Breastfeeding and Alcohol

I think a lot of nursing moms are under the false impression that you can’t drink while breastfeeding. I’ve heard a lot of different opinions on the subject, but I have yet to hear a medical professional say absolutely no alcohol while breastfeeding. Putting those kind of restrictions on breastfeeding moms will make more moms quit before they would otherwise and that is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do.

There are obviously stipulations with drinking while breastfeeding. First off, “pumping and dumping”—the idea of pumping your breasts and throwing the expressed milk away after drinking to get rid of the alcohol—doesn’t work. You may want to pump to get rid of milk so you don’t get engorged, but it won’t make it safe for baby to eat afterwards because alcohol will stay in your breast milk until it leaves your whole system.

Really, it’s probably safe for baby to eat afterwards anyway. I’ll explain the logic.

Breast milk alcohol levels mimic blood alcohol levels. So if I were really, really, really drunk, like shouldn’t be taking care of a child anyway drunk, like probably going to die soon drunk, my blood alcohol level would be  something like .2%. That means that when my nursling drinks my breast milk, it would be 2% alcohol. The hard lemonade that I have in my fridge right now is 5.5%. So she’s drinking the equivalent of something 1/25th as potent as the weakest alcohol on the market.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning getting drunk and breastfeeding all the time, but a glass of wine is unlikely to adversely effect your child. Of course every child is different and therefore handles your drinking different so you should start off slow and monitor your child. Even in small doses, you probably shouldn’t drink really frequently because prolonged exposure is more likely to hurt your nursling (not to mention your milk supply).

Baby’s age is an important factor too. Newborns are obviously less able to handle your drinking than a toddler. It’s also good to try to drink right after your nursling eats so that you have the most amount of time for the alcohol to get out of your system before nursing again. I also sleep on the couch for the beginning of the night when I’ve been drinking because co-sleeping isn’t safe when you’re impaired.

Really, there are a lot of little things you can do to ensure the least amount of risk when drinking and breastfeeding. Just because you’re breastfeeding doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink. If anything, I would say that relaxing with a glass of wine after a rough day with Peanut—like recently when her sleeping schedule when all out of wack from being sick and she decided to not nap all day—makes me a better mother because that relaxing enables me to wake up the next morning and handle her grumpiness all over again.

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16 thoughts on “Breastfeeding and Alcohol

  1. I lost the taste for alcohol while I was pregnant. The smell…all of it. I wanted nothing to do with it. Now, I’m a nursing mother and I still don’t really drink. I’m not as turned off as before, but I just don’t care about it enough to plan for it. It’s funny. I live in The Med – my husband’s a huge wine guy and I just don’t even care about it.

    • I HATED alcohol when I was pregnant. The smell was just overwhelming. I also think that having Peanut just changed my priorities so drinking isn’t has interesting as interesting to me anymore. I think I’ve had like five drinks in the 14 months of her life. 😛

  2. I don’t think there is anything wrong with drinking and nursing though my drinking has definitely changed since becoming a nursing mom. DH and I used to go out more frequently and knock back (more than) a few. I was nervous in the beginning about drinking and my milk but am at ease now. I may have a beer or a glass of wine after nursing or once he goes to bed, but I don’t get drunk anymore because Babybear won’t take a bottle of EBM. So if I am too drunk to nurse he can’t eat. I don’t miss it that much. My husband misses those nights out of ours enough for both of us though. He he.

  3. So I missed part of your point. Yes, the amount of alcohol the baby receives is probably negligible, but I am personally uncomfortable with nursing my baby when I feel the effects of alcohol. When I have a drink, I prefer to have enough time for it to leave my system, at least mostly, before nursing again. I am curious as to other perspectives on this.

    • I guess my point was that it’s difficult to not see drinking while breastfeeding the same as we see drinking while pregnant because I see breastfeeding as an extension of pregnancy. It’s really vastly different. When you’re pregnant baby has the same blood alcohol level as you and it’s not like that with breastfeeding.

      I agree that you should put as much time between drinking and feeding as possible though. That’s why I only drink after I’ve put Peanut to sleep.

  4. I agree with your post–when I was breastfeeding, I would pump only to keep from being engorged after drinking & wait for my body to metabolize the alcohol. I am a DUI attorney, so I wanted to correct you, in that if you had a 2% alcohol concentration you would be dead. .2% would be where you would be drunk drunk drunk. The highest our crime lab has ever seen on a living person is a .4% No offense intended, I just laughed when I thought about 2% BAC.

    • Thanks! I actually did know that, but for some reason I must have temporarily forgot it. I’ll change it in the post.

  5. Don’t you Co-sleep? Isn’t the point of drinking a glass of wine before you go to bed to make you sleep better? Um…isn’t that dangerous?

    I’m not trying to be mean, I really don’t the answer. I agree that if you tell a women “no drinking for two years and nine months” it is overwhelming. I also know that the hops in beer is great for milk production (although it’s more effective to boil your own barley and drink that water).

    • I did specifically say that I sleep on the couch for the first part of the night after drinking. Also, I drink it a few hours before actually going to bed.

  6. So, you made me curious, so I did some research. This is what I found:

    Studies demonstrate that maternal alcohol consumption may slightly reduce milk production. Furthermore, some of the alcohol consumed by a lactating woman is transferred to her milk and thus consumed by the infant. This alcohol consumption may adversely affect the infant s sleep and gross motor development and influence early learning about alcohol. Based on this science, it would seem that the recommendation for a nursing mother to drink a glass of beer or wine shortly before nursing may actually be counterproductive.
    http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-3/230-234.htm

    drinking alcohol disrupts the hormones that are involved in milk production.While the amount that’s transferred if you drink a glass of wine is relatively small, your baby is tiny and has an immature liver, which means he or she can’t process the alcohol as well as you can. Alcohol in breast milk may also hinder babies’ development. In a landmark study of 400 infants published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1989, gross motor development at 1 year of age lagged in breastfeeding babies whose mothers drank at least one drink daily during the infant’s first three months of life.
    http://www.babycenter.com/0_alcohol-and-nursing-moms_3547.bc#articlesection4

    New evidence shows that alcohol consumption causes hormonal disruption, decreased lactation performance and diminished milk supply. The findings were published today in the April issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, one of the four journals of The Endocrine Society.
    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/22437.php

    • Was that supposed to be an argument against my post? Because I pretty much said all of that. I specifically said alcohol can decrease milk production, you shouldn’t do it often, and you should keep your baby’s age in mind when considering drinking. All that said, I don’t think that the occasional drink puts baby at much risk of any of these things.

      • That was not an argument at all, it was support. Like I said, you made me curious, so I did my own research, and discovered exactley what you said. You mentioned all this your blog, I was backing it up with articles.

      • I agree that it’s good to know the facts. Claire, I couldn’t agree with you more though that one occasional drink is ok. If there are supply issues…that’s another whole story!

  7. My local LLL told me that pump and dump is a way of the past. That if you limit your intake to what your body can handle, typically one drink an hour, then it gets metabolized and bang is not affected. Also it’s a good idea to drink a large glass of water with (or right after) each alcoholic drink. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you are feeling the affects of the alcohol then baby can too. Your options are: Space your drinks out over a longer period of time (time permitting), drink more water, or not at all.

  8. Sheesh! This is a subject that really gets people riled up! I couldn’t drink at all when I was pregnant because even a small sip of wine gave me terrible indigestion. Now that I’ve had my baby, I enjoy an occasional glass of wine and don’t feel guilty at all. I keep them small. While I was pregnant, I enjoyed n.a. beer during a football game despite some online for posts about how it was bad to drink ANY alcohol. Let’s get real- don’t get drunk when you are pregnant or nursing, especially repeatedly. The occassional glass of wine or beer is not going to hurt your baby. The same people who will give you grief for that are the ones that eat processed food, drink diet soda, slather themselves with chemical laden body lotions, and swallow over the counter medicines without a second thought.

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