Mention cocktails and breastfeeding at ladies brunch and you’ll surely elicit a reaction from fellow moms. Maybe your bestie advises against it while your work friends say there’s no harm in a glass of wine. Meanwhile, your neighbor proudly downs a beer before breastfeeding and claims it boosts her milk production. Who should you listen to? Is that drink really safe while breastfeeding?
Unfortunately, there aren’t many studies on the topic. However, scientists do know that alcohol affects both mothers and babies during breastfeeding. Understanding these implications will help you decide what’s best for you — and whether you should order that mimosa.
What’s In Your Cup?
Alcohol enters your breastmilk similar to how it enters your bloodstream. The more you drink, the higher the concentration will be and the more ethanol you’ll pass on to your baby. For this reason, most researchers agree that one drink per day is likely safe for breastfeeding mothers and their suckling children.
What counts as one drink, though? In the United States, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines one drink as having about 14 grams of pure alcohol. However, not all alcoholic beverages are made equal. For instance, 12 ounces of beer can contain just as much alcohol as 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Thus, one cocktail may put you over the one-drink limit while a small beer may not.
The Waiting Game
If you do decide to drink, it’s best to wait two to two and a half hours before nursing. That’s because your breastmilk will have trace amounts of alcohol for about two to three hours after imbibing. Moreover, the length of time you can detect these trace amounts increases according to the amount of alcohol you consume. For example, two drinks would stay in your system for four to five hours, three drinks would affect breast milk for six to eight hours and so on.
Therefore, you must have enough formula or pre-pumped milk for however long you aren’t able to nurse. If you simply can’t wait that long, try to wait at least an hour. The highest alcohol levels in milk occur 30 to 60 minutes after consumption, although food can delay peak levels.
Risks and Side Effects
There are numerous risks and side effects that come with drinking and nursing. The most pronounced one is short-term inebriation and subsequent impairment. Even a single glass of wine can be enough to cause dizziness and confusion, which can inhibit your ability to care for your baby. Other short-term effects, which include poor sleep, hangovers and headaches, can also impact your attentiveness and decision-making skills.
Alcohol will affect your baby similarly, even at lower concentrations. Just as alcohol disrupts rapid-eye-movement sleep in adults, it causes restlessness, agitation and sleeplessness in infants. Multiple studies have also observed unnatural weight gain and slow growth rates. Luckily, these symptoms dissipated once mothers ceased drinking.
Less Milk for You and Baby
Many people still believe the old wive’s tale that alcohol will increase milk production when, in fact, it has the opposite effect. Nursing after one to two drinks can decrease your little one’s milk intake by 20% to 23%. Often, they’ll feed for the same duration, leading mothers to believe they’ve consumed the same amount as usual. However, because alcohol inhibits your ability to produce and eject milk, you’ll release less milk more slowly, thereby restricting the amount available to your child.
If you’ve decided to breastfeed, your baby relies on your milk for nutrients and hydration. Thus, it only makes sense that if they’re not receiving enough, they’ll become dehydrated and maybe even lethargic. They might also struggle to gain weight after birth and only pass one to two stools when they should pass three to four each day.
Of course, using any kind of recreational drug while pregnant or breastfeeding —including ethanol — can result in long-term consequences for both you and your child. Depending on how much you drink, your little one can suffer cognitive impairment during early childhood. Although this relationship is small, it may be clinically significant when mothers binge drink or frequently consume alcohol.
Moreover, regardless of how much or how frequently you imbibe, there’s always a possibility you’ll form an addiction or dependence on alcohol. Whether you reach that point while your child’s still young or you develop a problem years from now, odds are it’ll create a rift in your family. Ultimately, this fracture can cause more damage than drinking and breastfeeding as the repercussions may last a lifetime.
If having a drink will put you and your baby’s lives at risk, you might want to think twice before ordering a beer or pouring a glass of wine. No buzz is worth dying for and, at this point, your child’s wellbeing should be your number one priority. Therefore, if you must drink, remember to plan accordingly. Find someone to watch and feed your little one while you’re out and pump beforehand to ensure there’s enough milk available.
As long as you put your baby first, you’ll be in a position to make wiser choices and on the right track to being an amazing mom. You do you, girlfriend.