It’s your first festive season since you had your baby. You haven’t had a drink since you knew you were pregnant but now you are wondering, how much can I drink while I am breastfeeding? Will alcohol pass through my milk to my baby? And, how can I drink safely if I do have a glass or two?
Despite worldwide research, a safe limit of alcohol consumption can’t be determined during pregnancy and breastfeeding – there are potential risks to babies, especially newborns or premature babies whose immature livers aren’t able to process the alcohol transmitted through the placenta or their mother’s milk. However, according to leading researcher (Medications and Mother’s Milk) Dr Thomas Hale PHD, only very small amounts of alcohol actually pass into your milk. This means a drink or two occasionally is unlikely to harm your baby if you are breastfeeding. However, there are some things to consider before you pour that drink.
Known Adverse Effects on Baby…
Daily consumption of alcohol by breastfeeding mothers (1+ drinks) has been shown to affect baby’s sleep patterns (with babies falling asleep more quickly but waking more often), increases the risk of slow weight gain and more than one drink per day has been shown to slow gross motor development.
Consider also the effects of alcohol in relation to the age of your baby – newborns have very immature livers and babies detoxify alcohol at about half the rate of adults until they are at least 3 months old.
So, the younger the baby, the more vulnerable your baby is to the effects of alcohol. Older babies and toddlers will detoxify more quickly.
Although many people may tell you that a glass of alcohol will help you relax and increase your milk supply, this isn’t the case.
One study showed a 23% decrease in milk volume with a single drink. Drinking more than 2 standard drinks can inhibit your letdown and even small doses of alcohol can alter the taste of breast-milk.
Babies dislike this, so, although they tend to feed more frequently after mum has drunk alcohol, babies take in less milk in the 3-4 hours after you have a drink, so they may not drain the breast. And, if your breasts aren’t well drained after a feed, this can result in temporarily reducing your milk supply and it could also increase the likelihood of mastitis.
Alcohol Levels in your Milk
Although current research suggests that an occasional alcoholic drink shouldn’t harm the breastfeeding baby, there are some sensible precautions to be aware of: alcohol will pass into your milk very easily – as your blood alcohol level rises, so does the level of alcohol in your breast milk. The good news is that as your blood alcohol level drops, so does the level of alcohol in your milk. Alcohol peaks in your blood approximately half an hour to an hour after drinking (this varies among individuals, depending on factors such as how much food was eaten in the same time period, your body weight and percentage of body fat).
The Australian Breastfeeding Association advises, “as a general rule, it takes 2 hours for an average woman to get rid of the alcohol from 1 standard alcoholic drink and therefore 4 hours for 2 drinks, 6 hours for 3 drinks and so on. The time is taken from the start of drinking. The Feed Safe app can help you work out these times more accurately. “
According to Thomas Hale, author of Medications and Mothers Milk, “mothers who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal.” Rodney Whyte, head pharmacist at Monash Medical Centre Informations Centre explains, “serum levels of alcohol in breastmilk will be the same as the levels in your blood. For instance, the legal blood alcohol limit for a driver is .05% which translates to .5ml of alcohol per litre in your breastmilk. This would equate to 3 or 4 mls of wine in a litre of breastmilk. So with each feed at this level your baby would be getting less than 1ml of wine.”
A reasonable rule of thumb is that if your blood alcohol level is low enough for you to drive safely, you will probably be safe to breastfeed.
Obviously the safest option if you are breastfeeding would be to avoid alcohol but if you want to celebrate, especially if you have avoided alcohol during pregnancy, be aware that you will be a pretty cheap drunk at first so you may like to check out the recipes below for ‘mocktails’ or add ice and lemon or cucumber slices and sprigs of mint to mineral water. However, if you plan to drink while you are breastfeeding, it can be helpful to plan ahead: either express before drinking and feed your baby ‘alcohol – free’ milk or drink after a feed and wait until your blood alcohol level is safe before you breastfeed.
There is no need to ‘pump and dump’ – expressing after you drink will not reduce the alcohol level in your milk.
If you have left your baby with a sitter and you are planning to miss a feed, you will need to express at times you would normally feed your baby so you maintain supply or at least express enough to keep your breasts comfortable, so that you don’t risk blocked ducts and mastitis. You may hear advice that if you pop this milk in the fridge and keep it for 24 hours, it will now be alcohol free so safe to feed to your baby. The premise is that because breastmilk is a living fluid like blood, it will metabolise the alcohol. According to Rodney Whyte, this advice is incorrect. He says, “alcohol needs to be metabolised by your liver, so it won’t disappear from breastmilk after it has been expressed.”
Reducing the Risks
Bear in mind that alcohol will affect your responsiveness to your baby so whether you are breastfeeding or not, if you are a parent and you plan to drink, it is wise to have a designated parent (one parent stays sober and in charge of the baby) just as you would have a designated driver. Or leave your littlies with a safe carer while you party. Also, please remember safe sleeping guidelines: if either you or your partner have been drinking – even a single drink – it is unsafe to sleep with your baby.
A couple of safe ‘Mocktail’ recipes to try
Ginger Sparkle (ginger is lactogenic)
2 cups (500ml) dry ginger ale
2 cups ginger beer
4 lemon slices
Combine ginger ale and ginger beer and serve with ice and garnished with a slice of lemon.
( source healthyhigh.com.au)
Happy Days Mocktail
- Half mango
- Half cup plain yoghurt
- 45ml Schweppes Lime Juice Cordial
- Pinch of cinnamon powder (Cinnamon is a lactogenic spice )
- 4 ice cubes
Blend all ingredients together, pour into a glass and garnish with a pinch of cinnamon