Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Many new moms have questions about alcohol and breastfeeding.  Perhaps it is the stress of caring for an infant or the 9 months of pregnancy without alcohol that makes new moms want to have a drink.  Today we’re exploring alcohol and breastfeeding to share the potential side-effects and conventional recommendations on what is safe for your baby.

Alcohol in Breast Milk

Just like anything else you consume, alcohol will enter your breast milk to some extent.  However, only 2% of alcohol hits your bloodstream and your breast milk, which is a relatively small amount for you.  For your baby, it is still pretty small, but may have a larger impact on her immature liver.  Depending on your size, metabolism and fat storage, it takes alcohol and breastfeedingapproximately half an hour to an hour for alcohol to enter your breast milk if you’re drinking without eating, and up to 90 minutes if you consume alcohol with food.  Alcohol stays in breast milk as long as it stays in the bloodstream, but it does not accumulate in breast milk.

Also, pumping does not eliminate alcohol from breast milk.  Pumping is only necessary to maintain milk supply if you need to skip a regular feeding because you fear high levels of alcohol in your milk.  The milk should be discarded and you should continue to pump until the alcohol is out of your bloodstream and milk supply.

Effects of Alcohol on Breastfed Babies

It’s impossible to know how alcohol will affect every breastfed baby.  It is certainly dependant on the size and age of the baby as well as how much and how consistently the mother drinks.  Various research shows that alcohol may affect breastfed babies by reducing their length of sleep, amount they eat and impairing their gross motor skills by age one.

Safety Guidelines for Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Conventional guidelines indicate that drinking alcohol in moderation is OK while breastfeeding.  This means that if you can safely drive a car, you are safe to breastfeed your baby.  Experts advise occasional intake (one or two times per week) and not to have more than one drink a day consisting of 2 oz. of hard liquor, 8 oz. of wine or 2 beers.  It is safest to breastfeed two hours or more after consuming alcohol to reduce its impact on your baby.  Also, babies under 3 months will have more difficulty and take longer to process alcohol so abstaining during the first few months may be wise.

Alcohol and Breast Milk Supply

There is an old wives’ tale that beer increases milk supply.  No research supports this myth and in fact, the opposite may be true.  Alcohol is dehydrating, which may reduce milk supply.  It’s a good idea to drink extra water when drinking alcohol and breastfeeding.  If babies are eating less due to alcohol in breast milk, milk supply may decrease over time.  Additionally, alcohol limits production of oxytocin an essential hormone required to make milk.  Let downs may also be inhibited from excessive alcohol consumption.

The bottom line about alcohol and breastfeeding is that having an occasional drink is considered safe.  However, you should consult your pediatrician and monitor your baby for any negative effects of alcohol while breastfeeding.

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