Alcohol and breastfeeding

Some confusing myths about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding persist in modern society. You may have heard that beer can increase the amount of milk produced by the lactating mother or that having a few drinks is safe and won’t harm your baby.

What do the experts say about drinking alcohol and nursing?

Scientific studies have debunked these myths and shown that the same concentration of alcohol that reaches your bloodstream ends up in your breast. Even though this is a small fraction of the entire amount of alcohol you may drink, keep in mind that your baby’s liver is small and immature, and their metabolizing capacity is much lower than an adult’s. It is believed that a 3-month old has a 50% slower metabolic rate than an adult.

Studies also show that alcohol present in breast milk can cause changes in babies’ sleeping and feeding patterns. Even though alcohol can cause your baby to become drowsy and fall asleep more quickly than usual, your child will also sleep less and wake up sooner than they normally would. Babies younger than 3 months may be at the biggest risk from alcohol, especially when it comes to motor development, so most experts agree that mothers should completely refrain from drinking during the first 3 months.

Scientific data is very clear when it comes to the myth of increased milk production due to alcohol intake: Alcoholic beverages actually have the opposite effect by dehydrating your body and reducing the amount of available fluid in the body needed to produce milk. Alcohol also decreases levels of oxytocin, a hormone necessary for lactation. The result is babies consume about 20% less milk if their mother drinks alcohol.

Is it possible to have an occasional drink while breastfeeding?

It is best to avoid alcohol during the breastfeeding period. If you do want to have an alcoholic drink Experts recommend no more than 1 to 2 drinks per week, maximum. The levels of alcohol in blood and breast milk peak 30 to 90 minutes after you have a drink and the amount of time needed for the alcohol to completely leave your body is very individual. Recommendations given by the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding say no more than 0.5g of alcohol per 1kg of body weight. This means that a woman weighing 60kg can have 60ml of liquor, 240ml of wine, or 2 beers . You should plan your nursing session for at least two hours after finishing your drink.

Other options if you want to have an occasional drink include pumping and storing your milk before having a drink, so that you can feed your baby from a bottle, or offering your baby formula, until your blood levels of alcohol have reduced. If this means you will miss a breastfeeding session, it may be a good idea to pump and discard the milk, to prevent engorgement. Always have an additional glass of water with your drink to reduce the dehydrating effect.

REFERENCE:

  • Alcohol does not increase milk production. (Mennella & Beauchamp 1991, 1993; Mennella 1997, 1999).
  • More than 2 drinks may inhibit let-down of milk (Coiro et al 1992; Cobo 1974).
  • Changes in the infant’s sleep-wake patterns (Mennella & Gerrish 1998).
  • Reduced gross motor development connected to the daily consumption of alcohol (Little et al 1989).