Consuming alcohol while breastfeeding is never recommended. Moreover, there is no “safe” level of alcohol in breast milk for an infant to consume. Research has shown that babies who drink alcohol-laden milk may feed and sleep less and exhibit impaired motor coordination.
When a woman consumes alcohol, some amount is transferred to her breast milk at levels similar to those in her bloodstream. Although a breastfeeding baby is only exposed to a small amount of the alcohol that the mother drinks, it takes newborns longer to eliminate alcohol from their systems at a much slower rate than older people.
Alcohol levels in a mother’s blood and breast milk peak within 30-60 minutes of drinking. After this time, factors such as weight, hydration, food intake, and individual factors like genetics can influence how long it takes for alcohol to clear her body.
To avoid detrimental harm for the infant, a mother who is breastfeeding should not consume alcohol. If she does, she should be in a position to avoid breastfeeding for at least two hours after drinking. This waiting period could help mitigate alcohol levels in her milk and reduce the risk of harmful effects.
What Is Pumping and Dumping?
The practice of a mother pumping her breast milk using a pumping device and discarding it in some way is a practice oft-referred to as “pumping and dumping.” A woman may do this under the false belief that it removes the alcohol from her milk faster, but unfortunately, it does not.
However, this practice does allow the woman to remove the milk from her breasts in a manner that will not affect the baby. This option may preferable, but it is also an unfortunate and unnecessary waste of essential nutrients that could benefit the infant. There are many good reasons women choose to breastfeed and opt not to rely on formula.
How Does Alcohol Harm a Baby?
Studies have found adverse changes in babies’ sleep patterns who breastfed from mothers who had drank alcohol. Among these, some research revealed that infants’ sleep was divided into more frequent but briefer intervals, and they experienced less REM sleep. Also, the child’s sleep was 25 percent shorter on average after drinking milk that contained alcohol.
Myths and Alcohol’s Influence on a Mother’s Milk Supply
Studies have found that breastfeeding babies may consume 20 percent less milk following a mother’s alcohol consumption. This reduction in feeding is not associated with shorter feeding times or changes in the milk’s flavor. Instead, it has been attributed to the decreased amount of milk that a mother’s body produces after alcohol use. Although infants tend to drink less milk after the mother has drunk alcohol, these women often do not recognize the difference.
In some cultures, women are taught that drinking alcohol can actually boost a woman’s milk supply. Unfortunately, studies have found this not to be the case. A report by the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) reported the following:
“…the lore of many cultures encourages lactating women to drink alcohol to optimize breast milk production and infant nutrition. In contrast…however, studies demonstrate that maternal alcohol consumption may slightly reduce milk production.”
Alcohol and Hormones
Alcohol may adversely affect a mother’s milk supply in two ways:
Prolactin and oxytocin are two pituitary hormones that are responsible for regulating the breastfeeding process. Prolactin is released while the baby is suckling and stimulates further milk production. Oxytocin functions to contract the mammary muscles around the breast to deliver the milk.
When babies drink less milk, less prolactin is released. Because a baby’s suckling amount influences the amount of prolactin released, if the infant begins feeding less, the mother will, as a result, begin to produce less prolactin. This signal tells the woman’s body that she needs less milk for the baby, and therefore, her milk supply will be diminished.
Research has also found that alcohol use may interfere with oxytocin. This effect could serve to decrease the mother’s milk level further and impede the child’s ability to feed.
Studies performed on lactating rats demonstrated that short-term alcohol administration has a significant effect on the release of prolactin and oxytocin, in addition to milk production and the infant rat’s intake of milk.
The Bottom Line
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the best way to ensure an infant is not harmed by alcohol-containing breast milk is to avoid drinking while engaging in breastfeeding. For those who opt to imbibe, the important thing is to be mindful of one’s alcohol intake and avoid feeding alcoholic milk to a child.
Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms that abstinence from alcohol is the safest choice for women who are breastfeeding. Consuming alcohol at higher than moderate levels through breast milk could adversely affect an infant’s development, growth, and sleep patterns. The center also advises that drinking alcohol in excess may impair a woman’s judgment and capability of caring for her child.
Experts advise planning ahead and not breastfeed an infant while drinking alcohol or soon after consumption. It can take several hours for a mother’s body to eliminate all the alcohol from her blood and milk supply. Conversely, she can pump and store her milk and deliver it to the baby while drinking or after consuming a drink. Using formula during this time is another option.
Any mother who feels she has to go to great lengths in planning her drinking habits around breastfeeding her child. This could be a sign that she has an addiction to alcohol. The stress of having a baby can provoke some mothers to start drinking or continue drinking, but this is probably not the responsible action to take.
Moreover, if you are a new mother and are worried about what effects your alcohol consumption may have on your infant, the stress alone is probably not worth it. It’s best to stop drinking entirely, at least while you are breastfeeding, and seek professional help if you feel you could benefit from it.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
Persons, especially mothers, are urged to seek alcoholism or drug treatment if they have had difficulty quitting on their own. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer treatment in various formats for those who need intensive care or more flexibility in their schedule to work or take care of their families. Our comprehensive programs are comprised of an array of clinically-proven services, including the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Group support
- Substance abuse education
- Relapse prevention
- Individual and family counseling
- Health and wellness programs
- Experiential activities
- Aftercare planning
We aim to provide the individuals we treat with the support, resources, and tools they need to defeat substance abuse. You deserve to be healthy and live a fulfilling life, so we urge you to give yourself the opportunity to enjoy sustained sobriety and wellness.