Is drinking a glass of wine with dinner going to be harmful to my nursing baby? Is drinking safe at all? What should I do if I got drunk? These are the common questions nursing mothers ask: The effect of drinking alcohol on their breastmilk.
Breastfeeding mothers receive conflicting advice about whether alcohol consumption can have an effect on their baby, which often leaves mothers feeling like they have more questions than answers. So, what information should a mother who is considering drinking while breastfeeding know?
The occasional drink is unlikely to harm you or your baby. However, it's safest not to have more than one or two units of alcohol, once or twice a week, if you are breastfeeding. Alcohol passes through your breastmilk to your baby. Drinking more than two units a day while you are breastfeeding may reduce your milk supply, and even affect your baby's development.
Leche League's The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding (p. 328) says:
The effects of alcohol on the breastfeeding baby are directly related to the amount the mother ingests. When the breastfeeding mother drinks occasionally or limits her consumption to one drink or less per day, the amount of alcohol her baby receives has not been proven to be harmful.
Leche League's The Breastfeeding Answer Book (pp. 597-598) says:
Alcohol passes freely into mother's milk and has been found to peak about 30 to 60 minutes after consumption, 60 to 90 minutes when taken with food. Alcohol also freely passes out of a mother's milk and her system. It takes a 120 pound woman about two to three hours to eliminate from her body the alcohol in one serving of beer or wine...the more alcohol that is consumed, the longer it takes for it to be eliminated. It takes up to 13 hours for a 120 pound woman to eliminate the alcohol from one high-alcohol drink. The effects of alcohol on the breastfeeding baby are directly related to the amount the mother consumes.
Dr. Jack Newman, member of the LLLI Health Advisory Council, says this in his handout "More Breastfeeding Myths":
Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.
In general, if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed. Less than 2% of the alcohol consumed by the mother reaches her blood and milk. Alcohol peaks in momís blood and milk approximately 1/2-1 hour after drinking (but there is considerable variation from person to person, depending upon how much food was eaten in the same time period, momís body weight and percentage of body fat, etc.). Alcohol does not accumulate in breastmilk, but leaves the milk as it leaves the blood; so when your blood alcohol levels are back down, so are your milk alcohol levels. Thus, pumping and dumping is not advisable. Because, again, as alcohol leaves the bloodstream, it leaves the breastmilk. Since alcohol is not "trapped" in breastmilk (it returns to the bloodstream as mother's blood alcohol level declines), pumping and dumping will not remove it. Pumping and dumping, drinking a lot of water, resting, or drinking coffee will not speed up the rate of the elimination of alcohol from your body.
What if I get drunk?
Mothers who are intoxicated should not breastfeed until they are completely sober, at which time most of the alcohol will have left the mother's blood. Drinking to the point of intoxication, or binge drinking, by breastfeeding mothers has not been adequately studied. Since all of the risks are not understood, drinking to the point of intoxication is not advised.
Can alcohol abuse affect a breastfed baby?
Yes. Alcohol abuse (excessive drinking) by the mother can result in slow weight gain or failure to thrive in her baby. The let-down of a mother who abuses alcohol may be affected by her alcohol consumption, and she may not breastfeed enough. The baby may sleep through breastfeedings, or may not suck effectively leading to decreased milk intake. The baby may even suffer from delayed motor development. If you are concerned that you or someone you know is drinking alcohol excessively, call your doctor.
Weighing the Risks and Benefits
Many mothers find themselves in a situation where they may want to drink. Maybe you are going to a wedding where wine will be served. Or perhaps you are going on a girls night out, or on a date with your husband. No matter the reason, you may have concerns about drinking and any possible effects on your baby. It is a good idea to weigh the benefits of breastfeeding against the benefits and possible risks of consuming alcohol. You might find the following suggestions helpful.
> Plan Ahead
If you want to drink, but are concerned about the effect on your baby, you can store some expressed breastmilk for the occasion. You can choose to wait for the alcohol to clear your system before nursing
If your breasts become full while waiting for the alcohol to clear, you can hand express or pump, discarding the milk that you express
If consuming alcohol while breastfeeding is concerning to you, consider enjoying a non-alcoholic beverage instead. Any drink is more fun with an umbrella in it!