Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding: Is It Safe?
There is a great deal of evidence regarding the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant, but the risks of drinking while breastfeeding aren’t as clearly defined. Doctors and other professionals have differing opinions on the issue, with some claiming breastfeeding alcohol to a baby is dangerous only if large amounts are consumed. Others argue that alcohol and breastfeeding simply don’t mix and that no amount of alcohol is safe for a baby. If you’re currently nursing, it’s important to be aware of the possible risks associated with drinking alcohol.
What Are the Dangers of Breastfeeding Alcohol to a Baby?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies indicate that there are many health benefits to breastfeeding for infants, including a reduced risk of asthma, allergies and type 2 diabetes. However, the Academy advises against habitually drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. One of the reasons is that this substance passes through breast milk, just as any other beverage or food that the mother consumes. Alcohol moves through breast milk at the same rate that it moves through the blood; the more that’s consumed, the longer it takes to clear from the bloodstream and breast milk.
In general, drinking alcohol in large amounts can be dangerous for anyone, but the following are some of the potential risks associated with drinking in excess while breastfeeding:
- •Impaired motor development for the infant
•Changes in sleep pattern for the infant
•Decreased milk production
•A reduction in consumed breast milk (20% less), since alcohol can change the taste of the milk
•Weakness in the infant
•Increased risk for pseudo-Cushing syndrome (see below)
Pseudo-Cushing syndrome (PCS) is a condition comparable to Cushing’s syndrome (a condition caused by excessive cortisol in the body), which is often characterized by weight gain, among other symptoms. According to an article from The Journal of Pediatrics, a 4-month-old breastfed infant developed pseudo-Cushing syndrome because of the mother’s chronic and heavy alcohol consumption (50 cans of beer weekly, in addition to other alcoholic beverages).
As a result of the syndrome, the infant had a diminished length, a bloated appearance and excessive weight gain while breastfeeding. These symptoms, fortunately, disappeared after the mother stopped drinking alcohol.
Alcohol and Breastfeeding Myths
Before making a decision about whether you’ll choose to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, it’s important to separate the myths from the facts. The following are some disproven myths:
•Myth: Drinking alcohol will increase milk production
•Fact: Although this a common belief, the opposite is true; drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can actually decrease milk production.
•Myth: “Pumping and dumping” will remove the alcohol from breast milk.
•Fact: Pumping and dumping breast milk does nothing to remove alcohol content from it. It’s typically done only to relieve discomfort from engorgement.
•Myth: Alcohol helps with milk letdown.
•Fact: This is another popular belief of nursing mothers, but drinking alcohol while breastfeeding does nothing to improve milk letdown.
Is It Ever Safe to Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?
The answer to this question depends on the amount of alcohol consumed and the amount of time that passes between the last drink and the time breastfeeding or pumping begins. With that in mind, yes, it can be safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, but only if a small amount is consumed and only after it has completely cleared from the breast milk.
The type of alcohol, the amount consumed and the mother’s body weight determine how long it takes for alcohol to clear from the bloodstream and breast milk. Typically, blood alcohol content peaks about 30–60 minutes after consumption, but it may take several hours for it to be eliminated from the body. In fact, it could take up to three hours for a 120-pound woman to eliminate one serving of beer or wine from her body, according to La Leche League. It could take four times longer for the same woman to eliminate a drink with a high alcohol content, like vodka, from her body.
If you plan to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, it’s best to take the following precautions to prevent breastfeeding alcohol to your infant (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Health Service):
•Drink alcohol only immediately after nursing or pumping, instead of before.
•Allow at least two hours per drink (12-ounce beer, 4-ounce glass of wine or one ounce of hard liquor) before breastfeeding or pumping to allow the alcohol to clear from your system.
•Drink no more than two units of alcohol once or twice a week while breastfeeding.
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