Alcohol and Breastfeeding Facts and Myths

What you need to know about nursing and alcoholic beverages

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Bring up the topic of alcohol and breastfeeding and more than likely you'll hear a mixed bag of opinions on how safe it is, how it affects breast milk supply, and when and how you should resume breastfeeding after drinking. It can be hard to sort out the facts from the myths. Sadly, some of those myths can erode a woman's desire to breastfeed or damage the breastfeeding relationship with her baby. That's why it is important to make sure you have the facts about alcohol and breastfeeding.

Myth: It Isn't Safe for Breastfeeding Mothers to Drink Any Alcohol

The key phrase in this is any alcohol. While frequent, excessive drinking is strongly discouraged, there is nothing wrong with the occasional alcoholic beverage. Nursing mothers should only drink in moderation. A good way to put a number on "drinking in moderation" is limiting drinking to a single beverage one or two times a week. Go ahead and enjoy a glass of wine or beer every now and then.

Myth: It Can Take Three Days for Alcohol to Leave Breast Milk

The time required for alcohol to leave your breast milk depends on your body weight, the alcohol content of the beverage you were drinking, how many ounces you drank, and the amount of time it took you to drink it. Waiting at least two hours after a single drink before you breastfeed is the wisest course of action. If you can safely (and legally) drive a car without concern of a DUI, you are most likely sober enough to breastfeed your baby.

Myth: Drinking Alcohol Helps Build Breast Milk Supply

The myth that alcohol builds milk supply is a pretty old one, based largely on lay opinions. Research has not only debunked this myth but showed the exact opposite to be true. Not only does downing that beer or glass of wine not build supply, it actually serves to decrease your breast milk supply and inhibit milk letdown. It is far better to stick with established methods of boosting breast milk supply instead.

Myth: If You Pump and Dump Breast Milk, You Can Immediately Resume Breastfeeding

This myth ties back into the myth about blood alcohol levels. Your breast milk will have the same alcohol level as your blood. "Pumping and dumping" will not speed up how your body processes alcohol out of the system. Your body needs time to rid your breast milk of alcohol.

There is no need to pump and dump milk unless you are skipping a feeding and you are experiencing discomfort from engorgement, or want to make sure you keep up your supply. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends waiting for two to four hours after a single drink before breastfeeding. By that time, your baby's exposure to alcohol will be very low.

Myth: The Baby's Blood Alcohol Content Will Be the Same as the Mother's After Breastfeeding

This is also far from the case. When you drink, the alcohol content is diluted in your bloodstream, and the alcohol in your breast milk is diluted in your baby's bloodstream. The average glass of wine is around 10 percent to 12 percent alcohol. A mother who weighs 120 pounds and drank two to three glasses of wine over an hour would have an estimated blood alcohol content of between 0.06 percent to 0.10 percent alcohol. So, much less than the alcohol content of the wine itself.

The same goes for your baby. If he drinks breast milk that is 0.08 percent alcohol, his alcohol level would be far less than that. However, as a baby has much less blood, the dilution will be less. This is why it is best to wait to breastfeed until most of the alcohol has left your bloodstream.

Myth: Alcohol in Breast Milk Improves Baby's Sleep

The myth that as alcohol transfers to breast milk it will have a soothing effect on the baby is fairly persistent. However, medical research has shown the opposite to be true (although the studies are small and were conducted many years ago). Breastfed babies of light drinkers sleep less than babies of non-drinkers.

Alcohol in breast milk actually disrupts a baby's active sleep (the nice deep sleep that we all need). Tests on adults and animals who drank alcohol showed they also experienced similar issues. So consuming alcohol via breast milk could cause a baby to wake more frequently at night. If you are looking for ways to get your baby to sleep better at night, this is not a method you want to use.

What's even more troubling: If a breastfeeding mother tried to use this technique on a regular basis and drank even one alcoholic beverage every day, that alcohol could have negative effects on the baby's gross motor development.

Finally, there is a proven link between sudden infant death syndrome and alcohol consumption in both mothers and fathers who co-sleep.

The Facts About Alcohol and Breastfeeding

These are the three take-home facts:

  1. Responsible drinking in moderation is fine, but don't go overboard.
  2. You should never co-sleep if you have been drinking.
  3. Your breast milk will be safe for your baby to drink if you allow time for the alcohol to leave your system naturally.

Breastfeeding mothers do not have to avoid alcohol entirely. It is possible to find a balance ​between drinking safely and responsibly without having ill effects on your baby's health or your milk supply.

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