Now that the nine-month pregnancy is over, and the precious bundle of joy is here, some moms who are nursing their young might be wondering when it will be OK to have a glass of wine at home or a cocktail out with their friends.
“Can you drink and breastfeed?” they may ask themselves privately, perhaps because they are afraid someone may judge and see them as a “bad mom” because they want an adult drink.
It’s common knowledge that alcohol and breastfeeding are not exactly the perfect pair. Alcohol is a drug, and drugs can be harmful to mom and baby, especially during pregnancy.
The fear of harming their baby is valid, which is why so many people wonder how safe it is to drink alcohol when a woman is nursing. As Healthline explains, breast milk is essential to mom and baby. It provides nutrition for babies and contains antibodies that help them fight off viruses and bacteria.
The benefits for mom include weight loss and possibly lowers her risk of depression, according to a study the health publication cites. It is recommended that breast milk is given to a child until at least age 1.
According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), avoiding alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding mothers. But it might be surprising to learn that the health organization also says moderate alcohol consumption alcohol is not known to harm an infant, particularly if the mom waits to nurse at least a couple of hours after having one standard drink.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says waiting at least two hours or longer helps minimize alcohol concentration in breast milk.
The CDC cites the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to define what moderate alcohol consumption is for women of legal drinking age, which is 21. Moderate consumption is up to one standard drink per day, the CDC says.
It can be tricky to know what a “standard drink” as the definition changes depending on what a person drinks. According to the guidelines, which you can find here, an alcoholic drink-equivalent has 14 g (0.6 fl oz) of pure alcohol.
It also writes, “The following are reference beverages that are one alcoholic drink-equivalent: 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol).”
If you or someone you know is breastfeeding but wants to have an alcoholic beverage, you must watch your alcohol intake carefully. Many alcoholic beverages have more alcohol than the standard guidelines shared here.
The dietary guidelines also say, “Packaged (e.g., canned beer, bottled wine) and mixed beverages (e.g., margarita, rum and soda, mimosa, sangria) vary in alcohol content.”
So, drinkers are advised to determine for themselves how much alcohol measures one standard drink in these beverages and limit their intake after that.
Breastfeeding and Risks of Drinking More Than Recommended
Because not all alcoholic drinks are created equal, breastfeeding mothers will need to be diligent about what they drink and how much. While you can drink and breastfeed, drinking more than one alcoholic beverage a day is strongly discouraged, according to the CDC’s guidance on the issue. The organization is also pretty clear that alcohol use that surpasses moderate levels is risky for infants and their mothers for many reasons.
Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Baby and Mom
Just as alcohol enters the bloodstream, it can enter the milk that a baby gets from its mother. Only a fraction of the alcohol is passed on to the baby through the mother’s milk, but babies cannot clear alcohol from their bodies as fast or as efficiently as adults can, which means it stays in their systems longer.
Alcohol use that extends beyond moderate consumption can harm a baby’s early development, including their sleep patterns and the ability to regulate their emotions.
Mothers who drink too much alcohol also may not be able to care for their baby properly and keep the child safe. Alcohol use can impair alertness, memory, and a person’s reasoning abilities. The outcomes are unpredictable when alcohol enters the picture, so again, it is best to steer clear of it completely, especially if moderate use is not possible.
Excessive Drinking Can Affect Breast Milk, Ability to Breastfeed
Alcohol does change the quality of breast milk. The more a woman drinks, the longer it can be detected in the milk. The CDC also writes that higher levels of alcohol consumption can affect a woman’s milk ejection reflex (letdown, or when the breast naturally releases milk). Drinking too much alcohol over time can also reduce breastfeeding sessions because the mother will not be able to produce the food she needs to feed her baby.
A health expert weighs on behalf of the Mayo Clinic, writing, “…While folklore says that drinking alcohol improves milk production, studies show that alcohol actually decreases milk production and that the presence of alcohol in breast milk causes babies to drink about 20% less breast milk.”
The Mayo Clinic expert also advises that “pumping and dumping” breast milk to remove it from the body faster is ineffective. The best option is to wait a few hours for the alcohol to exit the body and clear the milk altogether.
Nursing and Mothers With SUDs or in Recovery
Breastfeeding could be a challenge for new mothers who have substance use disorders and are actively using and those who are in recovery. A study published in Breastfeeding Medicine notes these challenges but writes that breastfeeding is still a viable option for these mothers. It also recommends weighing the benefits of breastfeeding against the risks linked to the substance the baby could be exposed to when fed from their mother’s bosom.
The study strongly advises all pregnant or nursing women to avoid all kinds of substances unless they are medically necessary.
Its authors also note that, “perhaps the most critical challenge facing the healthcare provider for the woman with a substance use disorder (SUD) who wishes to breastfeed is the lack of research leading to evidence-based guidelines,” it is ideal for pregnant women with SUDs to participate in substance abuse programs and receive comprehensive healthcare that can advise them on how to nurse their babies.
Getting Help For Alcohol Dependence
Alcohol can be a challenging substance to quit if you have been drinking for a long time or drink frequently. At The Palm Beach Institute (PBI), we know that cutting down or quitting is easier said than done for many people. But for your health and the health of your baby, you know it’s the right thing to do. While you can drink and breastfeed, it is not the safest option, especially since no definitive research establishes what levels of alcohol use are safe when a baby is involved.
If you or someone you know is a nursing mother who wants to reduce or stop your alcohol intake but cannot seem to do it on your own, you can find professional help and support here. Our accredited facility offers the full continuum of addiction treatment programs, from medical detox to aftercare services, to help people reach sobriety and their personal wellness goals. We meet you where you are and partner with you as you start your recovery.
You do not have to face alcohol dependence on your own. Give us a call today and let us know how we can help you.