Alcohol and Breastfeeding: Expert Answers to Your Questions
Parenting brings so many emotions along with it because we all want to do the best we can, but without that all-knowing handbook that doesn't exist, there are so many unknowns. The decisions can be huge and could affect our children for the rest of their life and well, who wants to mess up parenting?
Parenting a newborn has many responsibilities that are new: from learning their sleep cycle to understanding the different reasons they're crying, and if you're breastfeeding, that's learning a whole new skill as well.
When I was breastfeeding my first child and it wasn't going as simply as I had hoped, I realized there was more to it than I had predicted. I thought all you had to do was put baby to your chest and they'd know what to do — but there were so many more variables than I realized.
How would I know if my baby was getting enough to eat?
Do I need to change up my diet to make sure my baby is getting the best?
What about that glass of wine I love having so much? Is that out of the question now because I'm breastfeeding?
I had always heard that if you're breastfeeding you have to avoid alcohol — even in the smallest amounts. And, if you do want to enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer, before you breastfeed again, you'll need to “pump and dump” — but was that really true?
I asked breastfeeding expert, Chrissy Bodin, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) living in Jacksonville, Florida to weigh in on alcohol consumption while breastfeeding and here are her answers to common questions:
It is safe to consume some alcohol while breastfeeding?
“The general rule is that if a mother is safe to drive, she is safe to breastfeed; when alcohol has dissipated from the bloodstream, it is also gone from her [breast milk],” Bodin told EverydayFamily.
Bodin continues, “Just as many variables affect how much alcohol is too much to consume before driving (body weight, amount of food consumed), the same variables apply to breastfeeding and drinking. If a woman can be trusted to know when to drive and when to call a taxi, she can be trusted to know if she is okay to breastfeed her baby.”
But what about the risks to consuming too much alcohol while breastfeeding?
When it comes to too much alcohol while breastfeeding, there is a risk. Bodin shares, “Alcohol passes easily into mother's milk and, if consumed by the baby before the alcohol has left mother's milk and bloodstream, the baby will be exposed to alcohol while he nurses. Babies who are regularly exposed to alcohol have reduced cognitive skills and may not grow in height and weight appropriately.”
It goes beyond just breastfeeding though, and Bodin explains that, “If a mother is too inebriated to breastfeed, she may also not be in the best position to carry her child, make safety decisions, etc.”
Do breastfeeding mothers need to “pump and dump”?
You see and hear this advice everywhere from popular television shows to the playground when you hear parents talking, but according to Bodin, there's no need to “pump and dump” after you've had alcohol, “Alcohol is not stored in breast milk, so there is no inherent need to pump and dump. If a mother's alcohol consumption requires her to wait to nurse her baby beyond the time her child needs to be fed, she may want to express her milk during that time to relieve fullness, but provided that the mother is not needing to skip a feeding on a regular basis.”
Does drinking alcohol affect milk supply?
“Alcohol temporarily reduces milk supply. Generally, by the next day, the baby has made up for the temporary decrease in supply by nursing more often,” says Bodin.
Alcohol, especially beer, was once recommended to increase milk supply. Alcohol does increase prolactin levels, a hormone responsible for milk production, and barley and hops are thought to have a positive effect on milk supply. However, alcohol inhibits another hormone, oxytocin, which is responsible for milk let down, and study after study seems to show a decrease in milk supply when mothers drink alcohol, including beer,” advises Bodin. She recommends, “If a mother is looking for something to increase her supply, she may do well to stick with non-alcoholic beer or other folk remedies and galactagogues.”
Does it make sense to warn all mothers against any alcohol?
“Although it may seem like good advice to tell mothers to avoid drinking altogether, this actually puts the baby at greater health risk,” Bodin shared with EverydayFamily. “It is well documented that breastfeeding is associated with a plethora of health benefits and putting unnecessary limits on a mother's social activities and enjoyments can put the baby at risk of early weaning. Mothers have been nursing their babies and drinking for millennia – the key isn't to avoid alcohol but to be aware of how to drink safely while parenting your child,” Bodin states.
What has been your experience regarding drinking while breastfeeding?