Alcohol and Breastfeeding Facts and Myths

What you need to know about breastfeeding and alcoholic beverages

Wedding party toasting newlywed couple.
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Bring up the topic of alcohol and breastfeeding and more than likely you'll hear a mixed bag of opinions on how safe it is, how it affects breastmilk supply, and how you should resume breastfeeding after drinking. With all the conflicting views, it can be hard to sort out the facts from the myths, and sadly some of those myths can erode a woman's desire to breastfeed or damage the breastfeeding relationship with her baby.

That's why it so important to make sure people have the correct facts about alcohol and breastfeeding.

Myth #1: It Isn't Safe for Breastfeeding Mothers to Drink Any Alcohol

The key phrase in this is any alcohol. While frequent, excessive drinking is (hopefully) an obvious no-no, there is nothing wrong with the occasional alcoholic beverage. Mothers should drink in moderation. Go ahead and enjoy a glass of wine or favorite beverage every now and then without any plaguing mommy guilt. Perhaps a good way to put a number on "drinking in moderation" is limiting drinking to a single beverage one or two times a week.

Myth #2: It Can Take 3 Days for Alcohol to Leave Breastmilk

The bottom line here: if it took a woman 3 days for alcohol to leave her system entirely, she more than likely would have had to consumed so much that she would be in serious jeopardy of dying from alcohol poisoning. Either that or she has some serious liver problems.

What you need to know is the amount of time required for alcohol to leave the breastmilk depends on your bodyweight, the alcohol content of the beverage you were drinking, how many ounces you drank, and the amount of time it took you to drink it. That being said, essentially if you can safely (and legally) drive a car without concern of a DUI, you are most likely sober enough to breastfeed your baby.

Myth #3: Drinking Alcohol Helps Build Milk Supply

The myth that alcohol builds milk supply is a pretty old one, based largely on unresearched opinions. In 2005 studies were released that not only debunked this myth but showed the exact opposite to be true. Not only does downing that beer or glass of wine not build supply, it actually serves to decrease your breastmilk supply and inhibit milk letdown. It is far better to stick with established methods of boosting breastmilk supply instead.

Myth #4: All You Need to Do Is Pump and Dump Breastmilk and You Can Immediately Resume Breastfeeding

This one ties back into Myth #2 and blood alcohol levels. Your breastmilk will be the same alcohol level as your blood. "Pumping and dumping" will not speed up how your body process alcohol out of the system. All your body needs is time to rid your breastmilk of alcohol. There is no need to pump and dump milk unless you are experiencing discomfort from engorgement.

Myth #5: The Blood Alcohol Level of the Breastfeeding Baby Will Be the Same as the Mother's Blood Alcohol Level

This one, too, is far from the case. Think of it this way, the average glass of wine is around 10 - 12% alcohol. If you would drink one glass, there is no way your alcohol level would be equal to the beverage you drank.

If that were the case, you'd most certainly drop over dead from poisoning. A mother who is 120 lbs who drank 2-3 glasses of wine over an hour would have an estimated blood alcohol content of between .06% to .10% alcohol. That's significantly less that 10-12%.

The same goes for your baby. If he would drink breastmilk that was .08% alcohol, his alcohol level would be far less than that.

Myth #6: Alcohol in Breast Milk Improves Baby's Sleep

The idea out there that as alcohol transfers to breast milk it will have a soothing effect on the baby is fairly persistent. However, medical research pretty much blasts that theory out of the water.

What has been found is that breastfed babies of light drinkers slept less than babies of non-drinkers.

The very short, sweet simple answer. No, if a mother drinks alcohol, it will not help a baby sleep. This one is just wrong on so many levels - both physically and morally. While I see nothing wrong with a breastfeeding mom drinking the occasional alcoholic beverage responsibly, using mom's alcohol consumption as a method to lull baby to sleep really isn't a solution to improving a baby's sleep. In fact, the strategy is likely to actually backfire and worsen a baby's sleep patterns.

Alcohol in breast milk actually disrupts a baby's active sleep (the nice deep sleep that we all need). Therefore alcohol causes a baby to wake more frequently a night. So if you are looking for ways to get your baby to sleep better at night, this is not a method you want to use.

Stepping away from our short simple answer to give a more complicated response, what research shows is that those babies of mothers who drank alcohol experienced disruptions in the amount of time the spent in active sleep. Incidentally, it's not just babies who have experienced this disruption, tests run on adults and animals who drank alcohol also experienced issues in the same area.

What's even more troubling, if a mother would try to use this technique on a regular basis, drinking even one alcoholic beverage on a daily basis can have negative effects on a baby's gross motor development. It is simply not a road that parents should go down.

The Facts About Alcohol and Breastfeeding

So what does that all boil down to? What is the truth about alcohol and breastfeeding?

  1. Responsible drinking in moderation is fine, but don't go overboard.
  2. You should never cosleep if you have been drinking.
  3. Your breastmilk will be safe for your baby to drink if you allow time for the alcohol to leave your system naturally.

Breastfeeding mothers do not have to avoid alcohol entirely. It is possible to find a balance of drinking safely and responsibly without having ill effects on your baby's health or your milk supply. Cheers!


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