A pregnant mother who has religiously stayed away from alcohol may now be wondering about how lax the restrictions are while she is breastfeeding. Now that she has no more developing baby getting his or her nutrients directly from her, is drinking wine while breastfeeding safe?
The short answer: yes, with conditions. The alcohol the mother takes in does not go directly to the baby any more–not through the umbilical cord, anyway. However, alcohol dispersed in the bloodstream still finds its way into the mother’s milk. Because of the baby’s weight and growth stage, it is dangerous for him or her to receive alcohol in any form.
How Does Drinking Wine While Breastfeeding Affect the Baby?
The liver is the internal organ responsible for processing alcohol. In a baby, the alcohol impact to its immature liver is dangerous. The baby’s weight against the alcohol content does not stand a chance. If the baby is less than 3 months old, he or she can only process the alcohol half as fast as a grown up can. The alcohol remains longer in the baby’s system.
In addition, if a mother nurses her baby 4 hours after drinking alcohol, the baby will drink only 80% of the milk he or she usually does. This is because the alcohol lowers the breast milk production of the mother. The baby can also fall asleep almost immediately, but wake up sooner and become restless faster.
An additional study of 400 babies showed that at 1 year old, babies lagged behind their age group in gross motor development (large movement control like arm and leg swinging). Those who lagged were breastfed while their mothers took alcohol at least once daily, during the first 3 months after birth.
Some mothers try to remove the dangers to their babies by pumping their milk directly after drinking alcohol, and dumping it. However, since it is the alcohol in the bloodstream that causes the alcohol content in the milk, it does nothing for either mother or baby. If the baby feeds soon after the mother drank alcohol, there is no change in the blood alcohol.
What Could Go Wrong
An article on alcohol and breastfeeding reviews a number of studies on this subject. According to The Nursling: The Feeding and Hygiene of Premature and Full-Term Infants, excessive alcohol intake by a nursing mother can cause unnatural weight gain in babies.
In one study, a mother was taking alcohol excessively, believing it would increase her milk production. Her baby gained 30 grams daily, became restless, and eventually had fits and seizures. His growth returned to normal when he was given to a wet nurse.
A study by Binkiewicz, Robinson, and Senior finds the same thing. A mother drinking 50 cans of beer weekly while breastfeeding reported unnatural weight gain in her baby. The baby looked bloated, and was not at normal length.
According to a study by Volpi and others, mothers had a harder time lactating after ingesting alcohol. If the regular prolactin production was at 71% when it was time to feed, for mothers who did not drink alcohol, it was at 25% for the mothers who had ingested alcohol.
What Is the Worst That Can Happen?
The worst that can happen to a baby who ingests alcohol from breast milk is alcohol poisoning. Unfortunately, this is also almost the instant effect of alcohol on breastfeeding infants. They are so small that excessive alcohol hits them like an overdose in an adult.
A baby’s body will absorb alcohol in less than half an hour. As the alcohol hits, the baby may become disoriented or unfocused, start to vomit, or even have seizures. They may suddenly have trouble breathing, and become unnaturally flushed (red). This is already a case for an emergency rush to the hospital.
Is Drinking Wine While Breastfeeding Safe? Yes, With Conditions
Why show all the negative effects first? To explain that the suggestions for drinking wine while breastfeeding have a strong backing of studies behind them. If these suggestions are not followed, alcohol can and will affect the health of the breastfed child.
Condition #1: Wait 2-3 Hours Per 12 Grams of Alcohol
Consult before deciding on how long you will wait after the drink to breastfeed. The waiting time depends on your weight and the effect 12 grams of alcohol (1 glass of wine) would have on you. At the very least, wait 2.5 hours for every 12 grams consumed. This means that if you drink 48 grams (4 drinks, more or less), you need to wait 10 hours before breastfeeding.
Condition #2: If You Know You Will Drink Alcohol, Prepare in Advance
While pumping and dumping milk after drinking will not keep your baby safe, preparation will. If you know you will be drinking, at dinner or a house party or for any other reason, pump and store breast milk. You can then feed your baby breast milk even within the required time your body needs to flush the alcohol out of your system.
Condition #3: Always Take Your Baby’s Feeding Schedule into Account
If you are offered a drink but you did not prepare, and it is less than 3 hours until your baby’s next feeding, be polite but firm. “No thank you, I’m breastfeeding.” Say it as simply as you would say, “No thank you, I’m driving.” In this case, your baby’s health comes first. If you find yourself facing an unplanned drink, think of your baby’s schedule before answering.
You can actually time the drink (assuming it is just 1 drink, or 12 grams of alcohol) right after breastfeeding. Since your baby will be ready to feed in 2 to 3 hours, it’s likely the alcohol will have left your bloodstream by then. If you want to drink more than that, however, you will need to take the timing into account.
Why Ask A Lactation Consultant About Drinking Wine While Breastfeeding?
No breastfeeding mother should take on the questions of blood alcohol alone. Every mother is designed differently. Alcohol stays longer in some mothers’ bloodstreams than it does in others’. Alcohol also affects mothers differently according to weight. A lactation consultant can help a mother figure out the safest way to enjoy wine while breastfeeding.
A lactation consultant is, in many ways, a better sort of specialist to consult than OB/GYNs and pediatricians. A lactation consultant can educate mothers on the amount of alcohol that will find its way into the baby’s bloodstream through breast milk, and give medical advice on how to avoid letting alcohol into the baby’s system. His or her specialty is nothing less than the best way to keep mother and baby safe and healthy while breastfeeding.