At this time of year, many women who don’t normally drink will have a few and those that drink regularly, have a few more. A study of 1006 Australians has been reported to show a 1/3 increase in alcohol consumption during the festive season. I know myself as a breastfeeding usually non drinker, that I’ve already had 3 nights out with alcohol consumed in the past 2 weeks. My baby is 11 months old and I can easily metabolise a glass of wine in between feeds. But are there guidelines for combining alcohol and breastfeeding? How long do you need to leave it between drinking and feeding? What about younger babies? Are there any risks to the baby if Mum has a drink or two then feeds?
It turns out we know quite a lot about how alcohol works in breastmilk. It gets into the breastmilk from the blood and leaves the breastmilk at the same rate as alcohol leaves the blood. So if you feel drunk, there will be some alcohol in your milk. The concentration of alcohol in the breastmilk is less than 2% of what mum has had to drink. So unless you’re drinking large amounts, it’s fair to say that baby would be getting only very, very small amounts of alcohol and it’s better to drink and feed than to not feed at all due to the problems the disruption to feeding patterns can cause. However, while we know that only very small amounts of alcohol will be passed through the milk, we don’t know how occasional tiny, tiny amounts of alcohol effects a baby.
Here are 9 things that I think every mother needs to know about drinking and breastfeeding.
- Time taken for alcohol to clear from breastmilk depends on your weight. For an average sized women, it conservatively takes 2 hours to get rid of each standard drink. That’s 2 hours for 1, 4 hours for 2, 6 hours for 3 etc. The smaller you are, the more time it takes to metabolise each drink. Alcohol becomes present in your milk 30-60 mins from the time you start drinking.
- The only way to reduce the amount of alcohol in your breastmilk is to wait it out. Once you stop drinking, the amount of alcohol in your blood and breastmilk will start to drop.
- There is no point to expressing milk while you are drunk to throw affected milk away, the ol’ pump n’ dump is a myth. You just need to wait enough time for the alcohol to clear from the milk. Express only if you need to for comfort. If you do express while affected by alcohol, throw it away because the alcohol will stay in the milk once removed from the breast.5.
- For very young babies, it is best NOT TO DRINK at all. Babies under 1 month old cannot metabolise alcohol, their liver is still maturing. Also, to establish a good supply and avoid feeding difficulties you need to be available to feed a newborn at their whim. This may mean that on the day you decide to have a drink baby decides a feeding marathon is in order and wants to feed every hour. In this case, you don’t have time to metabolise even 1 standard drink between feeds. This may seem a little harsh but, if you wouldn’t drink while pregnant, it’s not that much more to refrain for another 4-8 weeks while your baby develops the ability to cope with the alcohol and you get supply and demand in synch.
- Binge drinking is never a good idea for anyone- breastfeeding or not. But, if you plan to go out and write yourself off, or if you sometimes accidently do so- freeze milk to leave for your baby and find someone take care of your baby until you’re no longer affected by alcohol.
- Breastmilk with a small amount of alcohol in it is still better than any breastmilk substitute. So if baby is hungry, you have no expressed milk, you’ve had a drink or 2 and think you still have alcohol in your milk, feed anyway.
- Alcohol can affect your let down and slow the flow of milk. This may make baby a bit fussy at the breast.
- Babies that are affected by alcohol in the milk may fall asleep quicker but wake more frequently and suffer tummy upsets the next day.
Peace on Earth and good will to all.
Women who are breastfeeding are strongly advised not to drink in excess because alcohol impairs a mothers ability to look after her baby. If the mother continues to drink a lot, perhaps it is time to consider alcoholic detox programs to help both mother and child.