Risks and Solutions About Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding
Imagine getting out of work after a long day and going straight to your favorite pub to order your favorite drink - this is one of the simple joys of adulthood, isn’t it? But...if you are planning to start a family anytime soon, and this involves carrying a child inside your belly in the next nine months, it is time to kick the habit of drinking for a while.
Many researches confirmed that alcohol intake during gestation can lead to birth defects. There is still an ongoing debate whether there is a “safe” amount of alcohol to consume. However, the question is, will you allow your baby’s health to be put at risk in order satisfy your craving?
To put it out in the simplest form: avoid alcoholic drinks if you are pregnant or have plans to get pregnant.
What if you had a drink or two but you are not aware that you are pregnant? That’s fine but once you confirmed your pregnancy (watch out for symptoms or maybe it’s time to try a pregnancy test kit) then quit the drinking habit as soon as possible.
Alcohol has a huge impact on a developing fetus. The alcohol content on a drink is absorbed by the blood and if you are an expectant mom, this blood will pass through the placenta and then straight to the umbilical cord that connects you and the baby. The placenta is the organ that nourishes the baby with oxygen and food until the full term is reached. Unfortunately, the placenta does not distinguish the good elements from the bad ones. Therefore, the sustenance the baby gets are basically from the same things you digest.
Heavy consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). People with these disorders typically have physical and behavioral problems as well as learning difficulties.
Listed below are the common conditions experienced by children diagnosed with FASDs:
- Abnormal size of the head and facial features
- Low body weight and short height
- Short attention span
- Poor coordination skills
- Delays on speech
- Abnormalities in the heart, lungs, or kidney
- Low IQ level
- Impulsiveness and hyperactivity
Doctors had come up with various terms to explain the different forms of FASDs. These forms exhibit varying symptoms.
Medical experts describe FASDs as an “invisible disorder” because oftentimes these disabilities remain undetected or overlooked. Science is still working on perfecting its tools and equipment for the fast diagnosis of FASDs on babies and children.
Excessive drinking is a problem you should address before and during pregnancy to reduce the possibility of these problems from occurring:
- Giving birth before your full term means you will have a premature baby. Most premature babies have low chance of survival due to serious health conditions.
- Losing the baby due to miscarriage and stillbirth.
- Baby is underweight upon delivery. Low birthweight is common among babies with mothers who still continue with their vices even while pregnant.
- Severe health problems like heart and lung defects plus underdeveloped sense of sight and hearing.
While it is a major offense to drink alcohol during pregnancy, there are speculations that it is acceptable practice when it comes to breastfeeding. Occasional drink or about one of two unit of alcohol is found to be harmless for breastfed babies. A unit of alcohol is equal to half a bottle of beer or a small glass of wine. However, make sure to check the label for the actual alcohol content of every drink.
As a nursing mom, anything included in your diet can make its way to your breast milk. Alcohol will not be 100% present in your breast milk but there will fragments that will go into it. Hours after consuming alcohol, it will leave the blood as well as your breastmilk. Simply put, when your alcohol level is down, your milk will unlikely contain alcoholic substance.
The urge to drink is always there, be it during pregnancy or while you are breastfeeding. Cocktails, spirits, and beer are often served in social gatherings to keep guests relaxed and happy. It’s quite hard to resist these things - even something as simple as a glass of wine after a great dinner. To help you out, here are some tips so it will be easier for you to say “no” to alcohol:
- Box and stash away all the alcoholic drinks in your house.
- Search for fruit drink recipes you can do at home. You can even experiment on different fruits and vegetables when mixing your drinks.
- Have you heard about “mocktails”? These drinks are worth a try. These are alcohol-free drinks you can whip at home or buy at the supermarkets.
- Inform your friends and family that you are on a “no alcohol” diet. This will help them understand your situation and give their support when needed.
- As much as possible, stay away from events which likely to serve alcoholic drinks.
- If you are eating out, browse online the menu of the dining place you are visiting so you will have an idea of the drinks you can order.
- When going to the supermarket, avoid the aisles where liquors are stacked.
- Keep a bottle of water handy when you’re going out. This way, you will not look for drink alternatives when you get thirsty.
- If it becomes really hard for you to quit drinking, you can consult a healthcare provider for treatment programs.
- Take part in a local Alcoholic Anonymous group and listen to the stories of other people on how they quit their habits.
There have been myths about how alcohol does magic to breastmilk. Some says alcohol can increase the mother’s milk production. Recent studies had debunked this statement and claim that alcohol inhibits milk flow.
Another popular myth is that breastmilk can make your baby sleep faster. This premise has never been proven. It is normal for adults to feel woozy and sleepy after too many bottles of alcohol but this is not the case for babies. Parents who had drinks before bedtime should never stay in bed with the baby to avoid accidents.
Keep in mind that a baby carries an immature liver not capable of filtering huge amounts of alcohol. Studies show that a baby’s liver can only do half of the detoxifying an adult liver can do. The capabilities of the baby’s liver will develop as time passes.
What if you got carried away and drank more than what is required? Does expressing eliminate the presence of alcohol in your breastmilk? The answer is no. Let your body naturally get rid of the alcohol in your body. Try increasing your water intake to speed up the process through urination. There is no need to pump to let the alcohol out. Doing this will just put your precious breastmilk to waste.
Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can become very dangerous for the baby, as well as for the mother. The reason is because the same amount of alcohol that is released into the woman’s bloodstream passes also through the breast milk and into the baby’s system. A newborn, even if full-term, meaning born at 39 weeks gestation or more, is still not fully developed and it will take him a year for all his vital organs to fully reach their capacity. Therefore, his liver is not able to process alcohol, which might lead to severe complications and damages to his system.
However, it also depends on the amount of alcohol and how often the mother drinks. For example, if she has a glass of wine or a can of beer, it will take around 40 minutes for the alcohol to pass through the breast milk and up to 90 minutes if the alcohol has been drunk with food. Even if the complications a child might suffer because of his mother drinking alcohol are not very clear, it is known that babies who ingest alcohol via break milk tend to eat and sleep less. In fact, although some babies might become sleepy after a nursing session during which they also ingested alcohol, it has been proven that they also tend to sleep for a shorter period of time.
Even if doctors recommend women not to drink alcohol for at least the first 3 months of breastfeeding, they also do not prohibit the mother to totally abstain from having a glass of wine once in a while. In fact, there are ways for a woman to be able to safely mix alcohol and breastfeeding.
Safe ways to enjoy drinking while breastfeeding
Women who would like to have a drink once in a while can certainly juggle alcohol and breastfeeding if they manage to plan ahead. In fact, many doctors suggest that if a woman plans on having a glass of wine with her dinner, then she should make sure to use a breast pump to pump and store two bottles of 4 to 6 ounces of breast milk to feed her child after she has alcohol. This way the baby will still receive his regular feedings of breast milk and the mother can enjoy some down time.
A woman who is drinking while breastfeeding should always wait a minimum of two to three hours from the moment she has alcohol to nurse her child. The reason is because her body will need time to process the alcohol and have it leave the system completely.
Some women also opt for feeding their children formula for next two feedings after they enjoyed a glass of wine. As this is a good solution indeed, it is always better to keep feeding breast milk to the baby as some children might react badly to the formula and develop allergies or stomach-related issues.
Even though doctors will always recommend a woman to totally abstain from having a drink, she can safely find a solution that will help her protect her child if she enjoys drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.