It’s that time of the year when you are party hopping, drinking, dancing and being merry. Its cocktail season and it becomes socially acceptable to overdo slightly. But if you are a breastfeeding mum, you may be feeling somewhat left out of the party, sitting in a corner sipping lime soda or mocktails as you nurse your baby and watch everyone else hitting the bottle. While it is best to avoid drinking alcohol while you are breastfeeding, an occasional drink or two is alright. Read on to understand more.
woman feeding and drinking

Why Is It Unwise To Drink Alcohol During Breastfeeding?

You already know that when you drink alcohol, it enters your blood stream. Did you know that the same amount of alcohol that is in your bloodstream will also be present in your breastmilk? And when your baby consumes this breastmilk, the alcohol enters her system too.

How Does Alcohol In The Breast Milk Affect The Baby?

If the mom has alcohol before breastfeeding the child, there is a high probability of alcohol entering the baby’s system as well. This is undesirable for a number of reasons:

  • Your baby’s liver is still developing and is immature to breakdown the alcohol
  • Babies who have breastmilk which has alcohol content are known to consume 20 percent less milk than other babies. This means alcohol impacts babies’ eating patterns
  • Babies who have breastmilk which has alcohol content are known to sleep less. They might initially appear drowsy and fall asleep easily, but they sleep for a lesser amount of time and will wake up more frequently that their peers
  • Babies, whose moms drank more occasionally, lagged behind in gross motor development skills than other babies. This means alcohol also has a developmental impact on babies
What Can Happen To The Baby If Mother Consumes Excessive Alcohol?

Alcohol poisoning is the worst thing that can happen to a baby who consumes alcohol from breastmilk. Babies are so small that excessive alcohol has an instant effect on them and hits them badly. A baby’s body can absorb the alcohol in the breastmilk in less than half an hour. As a result the baby may become disoriented or unfocused and may even start to vomit. In the worst case scenario there are chances of the baby to have seizures and trouble breathing. If the baby becomes unnaturally flushed (turns red), immediately rush him to the hospital.
woman drinking

How Much Alcohol Can Be Safely Consumed By A Nursing Mother?

If you take all the necessary precautions (see the next section), it is OK to consume alcohol occasionally. By “occasional” we mean once or twice in a week. It is recommended that you drink only 1 or 2 units of alcohol in this time. The amount varies depending on the strength of alcohol you are consuming. But broadly, this reflects:

  • Around 200 to 250 ml of beer (half a can)
  • 125 ml of wine (a small glass)
  • 25 ml of stronger spirits
What Precautions You Should Take If You Are Going To Consume Alcohol And You Need To Breastfeed Later?
  • The key thing to remember if you are consuming alcohol is to avoid breastfeeding your child as long as alcohol remains in your system. The alcohol content is highest in your system in the first 90 minutes, so it is safe not to breastfeed your child for the first 2 hours after having alcohol. However, the amount of time alcohol remain in the system varies from person to person. Here is an indicator on this:
    • A 55 kg woman of average built will take 7.5 hours to fully breakdown 3 drinks
    • A 55 kg woman will take 9 hours to fully breakdown 4 drinks
    • An 80 kg woman will take 6 hours to process 3 units of alcohol and produce alcohol-free breastmilk
    • An 80 kg woman will take 8 hours to breakdown 4 drinks
  • If you know in advance that you might be having a drink or two at a social event, it might be a good idea to express some milk right before the party and feed your baby this expressed milk after the party (thereby avoiding the first breastfeed after alcohol consumption and ensuring that the child does not go hungry as you wait for alcohol to breakdown from your system)
  • Even if your baby sleeps through the night, it might not be a good idea to binge drink alcohol in the night because:
    • You will not be able to take care of your baby if you are in an intoxicated state
    • You will not be able to co-sleep with your baby because you might not be aware of your baby’s presence and your movements can result in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
    • Try to eat in advance of your drink. This is known to lower the alcohol content in your blood and breastmilk
    • Drink enough water to keep yourself hydrated as alcohol can easily dehydrate you
Can Alcohol Increase Milk Supply?

While this is a popular myth, it is also untrue. Alcohol cannot increase milk supply. Not only that there is scientific evidence behind this claim, alcohol, if anything, can impact breastmilk supply adversely as it tends to dehydrate the body and reduce the fluids in the body. Further, alcohol can also negatively impact the hormones that triggers the production of breastmilk.
So overall, it is best to avoid alcohol altogether when you are breastfeeding. Remember that breastmilk is the primary source of all nutrients for your baby.