You already know that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus. Even moderate drinking can cause devastating brain damage. But what about breastfeeding? Does that glass of wine you enjoyed with dinner pass into your breast milk?
The short answer is, “yes.” The alcohol you consume enters your bloodstream almost immediately and, therefore, is in your milk rather quickly. Even though the alcohol does transfer to your milk, the amount of alcohol your baby experiences is much less than the amount you drink. Unlike the placenta, the breast provides some protection from most toxins in your bloodstream. According to Dr. Thomas Hale, the dose of alcohol in milk is less than 16% of the mother’s milk.
The amount of alcohol in your milk will peak 30 to 60 minutes after you enjoy your drink. After that time, the alcohol level decreases rapidly as long as you don’t have another drink. Alcohol is not stored in your milk. It quickly dissipates as your blood-alcohol level decreases.
There is no need to “pump and dump” if you enjoy an alcoholic beverage. But it is a good idea to time your drink for just after a breastfeeding session. That way most of the alcohol will be out of your bloodstream by the time your baby wants to eat again.
What about alcohol and milk supply? Many mothers are told to drink a beer so their milk will “come in” faster. Perhaps your mother advised you that beer would increase your supply. On the contrary, we now know that alcohol inhibits oxytocin release. Since oxytocin is responsible for your milk-ejection reflex or let down, alcohol consumption actually decreases the amount of milk released from the breast during a feeding.
Drinking during breastfeeding is a personal choice—one of many decisions that you will make as a mother. The bottom line is that alcohol in moderation, keeping in mind the timing of your drink, is probably not harmful. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists alcohol as “usually compatible” with breastfeeding. Excessive drinking can, however, lead to developmental delays.
Your milk is the best thing for your baby. Planning your alcohol consumption is advised over using formula to replace milk that may contain a small amount of alcohol.
Written by Renee Beebe, M.Ed., IBCLC. Renee is a lactation consultant in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is available for home/hospital visits and phone consultations. Renee can be reached at www.second9months.com