One of the most controversial and least understood topics about being a mother is the effect of alcohol on breastfeeding, as well as whether it is safe. It is very clear that during pregnancy you should not drink as it can be harmful to the developing child, but what about when you are breastfeeding? Unfortunately, there is not a clear consensus, but read more and we will hopefully answer any questions and concerns you might have.
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Drinking during Pregnancy is Dangerous; Will it Also Harm My Baby While Breastfeeding?
The answer to this question depends on moderation. Should you drink more than is recommended, and abuse alcohol, the answer is yes. The American Academy of Pediatrics has approved alcohol usage in breastfeeding mothers but only in small amounts and only 1 to 2 drinks per week. For those who drink wine, this means no more than 8 ounces of wine at a time. The same amount of alcohol that can appear in your bloodstream is the same amount that can be present in your breastmilk. Thus, drinking more than this allotted amount can have serious consequences. For a newborn baby who is under 3 months old, extreme caution is advised when choosing to partake in any type of alcohol, including wine. Newborns under the age of 3 months have brains that are still developing and are incredibly vulnerable to damage. Drinking even minute amounts of alcohol could damage this development. Additionally, their livers cannot process alcohol, and even small amounts put an undue burden on the child’s liver. In children over the age of 3 months, this rate increases to half of that of an adult, and goes up slowly from there.
Children who breastfeed from their mothers, who consume more than the recommended amount of alcohol, can encounter several other issues as well. Several studies have shown that when alcohol is present in the breast milk, the child drinks up to 20% less milk. This can lead to related issues in which the child does not grow as quickly as other children do, or whose growth can be stunted. Another consequence of drinking too much while breastfeeding is that your child could face decreased motor function as old as age one and beyond, although this study has not been duplicated as of yet. Also, babies whose mother drinks often sleep less. They might become drowsy and fall asleep quickly after consuming the affected breast milk, but they sleep for shorter periods. Because of these effects, most doctors will recommend to new mothers who are breastfeeding that they abstain from drinking for the first three months of their child’s life.
Is There a Way to Safely Drink While Breastfeeding?
Should you decide to drink while you are breastfeeding, especially if you have waited the three months to begin, there is a safe way to do it. As previously mentioned, the American Academy of Pediatrics has approved the drinking of small amounts of alcohol in breastfeeding mothers. So yes, you can have up to 8 ounces of wine safely with dinner, though there are some guidelines you should follow.
It is recommended that you wait a minimum of two hours after consuming a glass of wine, though waiting as long as three to four hours is recommended. Although it is well known that the peak in your blood alcohol level, and thus milk alcohol level, is the highest 30 to 90 minutes after you consume the drink, you should still wait. This is due to the fact that everyone processes alcohol differently, and it may take longer for your body to eliminate the alcohol.
Plan ahead! If you are going to be drinking, be sure to do it during a period in which you know your child might not need to eat, such as while they are sleeping for the night. If you will be drinking during a time period in which your child will need to eat before you can wait for the alcohol to leave your system, be sure to prepare stored milk or formula. If needed, you can also “Pump and Dump” as it is often called, to relieve any pain that might be caused by skipping a feeding. Please be aware, however, that pumping and dumping does not speed up the elimination of alcohol from your milk supply.
In order to lessen the amount of alcohol from drinking, you can make sure to drink water in addition to your wine or other alcoholic beverage. The water will not only help you drink less, but it will also help lower your blood alcohol level and thus lower the amount of alcohol in your supply. Eating will also help with this.
4. Do Not Overdrink
You can choose to drink more than one glass of wine at a time, or other alcohol, but please be cautious and understand that it means it will be even longer before you can breastfeed. You cannot safely breastfeed your baby if you are drunk, and you especially cannot safely co-sleep while intoxicated as well.
But Doesn’t Alcohol Help Increase Milk Production?
No. It does not. Drinking any alcohol, including wine, in abundance will actually decrease the amount of milk that can be expressed by the mother. There are several old wives tales, which state that milk functions as a galactagogue, a substance that increases the production of milk. This is false. Alcohol works to dehydrate your body, which lowers the amount of milk produced, and alcohol can affect the hormones that help produce milk. Some people might tell you that the polysaccharides from barley and hops might help increase prolactin, the hormone that helps you produce milk, but this is countered by the fact that alcohol lowers your level of oxytocin, which allows you to release the milk. If you are determined to try this as a way to increase your supply, you could try non-alcoholic beer. However, this might only work with non-alcoholic beer, as there are no hops in wine.
Drinking wine or other alcohol during while breastfeeding is certainly a topic that is not agreed upon by everyone. While there are certainly safe ways to drink while breastfeeding, it is important that you follow the guidelines given by the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as your doctor before choosing this route for yourself.