is native to the Mediterranean. It has long been used for a variety of reproductive issues including symptoms related to PMS, endometriosis, and menopause. Chasteberry has also traditionally been used to help breastfeeding mothers who are experiencing engorgement or any other type of painful swelling of the breast.
However, chasteberry exerts its therapeutic effects by acting directly on the pituitary gland and inhibits the secretion of prolactin. When prolactin levels are reduced in a breastfeeding mother, milk supply typically reduces with it. Therefore, it isn’t recommended that breastfeeding mothers take chasteberry supplements for the duration of lactation. If you’re looking for an herb to help ease the inflammation associated with engorgement, turmeric is a well-studied option that doesn’t have a negative effect on milk supply.
Some medicines adversely affect breastfeeding. Pseudoephedrine (the active ingredient in Sudafed and similar cold medications), methergine (often used to treat severe uterine bleeding after childbirth), and bromocriptine (brand names Parlodel or Cycloset, used for a variety of issues) have been shown to have a negative effect on milk supply.
If your supply has dropped, and you realize you’ve taken one of the medications listed here, ask your doctor about an alternative treatment for your cold or health ailment. Increased breastfeeding, supplementation with lactogenic herbs and foods, and possibly additional pumping will help you build up your milk production again.