The Risks and Solutions to Drinking Alcohol While Breastfeeding
Picture yourself getting off work after a long day, going straight to your favorite bar and ordering your favorite drink. After taking your first sip, you feel instantly better right? Alcohol is one of the simple joys of adulthood because you've earned it, right? But...if you are planning on starting a family soon, which will involve carrying a baby inside your belly for nine months, it is time to cut down so it's not as painful to go cold turkey when you find out you're pregnant.
Many researchers have confirmed that alcohol intake during gestation can lead to birth defects. There is still an ongoing debate on whether there is a “safe” amount of alcohol to consume. However, while the jury's still out, do you want to risk your baby’s health in order satisfy your craving? Better safe than sorry, it's best to avoid alcoholic drinks if you are pregnant or start cutting down if you're planning to get pregnant.
What if you had a drink or two but you are not aware that you are pregnant? Well that's why there still an ongoing debate as to what is safe. For the most part, it's probably ok, since I'm sure quite a few of us probably had alcohol in our system in order to get pregnant ;)! But once you confirmed your pregnancy, then quit the drinking habit as soon as possible.
Alcohol has a huge impact on a developing fetus. It is absorbed into your bloodstream and if you are an expectant mom, this alcohol make its way through the placenta, then the umbilical cord and finally to your baby. The placenta is the organ that nourishes the baby with oxygen and food until the full term is reached while the umbilical cord is what connects the baby to the placenta. Unfortunately, the placenta does not distinguish between good and bad elements. Therefore, the sustenance the baby gets are basically the same as what you eat.
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
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 in babies and children.
Excessive drinking is a problem you should address before pregnancy to reduce the possibility of the following 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. An occasional drink or about one to two units 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 traces that end up in your breastmilk. It will take a few hours for alcohol to leave your bloodstream and a few more fort to leave your breastmilk. Simply put, when your blood alcohol level is down, your milk will be unlikely contain alcohol.
The urge and temptation to drink will always be present, be it during pregnancy or while you are breastfeeding. Cocktails, spirits, and beer are often served at 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 on how 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 found that alcohol actually inhibits milk flow.
Another popular myth is that breastmilk can make your baby fall asleep faster. This theory 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. Also, parents who've had a few too many drinks before bedtime should never stay in bed with the baby to avoid accidents.
Keep in mind that a baby has an immature liver which is not capable of processing alcohol. Studies show that a baby’s liver can only has half the detoxifying capacity as that of an adult.
What if you got carried away and drank more than you intended to? Does expressing eliminate the presence of alcohol in your breastmilk? The answer is no. You have to let your body naturally get rid of the alcohol in your body. There is no need to pump your breastmilk to get the alcohol out. Doing this will just put your precious breastmilk to waste.
Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can be very dangerous for the baby, as well as for the mother. Alcohol that is in the woman’s bloodstream passes to the baby through breast milk. A newborn, even at 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. The baby's liver is not able to process alcohol and this may lead to severe complications and damage to his system.
The way in which your alcohol is drunk can be a huge factor in terms of risk to your nursing baby. For example, if you've had a glass of wine or a can of beer on an empty stomach, it will take around 40 minutes for the alcohol to pass through the breast milk. If you had your drink with some food, it can take up to 90 minutes for the alcohol to enter the breast milk. Statistically, babies who ingest alcohol via breast milk tend to eat and sleep less. In fact, although some babies might become drowsy shortly after a nursing session during which they ingested alcohol, they will tend to sleep for a shorter period of time and their sleep will not be as deep.
Due to these risks, some doctors recommend not drinking alcohol for at least the first 3 months of breastfeeding. However, they do not prohibit the mother from drinking moderately after the 3 month mark. So rest assured, after 3 months, there are ways for a woman to be able to safely mix alcohol and breastfeeding.
Safe ways to enjoy drinking while breastfeeding
Women enjoy a drink or two occasionally while breastfeeding should 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 express and store two bottles of 4 to 6 ounces of breast milk to feed her child for after she has had the 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 time she's had alcohol to nurse her child. Assuming that she's had just 1 or 2 glasses of wine, this should be adequate time to allow her body to process the alcohol and have it leave her system completely.
Some women also opt for feeding their children formula for next two feedings after they enjoyed a glass of wine. While this could be a good solution, keep in mind that 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.
Remember, the key to enjoying alcohol while breast feeding is moderation and forward planning.