Whether or not breastfeeding and alcohol is a good combination is one of the most common topics or concerns among first-time moms. Is it safe or should every nursing mom get rid of it?
It probably is safe to say that every mom’s — whether you are a new mom or a first-time-mom – desire is to always give the best for their babies. In fact, mommies are willing to sacrifice everything just to give what they feel is due to their little ones.
From the moment a woman is pronounced positive on pregnancy, her life changes 360 degrees. It’s as if there is something about the baby that makes everything suddenly change. Generally, women stay away from anything that could harm the baby. Moms-to-be always make it a point that in everything they do, they put the baby’s safety and security first.
One of the common concerns among moms-to-be is alcohol intake. It’s like a very usual conversation among women, as well as their healthcare providers if alcohol is safe or not during pregnancy. Once the baby, is out it’s a different conversation once again – this time, it is whether or not breastfeeding and alcohol is a safe match.
PREGNANCY AND ALCOHOL
Before we talk about breast feeding and alcohol, let us first talk about pregnancy and alcohol. We thought it is essential for every mom and moms-to-be to understand how alcohol may or may not affect your growing little one inside.
Is alcohol safe during pregnancy?
According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, “There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer.”
To simply put it, generally, alcohol is considered harmful during pregnancy as “alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord”. According to experts, drinking any form of alcoholic drinks while pregnancy may lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or different forms of lifelong physical, intellectual, as well as behavioral disabilities.
These abilities, according to CDCP, are more popularly known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). As published on the CDCP website, children who have FASDs may have any of the following behaviors and characteristics:
- Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip (this ridge is called the philtrum)
- Small head size
- shorter-than-average height
- Low body weight
- Poor coordination
- Hyperactive behavior
- Difficulty with attention
- Poor memory
- Difficulty in school (especially with math)
- Learning disabilities
- Speech and language delays
- Intellectual disability or low IQ
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills
- Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
- Vision or hearing problems
- Problems with the heart, kidney, or bones
How much alcohol can a pregnant woman take?
Experts say that there is “no known amount of alcohol” is considered safe during pregnancy.
So, to be sure, from day one until birth, a woman who is bearing her child should never ever taste even a single form of alcoholic drinks to avoid any problems – both in pregnancy, and the baby. Now, if in case you have had a few because you were not aware that you are having a baby, it is best to immediately see a healthcare provider for proper guidance on this matter.
BREAST FEEDING AND ALCOHOL
A woman’s responsibility to ensure her little one is safe and secure does not end once the baby is out of her tummy. In fact, it continues even until the baby grows up.
Now, when you opt to breastfeed your baby, all the more that you must continue being cautious of what you eat and drink – because just like when your little one was in your tummy, what you eat and drink, your baby eats and drinks too.
As a person, whether you are a mom or not, there are of course times when you go to social gatherings. When that happens, it is very common to drink or have drinks. But the question is when you are breastfeeding, is it also unsafe to drink any alcoholic drinks?
But before we fully discuss matters about breast feeding and alcohol, let us first define a few standard terms:
What is considered as “moderate consumption” for women?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “moderate consumption” for women of legal age means drinking nothing more than one standard drink in a day.
What is considered as a “drink”?
Meanwhile, still based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a “drink” basically refers to any of the following:
12 ounces of 5% beer
8 ounces of 7% malt liquor
5 ounces of 12% wine
1.5 ounces of 40% (80 proof) liquor
Please note that all the drinks listed above have the same amount of pure alcohol. However, there are so many usual drinks out there that contain more alcohol than the above-mentioned. When you consume one of these drinks that would be equivalent to drinking two standard drinks.
Now that we already know what moderate drinking is all about and what “drinks” basically defines, let’s proceed to the more important matters – breast feeding and alcohol. Here are some of the common questions that arise when this topic is touched:
- Is drinking alcohol while breastfeeding safe?
While consider drinking alcoholic drinks likely safe when taking very few amounts of it and in very rare occasions, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), alcohol does pass through a mom’s breast milk, which means you can also pass it to your baby when he or she latches on you. Thus, as much as possible, it is highly recommended to avoid drinking alcoholic drinks.
- Will it harm the baby if the mom drinks wine, beer, or hard alcoholic drinks?
Experts say that drinking alcoholic drinks (whether it be wine, beer, or hard) have the tendency to harm your baby if you do not take proper precautions.
According to experts, the alcohol that makes it to one’s bloodstream, in this case, the nursing mom’s bloodstream, makes it into the breast milk as well. So, basically, if you drink alcohol, your baby drinks it too.
Although the amount that is transferred if you drink a glass of wine (or any alcohol-based drinks) is relatively small, do remember that your little one is still very tiny and apart from that, has an immature liver compared to you, which means, your baby is still unable to process the alcohol the way your liver can. In fact, in an article published at the Baby Center website, it says that “babies who are younger than three months process alcohol at about half the rate of adults”.
Furthermore, in the same article, it has mentioned that studies conducted have shown that alcohol can affect a baby’s sleeping and eating habits. In fact, studies show that when a mom drinks alcoholic drinks four hours after breastfeeding (whether it is 4 ounces of wine, a can of beer, or a mixture of drink), when her baby nurses, her little one is only able to consume about 20 percent less of breast milk.
Just like when adults drink alcohol, when your baby latches after you have drunk a glass of wine or a can of beer, he or she may become drowsy and may fall asleep faster than usual. However, do not expect them to sleep longer – because, in fact, they sleep a shorter amount of time compared to when the mom did not drink alcohol.
In addition, experts have also pointed out that alcohol in breast milk may also affect the development of babies. In fact, as published in Baby Center, in a 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”. However, it was noted that the result of this study was not duplicated.
Interestingly, no one really knows the true effect of alcohol among breastfed babies. Thus, experts suggest that it would be best to avoid it. If you can’t, at least abstain in the first few months after birth. Some experts highly recommend abstaining from drinking any alcoholic drinks at least for the first three months after birth, others prefer longer – at least six months (or until the baby eats solids).
With that said, if you are still unsure whether to stop or not, it’s best to talk to your doctor about breast feeding and alcohol – that way you are guided, and you are fully informed about the possible pros and cons of this action.
- How a mom can safely drink alcoholic drinks?
Now, if you really can’t stay away or abstain from drinking alcoholic drinks for whatever reasons, experts recommend that breastfeeding moms must wait at least two hours after finishing a drink before allowing your baby to latch on you. This helps give your body the chance to clear out the alcohol from your system.
Furthermore, experts explain that a person’s alcohol level (including the level of alcohol in your breast milk) is usually the highest 30 to 90 minutes after drinking the alcohol. However, it has also been noted that the length of time it takes for the alcohol to leave a person’s body still depends on the person itself. Yes, it does vary from person to person still.
So, the next time you drink any form of alcoholic drinks (although the most acceptable is wine), make sure to take note of the time to ensure that your little one will not nurse just a few hours after. We highly suggest that you do it at a time when your baby sleeps long.
Ideally, though, you can pump and store your breastmilk before having a glass of wine or two. So, you do not have to worry about your baby taking the alcohol you just drank. By the way, just the same, pumping your milk after drinking alcoholic drinks will not help clear your system faster – you still will have to wait for at least two hours before it is safe.
By the way, experts also suggest drinking water right after drinking alcoholic drinks. This helps ward off dehydration. Also, do not forget to eat before you drink a glass of wine or any forms of alcoholic drinks as it helps lessen the amount of alcohol that runs in your blood as well as in your breast milk.
- Can nursing moms have more than one glass of alcohol while breastfeeding?
Ideally, breastfeeding moms should stay away from drinking alcoholic drinks, but if circumstances won’t make you do so, just keep in mind that having more than one drink can be difficult to wear off from the body. The more alcohol you take in basically means the longer time it needs for your body to get rid of it or to clear your system.
To give you a more concrete example, researchers say that breastfeeding who for instance took alcoholic drinks for a period of an hour would mean she has to wait for roughly nine hours before her breast milk becomes free from alcohol. Imagine the length of time that you will be unable to breastfeed your baby in just a short while that you had alcoholic drinks, right?
Experts’ advice breastfeeding women to limit themselves to occasional alcoholic drinks. In addition, nursing moms must not take alcohol more than once a day. It is also highly suggested not to let your baby latch on you if you had too much alcohol intake or have become intoxicated. Should there be a need to pump milk, better throw that away as most likely that milk does contain alcohol, and is not good for your baby at all as earlier mentioned?
- Will drinking alcohol affect breastmilk supply?
As earlier mentioned, there have been studies conducted that have shown that taking alcoholic drinks may affect a breastfeeding mom’s breastmilk supply, which basically means breast feeding and alcohol should never go together.
One probable reason is that alcohol is known to cause dehydration in the body. Alcohol, in fact, makes a person lose body fluid, which means, if you are a breastfeeding mom, it can negatively affect your breastmilk production. In addition, alcohol has been found to be responsible for disrupting the hormones that are involved in breast milk production.
A researcher named Julie Mennella from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia did a study about the effect of alcohol on breastfeeding. In her study, she explained that apparently, while the prolactin, which is a hormone that helps produce milk increases when a nursing mom consumes alcohol, the oxytocin, which is a hormone responsible for milk let down, decreases. According to Menella, this is probably why babies have a harder time nursing when their moms consumed alcoholic drinks.
This study alone should be convincing enough that if you are a breastfeeding mom, you better stay away from alcoholic drinks if you want to keep your breast milk supply great.
- Does expressing or pumping breast milk after alcohol consumption reduce the alcohol content in the mother’s milk?
The answer to this question is no. Some breastfeeding moms thought that when they pump or express their milk after drinking alcohol will help reduce the alcohol content in their milk. Well, unfortunately, it does not go that way. Whether you pump a lot of milk or not, the alcohol will not immediately wear off from your body – precisely why you need to wait for a couple of hours first after drinking wine or beer or any other types of alcoholic drinks before it is considered safe to nurse your baby.
Meanwhile, since it takes a while before the alcohol leaves your system, pumping or expressing milk is highly advised to help ease discomfort among moms. However, make sure to immediately discard the milk you collected as it is not safe for your baby to take.
- Is it okay to care for the baby while intoxicated?
Definitely a big no. Caring for a baby while you are intoxicated is no doubt unsafe. Drinking alcoholic drinks could result in impairment of your judgment as well as your ability to safely care for your baby. Never care for the baby until you are sober. If you know for a fact that you will be drinking a lot, better ask someone else to care for your baby in the meantime.
Not caring for the baby while intoxicated does not only apply to parents but to any other caregiver. Now, if you are a mom or a dad, and you have no one to take care of your baby, better not drink at all.
More than anything else, it is every mom’s responsibility to ensure the well-being of her child, in this case, her breastfeeding little one.
Changing lifestyle and all that can really become very challenging for every woman, but you know, it’s easy when you know it is (always) worth it in the end. Having a happy and healthy baby makes everything so worth it.
Now, when it comes to drinking alcohol, while some experts say it may be safe for nursing moms, the majority of healthcare providers would rather recommend staying away from it at least for a while. You know, just think about this, the sacrifice will only last for a while, once your baby is grown and have weaned from breastfeeding, you can once again drink as much as you can. But for now, let breast feeding and alcohol go their separate ways.