How Mother and Child are Affected with Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and alcohol drinking aren’t compatible together. Everything a mother eats or drinks enters the breastmilk and will have respective effects on the child. If a mother consumes too much caffeine, then the baby might be more agitated and less sleepy. If a mother eats too gaseous foods, then her baby can be colic more often and so on. Same is the case with drinking alcohol, it will pass seep into the breast milk and I don’t think I have to tell any mother how that will end up. Even though CDC says not to drink while nursing the child, an occasional drink in moderate quantity is acceptable. Over drinking can have adverse effects on the supply of milk as well, although it can be increased by lactation treats and drink but the best option is to be careful, right?

The Relationship of Alcohol and Breastmilk

Unlike many medications, foods and drinks that reach the breast milk in low potencies, alcohol is present in the breast milk in the same amount as its present in the bloodstream. If you know your alcohol level in the blood then you also know the level present in the milk. It flows freely from mother’s blood to mother’s milk. So, if a mother is legally drunk with alcohol levels of 0.08% then her breast milk will also contain 0.08% of liquor. What does that mean for a mother who needs to nurse her baby?

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Well, according to a case study, a baby consumes breast milk up to 5-6% of its weight so if a mother is legally drunk then 5% of 0.08% of bloodstream alcohol level that can possibly reach the breast milk is 0.005%. You might feel that this amount is quite insignificant as it’s just a small fraction of the amount that the mother is exposed to but in reality, it’s not that insignificant and can have dire consequences especially if it is a repeated behaviour of the mother.  The fact is that the metabolism rate of the baby is almost half as of an adult which means that the alcohol will stay double the time in the body of the baby.

What are Acceptable Quantities of Alcohol while Breastfeeding?

The best and recommended quantity of alcohol consumption is one or two drinks occasionally, not every day! To understand this better we first need to understand what is a moderate consumption and what is a drink, as for someone a drink can be a whole bottle! A moderate consumption of a legally aged woman is 1 standard drink per day, but then what is a drink?  According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a standard drink is 8 ounces of 7% malt, 5 ounces of 12% wine, 12 ounces of 5% beer or 1.5 ounces of 40% liquor. All these amounts that I have mentioned above have the same amount of pure alcohol that is 14 grams or 0.6 ounces.

But not all the drinks you down have the standard amounts of alcohol and consuming one of these drinks means you have had 2 or 3 standard drinks. So, mothers who want to indulge in drinking must be mindful of these varying quantities, as the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that alcohol consumption of a nursing mother should be limited to one drink that is too few and far between. A mother who had just consumed alcohol must wait for at least 2 hours in order to minimize the concentration levels of the alcohol in the breast milk. But that time is only workable for one standard drink if you’ve been indulging in 2,3 or 4 drinks then you’ll have to determine the time according to the number of drinks you had, which will be every two hours of wait per drink.

Pumping and Dumping

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As told earlier, the alcohol will remain in the breast milk for as long as it remains in the bloodstream, so even if you pump the breast milk and dump it, it will not help. The alcohol is not trapped in breast milk, when you’ll remove the breast milk the new milk will also have the same concentration level of alcohol as before because the alcohol is still potent in the bloodstream. But pumping can surely be a great milk supply booster, saving you from breast engorgement and other problems for the time you’re unable to feed. If the baby gets hungry during this time frame a mother should rely on previously expressed milk, other foods or drinks to soothe the baby.

Does Alcohol Affects the Milk Supply?

Yes, it can affect the milk supply of the mother as she cannot nurse the baby until her liver cleans the alcohol out of her system.  This can take up to 2-6 hours depending on the number of drinks the mother has taken. If the breast milk isn’t pumped or expressed and it stays in the breast for long hours the body will think that it doesn’t need to produce more milk which will ultimately bring the supply down. If a mother wants to drink alcohol, then she must take lactation treats that’s a great milk supply booster, pump her milk and store it for the time when she is unable to feed. This way the supply won’t go down, the mother wouldn’t feel guilty and the child doesn’t have to face the wrath of the alcohol.  

Dangers of Alcohol Consumption

If a mother consumes large quantities of alcohol on a daily basis, then it would be very hard to manage the pumping and expressing and the overlap will happen many times. According to the CDC, if the baby is fed alcohol induced milk often, he/she can develop psychomotor delays, it can change their sleeping and eating patterns, it can hinder their growth and development and can also impair their judgement as well. Their frequency of feeds will also go down and the babies will consume less milk which will eventually make them weak and more vulnerable to illnesses and diseases.

Parting Words from Milky Mama

Doing breastfeeding and drinking can work together if a middle ground is taken. Occasional drink is allowed to all mothers, it won’t make you feel deprived and in an hour or two you’ll be ready to nurse again which is a standard time frame for the babies to sleep or rest from nursing. If you’re not mindful about the harmful effects of alcohol then the baby can suffer a lot for his/her entire life.

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