What you’re not being told about alcohol and breastfeeding

What you're not being told about alcohol and breastfeeding

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If you’ve never had the opportunity to be on the receiving end of a roomful of disapproving stares, try drinking a glass of wine while nursing your baby. There’s not much you can do to get across-the-board disapproval in the U.S. like when you’re caught drinking alcohol and breastfeeding.

the truth about alcohol and breastfeeding

I don’t think anyone truly wants to liquor up a baby. Where people disagree is on what amount of alcohol is safe for a nursing mom to consume. There are quite a few different camps in this argument, with a range of philosophies.

The philosophies on alcohol and breastfeeding

One proclaims you should have absolutely no alcohol. They argue it’s not safe for your baby, that this is a short-lived time in your life, and that you’re selfish for wanting to have a drink and harm your baby.

Another camp says a little drink here and there won’t hurt anything as long as you pump your milk for a few hours afterward and dump it out. Once you remove the booze-milk, you can safely nurse again. Just give baby formula in the meantime.

There’s a third camp whose claim is that this is your body and your baby, and you can do whatever you want. After all, it’s not like you’re giving her formula. It’s still breastmilk – even if it is high-octane milk.

Yet there are still others who take a more tempered approach and believe you can drink a little bit on occasion and still nurse as usual without harming your baby.

What do medical professionals say about alcohol and breastfeeding?

Where do the professionals – you know, the faceless “they” – stand on the issue? Actually, you can find levelheaded and well-meaning professionals making passionate arguments for each of those camps; but for the most part in the U.S. “they” say no alcohol at all. In fact, “they” have been saying for more than 30 years that there’s no safe amount and that alcohol is strictly off limits when you’re a nursing mother.

people get nervous when they see you drinking alcohol and breastfeeding

Of course, 3o years before that “they” also said that we should drink milk to make milk, and suggested we should give coca-cola to infants.

To add another layer of confusion, according to a handful of medical professionals I’ve asked, there’s an understood consensus that it’s probably okay for breastfeeding mothers to drink small amounts of alcohol- but they don’t dare say so because the official stance is no. Giving a nursing mother leave to drink would open them to derision and liability, so they stick to the official script.

So let’s just forget what “they” say. What’s the truth?

Truths about alcohol and breastfeeding

  • The truth is, alcohol doesn’t travel directly from your mouth to your nipple. It takes a minimum of 30 minutes for alcohol to be present in your milk – longer if you were eating while you drank. If you have your first drink while you’re breastfeeding, your baby gets none of it.
  • The truth is, alcohol will not stay in your milk. There’s no reason to “pump and dump.” As your body processes the alcohol out of your system, it also processes the alcohol out of your milk.
  • The truth is, the amount of alcohol in your milk is directly related to how much you drink. A glass of wine will give you milk with a much lower alcohol content than a pint of whiskey will.
  • The truth is, alcohol accumulates. So the more frequently you drink, the more you’re likely to have higher alcohol content in your milk.
  • The truth is, a couple of drinks are probably fine. This is true especially if you’re not drinking on an empty stomach and you’ve just nursed right before you drink. Nursing immediately prior gives your body some time to process the majority of the alcohol out before your baby gets hungry again.
  • The truth is you should never, ever breastfeed while you’re drunk. Besides the obvious risk of accidentally hurting your baby through your drunken fumbling and stumbling, your baby will also be consuming a hefty dose of alcohol. A good rule of thumb is if you’re under the influence, so is your milk.
  • The truth is, you DON’T have to abstain. A drink or two here or there will not hurt your baby.
  • The truth is, you DON’T have to drink. You can do without. If you honestly can’t do without a drink, you might need to seek professional help.
  • The truth is, this is your choice. Weigh the pros and cons and follow your convictions.

Your Choices

Be aware that if you decide to have a drink, your baby may be getting a small dose of mammary filtered alcohol. If you can accept that and proceed cautiously, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a drink. If you decide that the small dose of mammary filtered alcohol is unacceptable in your baby, then follow your instincts. Now that you know the truth, you can make a more informed decision.

If you’d like to read about substance abuse and nursing, Drs. Keenan and Cohen have an awesome post about How Substance Abuse Affects Breastfeeding!

What do you think of drinking alcohol and breastfeeding? Please comment below. I’d love to hear your point of view!

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