Beer. Weed. Midwife remedies??…yes!

(originally written November, 2012)

Let’s start with Beer.

I remember the first time I heard this “old wives tale” of beer increasing milk supply for nursing mothers. Could it be true??? I had spent my entire pregnancy avoiding alcohol and living as healthy a life as possible, eating vegetarian, organic foods, reducing my stress as much as possible. I did all I could do that I thought was best for growing my baby.

However, shortly after she was born, I felt my milk supply was waning a bit so I went to bed with my baby, stocked up on lots of good food (chocolate cake a must), a big bottle of water that would be refilled and refilled – and a bottle of Guinness.

After 2 days of this harsh regime, I had enough milk to feed the whole family if I needed to.

I woke up in puddles of milk and realized that maybe I overdid it a bit. It was a good problem – there was more than enough milk for my baby, and after a day or two, it regulated itself and I had just enough for each feeding.

I had to do the same regimen a couple of other times during our breastfeeding time together, and it always worked.

Sometimes all I had to do was drink a beer before bed (Guinness is good, but I found just about any beer worked, especially those that have a high malt content). Keep in mind – nobody is getting drunk here! It’s a one or two bottles a day kind of thing with LOTS of water and food. And rest. Lots of rest – retreating to the “Nest” time.

I tried this remedy again recently when my 2 year old Zara had a super nasty virus that made her vomit. She couldn’t keep any other food down, and rarely could even keep the breastmilk down. On day 2, I realized that this was not ending any time very soon. She was really sick.

I decided to cancel everything going on in my life (work, phone calls, lunch dates, etc.) – and get serious about getting her better. I knew that if my milk was all she was getting (she had been eating a regular diet of solid food for a while now) that I had better increase my supply. I also hadn’t been feeling the “let down” very much in the past couple of days when she nursed, which for me is the tell tale sign of how good my milk supply is.

I gathered together foods that I loved, a big bottle of water, and got into a warm bath with her. Shortly after we were settled in, my dear friend Beth showed up with the bottle of beer. I decided to time the whole process. I laid in the bathtub, twisted off the cap, looked at the time, and started drinking. I wanted to know how long it was going to take before it kicked in.

It turns out it was 20 minutes.

It was so nice feeling that big let down response that I had hoped for. And so fast. I kept it up for 2 more days, laying next to her in our bed and feeding her throughout the night. Finally she was out of the woods. I am so thankful that I was still nursing her and that I knew about this remedy.

I want to reiterate that she was very sick – her urine had become brownish with crystals. The only other option I would have had – had I not still been breastfeeding – would have been to the emergency room for IV fluids. An experience that would have been seriously dramatic as she has never even seen a doctor or been to anything medically mainstream.

beer breastfeeding

It’s a hard one for people to accept sometimes – for lots of different reasons – and I’m noticing that its even an issue within the lactation community. “There’s no science supporting it” some say. Well, this is when I pull out the “I’ve nursed 8 babies for how many years? and believe me – IT WORKS”…card. Complete with the ghetto attitude (the 8 babies include my own 7, as well as my granddaughter Indali who I nursed when her mother unexpectedly died – Indali was just 10 weeks old).

So, maybe science doesn’t completely understand the motherbaby system yet – no big news to me, or more likely, according to Gail Hart – midwife guru, science has not completed the right kind of studies to really prove anything on the subject. Gail, who ironically I just recently shared a couple of Guinnesses with, shares her wisdom on the subject…

She makes the point that there are TWO issues here – the “let down” response, and milk production.

1. Beer that has a high barley content contains glygogens that are the more powerful stimulant of lactogen hormones which are responsible for producing milk.

2. Alcohol improves let down, and let down produces more milk. However, drinking straight alcohol, such as a shot of vodka might improve let down for THAT ONE nursing, but because it slightly dehydrates and doesn’t supply glycogens it would not be a net increase over the next day or so. Beer, has a better long term effect because it works on both points – the glygogens, and the let down.

She also points out that naturally-brewed beer supplies extra liquids as well as a good amount of essential B vitamins from the yeast – and both of these will help make milk.

Thanks Gail!!

I can tell you, in my personal science “lab” over all the years that I’ve nursed my babies, that it worked for me every time I needed it – for myself and for every woman who has ever asked me for and followed this advice.

(For a detailed explanation on how beer is a galactagogue, complete with some cool historical facts – visit my new favorite lactation blogger Hilary Jacobson here.)

Now for the weed…

Again, I will use my personal experience and tell you that when I had a hard time keeping any food down, or feeling like I was going to lose it – especially during the first few weeks of pregnancy, a hit of weed instantly eliminated the nausea and gave me a normal healthy appetite. Instantly.

There are many ways to take it, from smoking it, to cooking with it, to taking a few drops of tincture (smoking it has a shorter life to it, and is therefore easier to control – whereas eating it or taking it in a tincture may result in an effect for longer than you might want to have).

Historically, it seems that midwives have been growing pot probably since the beginning.

In the book “Tale of a Midwife” which is basically the published journal of a midwife living in Maine in the late 18th century, Martha Ballard writes about her garden often, and lists Cannabis as one of her remedies grown. As a commonly used medicinal herb, midwives, who were typically the healers within a community –  would have grown it for a variety of reasons. But knowing how important the first trimester is to maintain a pregnancy (50% of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion, most of them within the first trimester when the nausea is at its worst) – severe nausea, especially when it’s constant, can mean the difference between a continued pregnancy or a miscarriage.

Knowing how effective marijuana can be in helping this issue, it most certainly was used as an early pregnancy remedy for a very long time. It’s a shame that our culture has allowed this wonderful and diverse medicinal herb to be illegal. But, as we know, that is all thankfully changing…

Erin Hildebrandt explains it all so well in this my still favorite ever article on marijuana and it’s solution to severe morning sickness. Leave it to the women at Mothering Magazine to courageously publish this well done article.

Beer and Weed – 2 unlikely midwife remedies that turn out to be extremely effective in treating some common and important issues during pregnancy and the breastfeeding relationship. Wild.

So, raise a glass, and twist one up with the satisfaction of knowing that you are following millions of women throughout the ages in using the earth’s gifts and treasures to support your body – time proven traditions that helped our great grandmothers and theirs before them.

Cheers, and pass it to the left…

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