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Breastfeeding and alcohol: Good idea or not?

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Nursing a baby, and a drink

Alcohol and breastfeeding are a no-no, right? Well, maybe not. Here's why.
Woman with baby and wine | Sheknows.com

As a new mom, you may wonder if drinking alcohol is prohibited while you are breastfeeding. A commonly-cited rule of thumb regarding breastfeeding and drinking alcohol is: if you’re sober enough to drive, you’re sober enough to nurse your baby — but how does that translate to the real world?

Research has shown that small amounts of alcohol are considered to not be harmful to your nursing babe, but the key here is “small amounts,” as well as the time frame from drinking to nursing again. We spoke to experts and moms alike on how they handle the occasional glass of wine or beer while they have a nursing baby.

What do experts say?

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that alcohol is not a contraindication to breastfeeding. In their policy statement on breastfeeding, they say, “... ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to an occasional intake but no more than 0.5 g alcohol per kg body weight, which for a 60 kg [around 132 pounds] mother is approximately 2 oz liquor, 8 oz wine, or 2 beers. Nursing should take place 2 hours or longer after the alcohol intake to minimize its concentration in the ingested milk.”

Dr. Thomas Hale is a clinical pharmacologist and a professor at Texas Tech University School of Medicine. He is also the author of Medications and Mothers' Milk and considered a leading expert on human lactation and the use of medication, and he was on hand to explain this in simpler terms. “I always generally recommend two hours before nursing a baby per drink of alcohol, so if you have two beers or two shots of whiskey, wait three to four hours before nursing again,” he tells us.

Moderation is key

Many moms we spoke with also feel that a drink or two is totally fine. “I have read a ton of research on this topic, and I have no problem having a drink while nursing,” explains a mom of two from Canada. “If I am feeling intoxicated, I would not nurse my baby. If I am having one beer while out for dinner I do not see any problem. The whole 'pump and dump' is not necessary.”Wine bottle | Sheknows.com

Dr. Hale agrees. In his research, he has found that alcohol exits mama’s milk just like it exits her blood and is not stored within the milk compartment. He told us that very little of the alcohol goes into mom’s milk in the first place (around 16 percent of her dose) and that as humans metabolize alcohol quickly, the passage of time is the most important component women need to worry about. “As mom metabolises it, it goes right out, and pumping and dumping is not necessary for small amounts,” he says. “If a mother drinks excessively, she should wait until the next day to nurse again. She should pump, not to get rid of the alcohol in her milk — but to keep her supply up over that time period.”

Alcohol and supply

Some moms have heard that drinking a beer can actually have a beneficial effect on a mother’s milk supply, but Dr. Hale says that is not the case at all. “Alcohol reduces the release of oxytocin, which means it can inhibit letdown, which in turn means while you have alcohol on board, you will make less milk,” he reports. “There is an old wives’ tale that having a drink can increase your milk supply, but it’s actually the opposite. If you have a milk production supply issue, or you have a premature baby, I recommend that you don’t use alcohol at all.”

Bottoms up!

The lowdown on drinking while breastfeeding is that moderation is definitely crucial, but watching the clock is even more important. If you go out to dinner and have a glass of wine, you’re probably fine to nurse your baby when you get home.

More on breastfeeding

Real moms with low milk supply
How can Dad support the breastfeeding mom?
Why you should breastfeed your toddler

Photo credits: Image Source/Stockbyte/Getty Images and Markus Guhl/Photodisc/Getty Images
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