To drink, or not to drink, that is the question! (with apologies to Shakespeare)

Drinking and breastfeeding (1)

Alcohol, it has a pretty bad rap here in North America. Those who like it, like it a lot and those who don’t, despise it. Seems as if there is no middle ground on this issue. So allow me to introduce some middle ground on breastfeeding and alcohol.

The devil is in the dose

As with most things, the real issue is not if you are drinking while breastfeeding, but how much you are drinking while breastfeeding. When you drink can also play a role in the equation. Alcohol moves in and out of breastmilk easily. It moves in and out of our blood pretty easily too. Once alcohol has moved out of your blood, it has also moved out of your milk. Typically this happens within about 2 hours, as long as you haven’t had too much to drink. The more you drink, the longer it will take for your body to metabolize the alcohol, and the longer you may want to wait until you breastfeed again.

How do I know?

Basically the rules for drinking and breastfeeding are the same as for drinking and driving. If you are too drunk to drive, then you are too drunk to breastfeed, and also too drunk to look after your baby. Generally if you feel sober, you are sober enough to drive, breastfeed and look after your baby. Make sure you have someone helping you with baby care if you plan on drinking a lot. Once you have sobered up, you are good to drive, breastfeed and look after your baby again.

Exceptions

There are always people who don’t follow the general rule. If you know you can tolerate more alcohol than the average person, take that into account when making decisions about what you will do after you have been drinking.

Pumping and discarding? (aka Pumping and Dumping)

Is this a must? Not necessarily. If you have had a lot to drink and you will skip breastfeeding during this period, then yes, you should pump and discard your milk to protect your milk supply.  Remember: use it or lose it, if you go for too long without emptying your breasts, your body will start to feel you don’t need breastmilk, and therefore will start decreasing your supply.

If however you are not planning on skipping a feed, then there is no reason to pump and discard milk.

Rule of thumb

One drink at a time, every few hours. A nice glass of wine with dinner is a fabulous idea, a night out on the town with your best friend will require some planning. The best time to have a drink is right before, during or after a feeding. Typically by the time baby is ready to feed again, 2 hours have passed, and the alcohol has moved out of your milk again.

Update

Thanks to all those discussing this issue and for bringing a 2013 mini review to my attention. This mini review suggests that the amount of alcohol that passes into breastmilk is so small that waiting for a period after having a drink is unnecessary. They state, “This recommendation appears to represent an overly cautious approach that is not supported by factual evidence, …” For those of you interested in reading the mini-review, click here:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bcpt.12149/epdf

For the rest of us, what wonderful news, open up the chardonnay and bottoms up! :) Just remember: if you are planning on enjoying your wine enough to become tipsy, make sure you have someone available to look after your little one.


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