The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Vol. 90, No. 4 1979-1985
Julie A. Mennella, M. Yanina Pepino and Karen L. Teff
Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support the claim that alcohol is a galactagogue, lactating women have been advised to drink alcohol as an aid to lactation for centuries. To test the hypothesis that alcohol consumption affects the hormonal response in lactating women, we conducted a within-subjects design study in which 17 women consumed a 0.4 g/kg dose of alcohol in orange juice during one test session and an equal volume of orange juice during the other.
Changes in plasma prolactin, oxytocin, and cortisol levels during and after breast stimulation, lactational performance, and mood states were compared under the two experimental conditions. Oxytocin levels significantly decreased, whereas prolactin levels and measures of sedation, dysphoria, and drunkenness significantly increased, during the immediate hours after alcohol consumption. Changes in oxytocin were related to measures of lactational performance such as milk yield and ejection latencies, whereas changes in prolactin were related to self-reported measures of drunkenness. Although alcohol consumption resulted in significantly higher cortisol when compared with the control condition, cortisol levels were not significantly correlated with any of the indices of lactational performance or self-reported drug effects. Moreover, cortisol levels steadily decreased on the control day, indicating that the procedures were not stressful to the subjects. In conclusion, recommending alcohol as an aid to lactation may be counterproductive. In the short term, mothers may be more relaxed, but the hormonal milieu underlying lactational performance is disrupted, and, in turn, the infant’s milk supply is diminished.
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