Women's Health

What are the risks of alcohol and breastfeeding?

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You've finally welcomed your little one into the world, and after a long nine months, you might be feeling ready for a celebratory drink!

And fair enough — you just grew a human. Well done!

However, it's important to note that if you are breastfeeding and want to continue doing so, there will be some limitations on how much alcohol you can consume while safely feeding your baby.

So, let's have a look into the safety of alcohol and breastfeeding.

Can you drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

If you're able to breastfeed, there isn't an amount of alcohol you can drink that is considered 100 per cent 'safe'.

This is because when you drink alcohol, it passes from your bloodstream and into your breast milk.

Thankfully, a baby drinking breast milk is only exposed to a fraction of any alcohol consumed by their mum.

Still, research has found that breastfed babies who are exposed to more than one standard alcoholic beverage a day may suffer impaired motor development, and the alcohol may also cause changes to infant sleeping patterns.

If you are drinking alcohol, try to avoid breastfeeding until the alcohol has completely cleared from your breast milk. This can take around two to three hours for one standard drink.

Another idea is to breastfeed your baby before you plan on consuming alcohol so the alcohol will naturally clear by the time the next feed comes around.

And, if you're familiar with the old wives' tale that alcohol can improve milk production, we're sorry to say that this isn't true.

In fact, studies have found that alcohol can actually decrease your breast milk production.

How much alcohol passes through breast milk?

Research is divided on the topic of how much alcohol passes through breast milk, with some studies saying that the amount of alcohol detected in the bloodstream will not adversely affect the child in any way.

Other research, including the study mentioned above, says it's unsafe for the baby full stop.

One study found that about five to six per cent of the amount of alcohol in a mother's bloodstream will enter the baby's bloodstream through breast milk, which is, thankfully, very low.

The study also found that if a mother had been binge drinking, the alcohol that would end up in her breast milk would not be a significant amount. Of course, it's never advised to binge drink.

If you have one single drink, your alcohol levels will peak at about 30 to 60 minutes afterwards, and the alcohol will be detected in your breast milk for two to three hours.

With this in mind, the general rule is if you are having a drink and your next feed is coming up, wait two hours before feeding your baby.

However, should you have multiple drinks, this will prolong the amount of time the alcohol will remain detectable in your bloodstream and milk.

If you are finding that you are regularly consuming alcohol while breastfeeding, it is best to seek advice from your doctor.

Is there a way to drink alcohol while safely breastfeeding your baby?

The best way to ensure your baby's health is to wait two hours for every standard drink you consume before breastfeeding again.

So, if you have one standard drink, you would wait two hours, but if you had two standard drinks, this would be four hours and so on.

Even if you don't feel tipsy or drunk, it's best to avoid breastfeeding anyway.

Plan ahead and pump before you have any alcoholic beverages and ensure you wait two hours per drink before breastfeeding.

If you know you will need to feed in the next few hours, stop drinking so your liver can clear the alcohol from your body.

Breastfeeding can be difficult for some, and while it's one of life's most astounding natural processes, many new mums experience problems with the process.

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Start using The Nipple Balm before giving birth, if you can, and continue while breastfeeding to combat dryness, prevent nipple cracking and build skin elasticity.

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Breastfeeding is a natural process, and yet 92 per cent of people experience breastfeeding problems. This kit is designed to help you through this.

How does alcohol affect breastfeeding babies?

Whatever alcohol you consume while you're still breastfeeding will be ingested through your breast milk. The best option when breastfeeding is to avoid alcohol.

However, if you do wish to drink alcoholic beverages, or perhaps you have a special occasion, there are ways around this, as mentioned above.

As a baby's brain is still developing, any amount of alcohol can damage its development.

If you were to consume one drink per day, currently, there are little to no known complications or side effects on babies from this — especially if the mother waits two hours before feeding or pumping.

However, if you were to drink more than this, it could lead to delayed development, growth issues and interrupted sleep for your baby. In addition, your ability to take care of your child if you are consuming too much alcohol will also be impaired.

One study from 1998 found that infants who consumed alcohol via breast milk slept for 25 per cent less time than those who did not have alcohol in their breast milk.

An older study in 1989 found that 400 one-year-olds, who were exposed to alcohol in breast milk, had lower scores in motor skill development than children who weren't exposed. But, researchers were unable to replicate these findings when they did a follow-up study six months later.

The important thing to remember is that babies will likely not experience any adverse side effects if their mother is enjoying the occasional drink.

However, higher levels of alcohol can be problematic for both mum and baby.

Pump and dump

You've likely heard the term 'pump and dump' before in relation to women pumping breast milk immediately after drinking alcohol and throwing it away.

However, this does little to rid your body of the amount of alcohol present and isn't necessary.

While pumping and dumping your breast milk won't speed up the elimination of the alcohol from your body, if you're going to be away from your baby and missing the next feed then pumping and dumping the milk will help you maintain your milk supply and avoid discomfort.

If you're not experiencing any discomfort, you do not have to pump and can simply feed your baby after that two-hour window as usual.

If you plan to have more than one drink or know your baby will be hungry within the two-hour window, you could pump ahead of time (before drinking alcohol) and save that for the next feed.

References

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/breast-feeding-and-alcohol/faq-20057985

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27174445/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6707164/

https://www.thewomens.org.au/health-information/breastfeeding/medicines-drugs-and-breastfeeding/alcohol-and-breastfeeding

https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/vaccinations-medications-drugs/alcohol.html

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/101/5/e2

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2761576