Is it okay to drink alcohol and breastfeed?

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich-- Every new mom is faced with a tough decision: Breast or bottle?

But deciding to breastfeed could lead to even more questions, like:

  • What should you eat
  • When should you pump
  • What do you do if you want an occasional drink of alcohol?

"With any gift, you want the recipient of the gift to benefit the most from it.  For that, you need to lead a healthy lifestyle," said Dr. Lana Gagin at Spectrum Health.

And to Dr. Gagin, that includes eating healthy, getting sleep and not drinking excessively. Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to breastfeeding and drinking, Dr. Gagin says there is nothing wrong with having a drink or two socially.

"If mom just drinks one or two drinks a day, it will not negatively affect her baby with exception of short-term disrupted sleep or being a little fussy, but there are no long-term consequences," Dr.Gagin said.

The Centers for Disease Control says avoiding alcohol altogether is obviously the safest option for breastfeeding mothers, but doctors we talked to say moderate alcohol consumption hasn't proven to be harmful to infants. The key word here is "moderate."

A mother we spoke to said she's comfortable having one glass of wine and knowing she's okay to breastfeed.

"I’m very cautious about what I do," Jessica said. "The consensus [from my doctors] was a serving of alcohol typically isn't going to be bad when you breastfeed."

Dr. Gagin says it's important to wait at least two hours per standard drink, before you get back to nursing.

"The highest alcohol level in your breastmilk usually peaks 30-60 minutes after you consume an alcoholic beverage, and then it sharply declines to a small amount after two to three hours," Dr. Gagin said.

According to lactation consultant Shira Johnson, if you break it down, the amount of booze in your breast milk is typically pretty low.

"Even if a woman is considered too drunk to drive, there's less than one percent alcohol in her milk at that time," Johnson said. "A large feeding is four ounces, so if you think less than one percent of four ounces, it's almost nothing."

So if you have a drink, you should pump and dump right?

Johnson says not necessarily. According to Johnson, as blood alcohol level falls, alcohol in the breast milk declines, plus milk cleans itself out at the same rate blood does.  That means all you have to do is wait for your body to burn off the alcohol, again about two hours for every standard drink. But during that waiting period, you may have to pump just for comfort and safety.

"We don't want to keep the milk stagnant in the breast for a long period of time. That can put the woman at higher risk of developing infections," Johnson said.

In that case, you should dispose of the milk.

Of course, alcohol consumption above moderate levels could impair a mother's judgment and ability to safely care for her child. If you're a primary caregiver and you consumed alcohol, you might consider having a sober adult to take care of your infant.

"If you feel unsafe driving, you probably shouldn't nurse your baby," Johnson said.

If you do plan on drinking, experts recommend you come up with a plan ahead of time.

"Pump some milk in advance. Maybe even pump right before you go, so your breasts are not as full when you return home. Then, you have some milk stored," Johnson said.

But both Johnson and Dr. Gagin agree this shouldn't be a habit. Excessive drinking could impact both mom and baby. Dr. Gagin says over time, alcohol may affect a baby's development, both motor development, and cognitive function.

"There is nothing bad about going out and having a drink or occasional drink with your friends. I think it's healthy. I think it's healthy for your emotions and your well-being," Dr. Gagin said.

There are test strips out there that you can dip into your breast milk before feeding to make sure the level of alcohol isn't too high, but both Dr. Gagin and Johnson agree there is no science behind the strips and they cannot recommend them.

Experts also did not recommend drinking during the first couple of weeks of life as your milk is more concentrated and your baby's liver is less mature.

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