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Breastfeeding and Alcohol Consumption

Life is difficult for an expectant mother, before her child arrives. Yet, having a baby is much more difficult post delivery, because the mother has to make many changes to her diet, routine, and life. Though this adjustment is already heavy due to the baby’s added responsibility, it becomes worse when there are people telling her to do this and not do that. This article is for her benefit, so she’s armed with all the knowledge related to breastfeeding and alcohol consumption. Get to know all the pros and cons of alcohol and nursing before you decide on what you must do.

The High-Profile Debate

Many experts vary on this high-profile debate on breastfeeding and alcohol consumption. Let me summarize what a few of these experts have to say about this.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs classifies alcohol (ethanol) as a “Maternal Medication Usually Compatible with Breastfeeding”.
  • Some experts are staunchly opposed to alcohol intake before the baby is weaned off breast milk, no matter how small the quantities.
  • Hale (2002) voices the opinions of many experts when it says that drinking can be done (in moderation) if the nursing is done 2 to 3 hours after the woman stops drinking.
  • Dr. Jack Newman, the author of ‘Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers’, holds the following opinion. He says that “Reasonable intake should not be discouraged at all… Prohibiting alcohol is another way to make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.”

Effects on the Mother’s Body

Breast milk is the natural supply of nutrients for newly born babies (for at least the first six months of their lives), so it has a big role to play in the physiological and psychological development of the baby. When alcohol is consumed by the mother, it first makes way into her bloodstream. It then also enters the mother’s breast milk, by the process of diffusion. Though less than 2 percent of the total alcohol consumed ends up in the breast milk, it can still be very harmful for the baby.

If alcohol is consumed by a mother who’s nursing her baby, she needs to take care that she doesn’t breastfeed for at least 2 to 3 hours after the alcohol consumption. This is so because the alcohol levels in the breast milk reach a peak at about 1.5 hours of the consumption, and then drop steadily. Once out of the blood stream, the alcohol also dissipates from the breast milk.

Last but not the least, drinking leads to different effects in different women. La Leche League’s research on a 120 pound woman shows that it takes her 2 to 3 hours for one serving of beer or wine to leave her system completely. For a hard drink cocktail, this may go up to 13 hours. For most women though, this effect stays for a variable amount of time, depending on various factors, like the mother’s height and weight, the mother’s body fat concentration, her last meal consumption, and the baby’s age.

Effects on Mother and Child

The following are the known medical reasons given by experts for discouraging mothers from undertaking both the things together.

  • Drinking alcohol reduces the volume of the mother’s breast milk by a noticeably considerable amount.
  • Nursing after alcohol intake when done on a regular basis, one can see a change in the baby’s sleeping patterns.
  • Younger babies have a slower metabolism rate to digest alcohol, than older babies. For very small babies, alcohol can cause serious liver problems, as their livers are not capable of handling that kind of workload.
  • It can increase the chances of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
  • It can lead to slow weight gain in the babies.
  • Alcohol in the mother’s breast milk can retard the baby’s mental growth, and are known to inhibit the baby’s motor skills development and can also lead to hyperglycemia.

Some other pointers for this problem are as follows:

  • If you have just delivered a baby, all experts are unanimous in their discouragement of alcohol consumption. This is so, because a new mother’s body is yet to adjust to life and eating post delivery, and should not be given the added burden of coping with the alcohol content as well.
  • If you have had a cesarean delivery and are on some painkillers (stronger than Tylenol), alcohol intake is much more risky for you. The combination of alcohol with these painkillers can make mothers unresponsive towards their baby’s needs.

Though a safe limit for drinking while breastfeeding hasn’t been defined yet, many agree that an occasional, small, single drink, in infrequent bouts, is safe if the nursing is done 2 to 3 hours later. It is valuable for you to note that a drink once a day, or several times a week does not constitute as occasional, but one or two (preferably just stick to one) drinks per week is perfectly healthy for both mother and baby. Pumping and dumping milk is not the right way to get rid of the alcohol-tainted breast milk, as the new milk production is also tainted with alcohol if it hasn’t still left the blood stream. Be aware of what you are doing, and be very careful of your baby’s health. As it is your first priority, you must just remember two things (i) Do not follow myths without scientific backing. (ii) Try not to play with fire, and refrain from consuming alcohol, at least for the six months when you are breastfeeding your baby. Though breastfeeding and alcohol can go together, it is in the best interests of your child that you do not let them go together.

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