Breastfeeding and Alcohol
After nine months of staying away from alcohol during pregnancy, a new mother may want to have a drink. However, if she is planning on breastfeeding her child, she may want to think twice about having that drink. This is because everything a mother ingests can pass into her breastmilk and to her child.
Is It Safe?
A newborn infant eliminates alcohol from his or her bloodstream only half as quickly as adults do. The CDC does not recommend breastfeeding mothers to drink any alcohol. However, a single drink a day is safe, mainly if the mother does not feed her child right after the drink. Waiting at least two hours ensures that her body has eliminated most of the alcohol.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breastmilk?
If a mother drank alcohol without food, alcohol levels are at their highest for about 30 to 60 minutes after the drink. If she drank alcohol with a meal, alcohol levels would be highest for about an hour to an hour and a half after the drink. It takes about one to two hours for a unit of alcohol to altogether leave the breastmilk supply.
However, if the mother had more than one drink, it takes longer for the alcohol to leave the breastmilk. If she had two drinks, it would take about four to five hours for the alcohol to leave her breastmilk. If she had three drinks, it might take as long as eight hours before her breastmilk is free of alcohol.
Other factors like how quickly the mother drinks alcohol and how much she weighs also play into how long the alcohol stays in her breastmilk.
Drinking and Breastfeeding
If a mother drinks more than a small amount of alcohol while breastfeeding, her infant may have problems such as impaired motor development.
When there is alcohol in breastmilk, babies often do not drink as much milk, and they may not grow as well. One study found that babies who had alcohol through breastmilk drank 20 percent less than babies who did not have any alcohol. Especially in the first three months of an infant’s life, his or her brain is still developing, and alcohol may harm the brain.
Another study found that babies who had ingested alcohol through breastmilk slept 25 percent less than those who had no alcohol. When a baby does not sleep enough, he or she may be more irritable, and he or she may have trouble learning. Over time, lack of proper sleep may lead to anxiety and depression when the child is older.
Drinking alcohol may lead to the let-down reflex being inhibited, which ultimately leads to less production of milk. When the baby sucks the nipple, breast milk comes from the glands to the breast. The hormone oxytocin is responsible for this reflex, and this hormone comes from the hypothalamus.
Alcohol can inhibit the hypothalamus, meaning that when a mother has been drinking alcohol, the let-down reflex is inhibited. This means that milk production temporarily stops. Breastfeeding women who already have trouble producing enough milk may want to consider avoiding alcohol until they have weaned their baby.
The good news is that any alcohol a baby ingests through breastmilk is likely to be a minimal amount. But while having an occasional drink while breastfeeding is unlikely to harm the baby, it may still be best not to drink as official guidelines do not recommend any drinks while breastfeeding.