Alcohol and breastfeeding

Alcohol and breastfeeding

Will it harm my breastfeeding baby if I drink wine, beer, or hard alcohol?

It could if you don't take precautions. The same amount of alcohol that makes it into your bloodstream makes it into your breast milk.

While the amount that's transferred if you drink a glass of wine is relatively small, your baby is tiny and has an immature liver. That means she can't process the alcohol as well as you can. Infants younger than 3 months process alcohol at about half the rate of adults.

Studies show that alcohol can affect babies' eating and sleeping. During the four hours after a breastfeeding mother consumes an alcoholic beverage such as 4 ounces of wine, one mixed drink, or one can of beer – babies who nurse consume about 20 percent less milk.

And while breastfed babies may become drowsy and fall asleep more quickly after their mother drinks alcohol, they also sleep for a shorter amount of time.

Alcohol in breast milk may also hinder babies' development. In a landmark study of 400 breastfed babies, gross motor development at 1 year of age lagged in infants whose mothers drank at least one drink daily during the babies' first three months of life. The results of this study have not been duplicated, however.

While no one knows the true effect that alcohol has on breastfed infants, it's probably wise to abstain – at least in the very beginning. Some experts recommend breastfeeding moms avoid drinking alcohol until their baby is 3 months old.

If you're worried that you're drinking too much, talk to your doctor.

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How can I safely have an occasional drink if I'm breastfeeding?

Wait at least two hours after you finish a drink before nursing your baby to give your body a chance to clear the alcohol.

Your blood alcohol level (and the level of alcohol in your milk) is generally highest 30 to 90 minutes after you have a drink, although that time – and the length of time it takes the alcohol to leave your body – varies from person to person.

You can time your drink so that your baby won't be nursing for a few hours afterward by having it right after a feeding, for example, or during one of your baby's longer stretches of sleep.

Or you can pump and store your milk before having a drink, then feed your baby expressed milk from a bottle. (Pumping after you drink won't clear alcohol from your system any faster – it will still take at least two hours.)

Another option is to feed your baby formula in the hours following your alcohol consumption.

To ward off dehydration, down a glass of water in addition to the alcoholic drink. It's also a good idea to eat beforehand or when you're having your drink. This helps lower the amount of alcohol in your blood and your milk.

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Can I have more than one drink if I'm breastfeeding?

Having more than one drink is more difficult to do safely when you're a breastfeeding mom. The more drinks you have, the longer it takes for the alcohol to clear your system.

For example, according to researchers who have charted the clearance of alcohol from breast milk, if a 120-pound woman of average height consumes three drinks in one hour, it will take seven and a half hours for her breast milk to be alcohol free. For the 175-pound woman, it would take about eight hours.

If you're a breastfeeding mom limit yourself to an occasional alcoholic drink, and no more than one a day. For a 130-pound woman that means no more than 2 ounces of liquor, 8 ounces of wine, or two beers in a 24-hour period.

If you have too much to drink and become intoxicated, don't nurse your baby until you're sober. If you need to pump, throw away the expressed milk.

If your baby sleeps through the night without waking up to nurse, having more than one drink in the evening is a possibility. But this may not be wise for important reasons that have nothing to do with breastfeeding:

You can't safely care for your baby if you're intoxicated.

You can't safely co-sleep with your baby if you're under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. These intoxicants could interfere with your awareness of your baby's presence and your baby's cries. So if you do drink, keep your baby out of your bed.

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Will drinking beer increase my breast milk supply?

No.There's no scientific evidence to support the popular wisdom that drinking beer – or any other type of alcohol – boosts your milk supply. For one thing, alcohol dehydrates your body and makes you lose body fluid, which can negatively impact how much milk you make.  Also, drinking alcohol disrupts the hormones that are involved in milk production.

Julie Mennella, a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia who studies the effect of alcohol on lactation, explains that while prolactin (a hormone that aids milk production) increases with alcohol consumption, oxytocin (a hormone that's responsible for milk letdown) decreases. Researchers think this may explain why babies have a harder time breastfeeding when their mothers drink alcohol.

If you're concerned about a low milk supply, talk to a lactation consultant and your baby's healthcare practitioner.

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