Breastfeeding is the preferred method of feeding babies and whilst drinking alcohol is a common, social custom in the majority of the western world, considerable evidence shows that drinking alcohol during a pregnancy increases the severe and avoidable risk to an unborn baby.
However, the risks of drinking alcohol during breastfeeding are at present not truly defined. Some experts advise mothers that it is safe to drink alcohol in moderate amounts, although the exact `safe’ amount of alcohol that can be consumed still remains unknown.
Currently research suggests the occasional consumption of alcohol is not deemed to be harmful to the breastfed baby although it is recommended that one to two drinks per week should be the limit. Some experts suggest that if you are sober enough to drive a vehicle you should be safe to breastfeed.
Experts also suggest you avoid feeding your baby for two to three hours following the consumption of alcohol and other than your own comfort, there is no need to pump and throw away breast milk after you have consumed alcohol.
However if you are not with your baby you should aim to pump as often as your baby feeds to ensure your milk supply is maintained. By pumping with a mechanical pump or your hand, you will also ensure comfort whilst avoiding plugged ducts and mastitis. The alcohol does not accumulate in the milk. It leaves your milk when it leaves your blood.
It should also be remembered that alcohol can decrease the production of milk. The alcohol peaks in your blood and milk supply approximately half to one hour following the drink although each person is different. It also depends upon the time you last eat and the amount of food that was eaten along with your body weight and body fat.
You should always bear in mind your baby’s age when considering drinking whilst breastfeeding. A newborn baby’s liver is very immature and up to around three months of age, the alcohol is detoxified at half the rate of an adult. An older baby should be able to detoxify the alcohol a lot quicker.
Drinking alcohol whilst breastfeeding your baby can have numerous effects on your baby. Firstly, as mentioned above, the volume of milk can be decreased quite significantly. Your baby’s sleep pattern may also be affected as short term exposure to alcohol in those babies whose mothers were light drinkers sleep less. It has also been found that daily alcohol consumption can cause slow weight gain in the baby and decrease the child’s motor development and hyperglycemia. ÿ
Alcohol can give a noticeable odor to breast milk which can encourage the baby to suck initially although it has been proven the total milk intake decreases during the feed.
Even though opinions are mixed, on the whole it is deemed safer not to drink alcohol whilst breast feeding your baby.