I have a friend that brought a bottle of chardonnay right into the delivery room, packed in her hospital go bag. As soon as the cord was cut, the chilled wine flowed into mini red solo cups she packed just for this moment. She and her husband wanted to celebrate the occasion in their own way and they just had the one small cup and didn’t overindulge. But she felt like she owned the moment and got to lift a glass (well plastic cup) in a toast to her new son and her motherhood journey.
Like my friend, about half of breastfeeding moms have a drink now and then. Since breastmilk is made by taking nutrients and fluid from your blood, some alcohol shows up in your milk. When you take a drink of wine or beer, the fluid travels to the stomach and then exits to the small intestine, where it is absorbed into your bloodstream. Your blood transports the alcohol to the liver, where enzymes break it down. Our liver can get rid of about 1 ounce of alcohol an hour. Any extra accumulates in the blood and body tissues until the liver can process it. This extra alcohol makes us feel tipsy and singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” at the office Christmas party seems like the best idea ever (not me, happened to a friend…)
If you have a glass of wine or other adult beverage, the amount of alcohol that could pass through to your breast milk is very small. A review of 41 studies in the journal Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology finds that even in a binge drinking scenario, if a mom breastfed, the blood alcohol of the infant would be less than .005%. The researchers concluded “It appears biologically implausible that occasional exposure to such amounts should be related to clinically meaningful effects to the nursing children.” Still, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women minimize alcohol consumption during lactation and if you drink, limit your intake to 2 ounces of liquor, 8 ounces of wine, or two 12-ounce beers.
You can safely have a few drinks without getting your baby drunk, but if you are concerned about your supply, stick to non-alcoholic beverages. Despite stories about beer and wine increasing milk supply, the research doesn’t support it. Studies have shown drinking alcohol while breastfeeding inhibits the milk ejection reflex, also known as the let-down (this reflex moves your milk from the lobes of your breasts to the nipple and out to your baby). For let-down to occur, the nerve connections from the nipple to the hypothalamus area of the brain need to be ready to receive the signal from your baby suckling at your breast to release oxytocin. Alcohol can deaden these signals and leave milk in your breasts and your baby frustrated. We know the milk product works on supply and demand; breasts need to be empty to signal your body to make more milk. If you are drinking alcohol regularly, this lack of intact nerves, hormone release and breast emptying results in a decrease in milk production of up to 23%. If you are stressed about your supply, avoid alcohol until you get back on track.
It also needs to be mentioned that anyone, including you, caring for your baby is required to be sober. Keeping a baby or toddler safe critical thinking and unclouded decision making; remember the Journey story from paragraph 2? You can make bad choices if you are drunk. Your children are counting on you to keep them safe.
If you co-sleep make alternative sleeping arrangements if you have been drinking. Alcohol can put you into a deeper sleep and this has been strongly linked to a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome or accidental suffocation. Don’t drive if you have been drinking or get into a car with anyone else that has.
Just like pre-mom days, alcohol is fun occasionally but can easily lead to problems if used to excess. Feel free to have a drink now and then but deal with your mom stress in healthier ways.