The Truth About Drinking Alcohol and Breastfeeding

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Well, I’m here to tell you that we had all kinds of hoopla and commotion last week when we suggested in a PIN that combining drinking alcohol and breastfeeding was not the best idea.  Truth or False?  Anyone?  It was actually suggested on Twitter by one of our followers that we were providing erroneous and damaging info.  Hmmmmm…..

Truth is that I am a medical social worker with 25 years of experience, as of this year – yikes, of providing health education and counseling services to families and patients.  So I immediately went to my supervisor and a couple of PAM advisers to inquire more specifically about this hot topic.  Experience tells me that it isn’t cut and dry, that it is actually quite grey, and my inquiries to other experts supported that.  We have plenty of data about how various foods, stimulants, vitamins, tobacco, medicines, alcohol, and illicit drugs impact a growing fetus while it is in the mother’s womb.  But I don’t recall seeing such data about nursing, how much alcohol gets into the breast milk anyway?  There are warning labels on many products and at most cash register check outs at stores nationwide.  There are warning labels on tuna.  There are warnings on most every over the counter and prescription drug and vitamin, even on flower essences, stating the need to consult with your medical provider if you are pregnant or nursing.  Or nursing….it does say that right?  So is this warning just about the litigious society that we live in, or is there more to it?

I asked Dr. Tanya Altmann, on Twitter you can find her @DrMommyCalls.  She is a pediatrician, and a spokesperson for the AAP, she was also on our “Ask the Pediatricians” expert panel at our LA Pregnancy Awareness Month event last year.  Here is her statement:

“What goes in, must come out! Most of what you eat and drink will pass through your breast milk and may potentially affect your baby.

That said, many medications are fine to take while nursing. Always check with your pediatrician before you take any medication or herbal supplement to make sure it’s safe for baby.

When it comes to alcohol, occasional moderate consumption is OK. The best time to have that glass of wine is right after you finish nursing or pumping and at least 2 hours before your next feed or pumping session. That way your body has as much time as possible to get rid of the alcohol and less will reach your baby.

While you don’t have to quit caffeine cold turkey, it may also cause fussiness and wakefulness in some babies. It’s best to limit your overall intake of caffeine.”

Next on my hit list was Wendy Haldeman, Co-Founder of The Pump Station and Nurtury.  This is what she teaches in her prenatal classes and breastfeeding support groups:
1) Alcohol DEFINITELY crosses into the breast milk
2) If the timing is correct, the mother can drink in moderation and not pass the alcohol onto the baby
3) Nursing moms can drink if they do so in moderation and space out the time from their consumption to baby’s ingestion of milk
4) Alcohol is probably not good for babies

I believe there are some products on the market that allow you to test your breast milk before feeding baby, to see how much alcohol is in it.  You can Google that yourself and research what that is all about for those curious about “pump and dump” as an option to a celebratory evening including alcohol.

So the Truth is, it is not straightforward.  But most likely not as intense a health risk to the baby as it would be if the baby was in utero and mom was drinking alcohol.  The general rule is to pause and think about any drug, supplement, alcohol, stimulant, etc that you might take and think twice and do some research beforehand if you are nursing.  Just as you would if you were pregnant.  Again, the risks probably aren’t as great.  But check in with your medical provider, and above all use your common sense.

BTW, texting and driving or taking selfies while your behind the wheel is probably as safe as pounding down a 6-pack before starting the car, but I don’t see any warning labels on cell phones or facebook either….;)

Alisa B. Donner, MSW, LCSW, Co-Founder of Pregnancy Awareness Month, and mom to an amazing wonder.

**REMINDER – Pregnancy Awareness Month’s blog post is for moms and expectant parents by moms (and of course some experts sprinkled in – and some mom’s are licensed board certified experts!).  HOWEVER, we are not giving blanket ADVICE on what you should be doing, eating, how you should be exercising, parenting, etc.  These are opinions, food for thought….think about it all, talk with your mate, and when it comes to diet, exercise, and health questions, ALWAYS discuss and seek advice from your medical health provider.

 

 

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