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Alcohol and Breastfeeding: Can You Drink and Breastfeed?

Drinking during the stage where a woman breastfeeds her young child is a personal decision every mom will have to make for herself. Health experts advise that no amount of alcohol is safe for pregnant women, but some mothers who have delivered their bundle of joy may wonder if alcohol is safe to have now that they are breastfeeding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the safest option for breastfeeding mothers is to abstain from alcohol entirely. However, mothers who want to have an adult beverage while in this stage of motherhood are not strictly banned from doing so. 

Drinking alcohol in moderate amounts has not been shown to harm an infant. The CDC advises that a woman who has one standard alcoholic beverage can wait at least two hours before she nurses her young to help reduce the concentration of alcohol in her breast milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports this recommendation.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise what moderate alcohol consumption is for those who are 21 years old, the legal drinking age in the U.S. For a woman who is breastfeeding, one standard drink a day meets the definition of drinking moderately. 

Defining What a Standard Drink Is

Determining how much a standard drink is can be where some breastfeeding mothers run into some challenges. The amount of a standard drink can change depending on the kind of beverage a person is drinking. The Dietary Guidelines say that drinking alcohol moderately can be included in the calorie limits of most healthy eating patterns. This approach could make it easier to keep track of what is a safe amount of alcohol to drink.

If you go by the guidelines, one alcoholic drink-equivalent has 14 g (0.6 fl oz) of pure alcohol. To give an idea of how one standard alcoholic beverage can look different depending on the drink, the guide says:

  • 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol)
  • 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

These examples show why it is important for mothers who are nursing young children to watch how much alcohol they drink and use their common sense and best judgment. If you have one standard drink, make sure it is a safe one, and limit your alcohol use to that one beverage.

Why It Is Important to Follow Moderate Alcohol Use Guidelines

Alcohol use during breastfeeding must be diligently managed if a nursing mom wants to do it. There are clear risks involved if drinking goes beyond what’s recommended.

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Alcohol Use Can Affect Mother and Child

Some mothers choose to abstain from alcohol use while nursing out of concern that the alcohol can pass from them to their child. As noted above, waiting some time between drinking and nursing can help minimize the risk of passing a large amount of alcohol to a baby through breast milk.

Large amounts of alcohol are a problem, as they can cause drowsiness, deep sleep, abnormal weight gain, and weakness in an infant, according to the La Leche League International.

Only a fraction of the alcohol that enters the body can be transferred to the baby via breast milk. Still, it is important to remember that a baby’s body is generally not developed enough to efficiently process any amount of alcohol as an adult’s body is. Alcohol transferred to an infant through breast milk will likely not clear their system quickly, meaning the alcohol will stay in their system longer. 

La Leche League International recommends that mothers consider their baby’s age if they are thinking about drinking moderately. “A newborn has an immature liver, and will be more affected by alcohol,” it writes. 

It goes on to say that infants up to three months can process alcohol at nearly half the rate of adults and that an older baby can metabolize alcohol faster than a young infant. 

A baby with alcohol in its system can also experience developmental problems in their early life. They may have trouble regulating their emotions and establishing sleep patterns, among other problems.

Babies Can Detect Breast Milk Changes

Nursing mothers know that breast milk is essential to providing their children with the nutrition they need. Breast milk also contains antibodies that help infants fight off viruses and other ailments, as Healthline reports. 

However, some women may not know that their baby may notice that their milk is different as drinking alcohol can change the taste of a woman’s breast milk, particularly if she has been drinking for a long time.

A nursing mom may notice that her alcohol intake is affecting her milk ejection reflex (the natural reaction that occurs when it is time to release milk to feed the baby) and how much milk she produces. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies show that alcohol reduces how much milk is produced and that babies can drink 20% less because they can detect the presence of alcohol in breast milk. 

Mothers in Recovery: Should They Breastfeed?

Alcoholic woman breastfeeding

Mothers with substance use disorders can get guidance and support with breastfeeding and nursing their babies. They can seek treatment facilities or programs that know what mothers in recovery need as they work toward full-time sobriety.

Breastfeeding Medicine acknowledges the hurdles women using substances and those in recovery face, but it still sees breastfeeding as an option for women in this population. The unique needs of each woman must be considered, and the risks of feeding versus not feeding the child from its mother’s breast must also be reviewed.

The study’s authors advise pregnant women and nursing mothers to abstain from substances unless needed for medical reasons.

Nursing Mothers Can Get Help with Alcohol Dependence

If a nursing mother has a problem controlling her drinking and is dependent on alcohol,  it is time she seeks help that can save her life and her baby’s life, too. Breast milk is essential for a baby’s growth, as this special time between mother and baby can help strengthen their emotional bond. Drinking alcohol excessively can rob both people of that time together.

Research suggests that more women are turning to alcohol for various reasons, including using it to cope with physical, mental, and emotional pain. It is likely that breastfeeding mothers are part of this group, especially if she is using alcohol to self-medicate. Postpartum depression, which is depression that occurs after a woman gives birth, can also make some women seek out alcohol to numb their feelings or pain. Self-medicating can lead to dependence and addiction.

A woman who becomes a nursing mother may find it difficult to give up alcohol or cut back to moderate use once dependence or addiction is the issue, even if she has a little one to care for. 

If you need help with ending alcohol use, Serenity at Summit invites you to come in or call us so we can learn how we can help you start anew. You can get help to stop alcohol abuse. Our treatment program takes your specific needs into account and helps you design a pathway to recovery that fits your needs and situation. Call us today.

Sources

Alcohol. (2019, December 28). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/vaccinations-medications-drugs/alcohol.html

Breastfeeding, S. (2012, March 01). Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full

Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding. (2020, July 29). La Leche League International. Retrieved from https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/alcohol/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Retrieved from https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-9/

Bjarnadottir, A. (2020, August 13). 11 Benefits of Breastfeeding for Both Mom and Baby. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/breastfeeding/11-benefits-of-breastfeeding

Breast-feeding and alcohol: Is it OK to drink? (2019, July 03). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/breast-feeding-and-alcohol/faq-20057985

Reece-Stremtan, Sarah, and Kathleen A Marinelli. “ABM clinical protocol #21: guidelines for breastfeeding and substance use or substance use disorder, revised 2015.” Breastfeeding Medicine: the official journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378642/

January 2020). Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-in-women

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