Can You Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding? (What Experts Say)

Alcohol While Breastfeeding

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The holidays are coming and you’ve abstained from alcohol since the day you found out you were pregnant. Now that you’ve given birth but are still breastfeeding, you wonder if it’s okay to take just a sip or two of your favorite beverage during your office Christmas party. It’s not like you’ll be nursing right away, you tell yourself. But still, the question nags you, “Can you drink alcohol while breastfeeding?”

According to La Leche League, the risks of consuming alcohol while breastfeeding are not well defined. Also, the effects of alcohol on the nursing baby are directly related to the amount of alcohol that the mother ingests, with consideration on the baby’s age, the mother’s weight, and whether or not the mother would be taking food while drinking. As alcohol passes freely into the mother’s bloodstream, it will be gone from the milk once it has gone from her blood. For an average-sized mother who had drinks in moderation (and had eaten), the alcohol in her body would most likely be gone after three hours. “Pumping and dumping” does not really speed up the removal of alcohol from the mother’s milk, but it can help provide comfort if the breasts feel full.

If you are planning to take even just a sip or two during your office Christmas party, you might want to consider breastfeeding before drinking.

The National Health Services (NHS) also say that an occasional drink is unlikely to harm the nursing baby, but some evidence suggest that regularly drinking more than two units of alcohol a day may affect the baby’s development. So if you are planning to take even just a sip or two during your office Christmas party, you might want to consider breastfeeding before drinking, and – as advised by the NHS – pumping milk before drinking and storing this alcohol-free milk in the fridge for your baby to consume after you had your drink. Here are some recommended breast milk storage containers that will maintain the freshness of your pumped breast milk for hours.

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Although it seems safe to assume that you can drink alcohol while breastfeeding, there are some other things that you have to be cautious of. For example, consuming alcohol could make you less alert and less aware of your baby’s needs. It is best to make sure that a sober adult is taking care of your baby until the alcohol in your system has worn off. Never share the bed with your baby when you had a drink, just to eliminate the risk of SIDS (ie Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Infants who breastfed from mothers who were light drinkers slept less than infants who breastfed from mothers who did not drink.

In relation to the long-term effect of drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, it was mentioned in babycenter.com that alcohol in breast milk may cause a delay in the baby’s development. “In a landmark study of 400 breastfed babies, gross motor development at 1 year of age lagged in infants whose mothers drank at least one drink daily during the babies’ first three months of life. The results of this study have not been duplicated, however.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) News and Journals published a study on the “Effects of Exposure to Alcohol in Mother’s Milk on Infant Sleep”. According to the study, after a short-term exposure to small amounts of alcohol in breast milk, the infant’s sleep-wake pattern showed distinctive changes. It led to the conclusion that infants who breastfed from mothers who were light drinkers slept less than infants who breastfed from mothers who did not drink.

The AAP also found that large amounts of alcohol in breast milk can cause drowsiness, weakness, decreases in growth and other health issues in babies.

Alcohol actually decreases milk production, and the presence of alcohol in breast milk causes babies to drink less by about 20 percent.

On the other hand, Elizabeth LaFleur, R.N. stated in mayoclinic.org that no level of alcohol in breast milk is considered safe for a baby to drink. She further elaborated that although a nursing baby is exposed to just a small amount of the alcohol consumed by the mother, a newborn infant eliminates alcohol from the body at only half the rate of an adult. There is also a myth that says consuming alcohol improves milk production, but LaFleur debunked the myth by saying that according to research, alcohol actually decreases milk production, and the presence of alcohol in breast milk causes babies to drink less by about 20 percent.

Ah, yes, that myth. Actually, there was a study which suggests that alcohol does increase the production of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production. However, the study also suggests that alcohol suppresses the production of oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates the flow of milk out of the nipple.

Infants do not like the taste of breast milk after their mother has consumed alcohol, so they nurse for lesser durations.

There is also a difference in the taste of breast milk before and after the mother has consumed alcohol. It was reported that infants do not like the taste of breast milk after their mother has consumed alcohol, so they nurse for lesser durations. As a result, the babies consume less milk when their mothers have been drinking.

So, can you drink alcohol while breastfeeding? Ultimately, it all depends on your own judgment. As a mother, you get to choose what to feed your baby – whether it is breast milk or formula – but if it is breast milk, it is best if you also take into consideration your diet and your lifestyle. Just remember that what you eat or drink is also what your baby eats or drinks. A baby’s liver is still immature so any traces of alcohol ingested by him will have an effect on him.

If you really can’t avoid drinking, try doing so in moderation and only in special occasions. You may also want to consider non-alcoholic wine as an alternative – here are a few highly recommended brands.

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