Alcohol consumption and breastfeeding - what are the facts?
An article about a highly intoxicated mum who allegedly smothered her baby to death while breastfeeding raises concerns around alcohol consumption and breastfeeding. Is it safe to breastfeed if you've had a drink or two?
Recently, an article about a young American mum who was drunk while breastfeeding got a lot of publicity. Yadina Morales, a 22-year-old mum, was heavily intoxicated when she started breastfeeding her two-month-old daughter. She passed out while breastfeeding.
All she can remember is that when she woke up, her baby was lying unresponsive underneath her.
She immediately notified authorities when she noticed this. But it was too late. Her baby was dead. It is highly likely Morales smothered her baby to death because she was too drunk to realise she had rolled on top of her baby.
Morales was charged with manslaughter and second degree child abuse.
When it comes to consuming alcohol during pregnancy, the warnings are pretty clear and backed by a solid body of research — alcohol consumption may pose a severe risk to a woman’s unborn baby.
But what about alcohol consumption and breastfeeding? The information related to breastfeeding and alcohols is not clear-cut and often breastfeeding mums get conflicting advice if drinking while breastfeeding is harmful to their child or not.
Certainly when we read about stories like the one reported here, we think without a doubt that drinking and breastfeeding is a definite no-no. As a breastfeeding mum myself, this is exactly what I thought even though I do enjoy the occasional drink.
Breastfeeding and alcohol consumption
As a breastfeeding mum, it is possible to enjoy a glass or wine or whatever else it is you like as long as you plan ahead. Here is some information on what you need to know about alcohol consumption and breastfeeding.
- The amount of alcohol in your blood is the amount of alcohol that will end up in your milk.
- Alcohol will be in your breastmilk 30-60 minutes after you start drinking.
- A number of factors influence how much alcohol will enter your milk such as the strength and amount of alcohol in your drink, what and how much you’ve eaten, your weight, and how quickly you drink.
- In general, it takes two hours for the alcohol to leave the milk of an average woman (four hours for two drinks and so on) from the time drinking is started.
- Once you stop drinking, the amount of alcohol in both your blood and your breastmilk will drop.
- Expressing breastmilk (after drinking alcohol) and throwing it away will not reduce the amount of alcohol in it.
- You can have up to two standard drinks occasionally, but not every day, once your baby is a month old.
If you are a breastfeeding mum and know in advance that you will be having a drink at a party or with friends, the best option is to express some milk for your baby in advance.
But if you aren’t able to express your milk in advance for whatever reason, or you baby just cannot wait till the levels of alcohol in your milk drop, it is still ok to breastfeed your baby.
Dr Jack Newman who is a member of the LLLI Health Advisory Council, explains why this is ok.
He thinks reasonable alcohol intake by breastfeeding mums should not be discouraged at all because very little alcohol comes out in the milk.
With the need to get more and more mums breastfeeding their babies (exclusively for at least six months, and then up to two years if possible as recommended by the WHO), prohibiting alcohol can make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.
What’s more, it can discourage them from sustained and long-term breastfeeding.
However, do keep in mind there can be negative side effects for both a breastfeeding mum and her baby, if alcohol is consumed in large amounts, frequently.
- Deep sleep
- The possibility of reduced milk production in the mum
What to keep in mind if drinking and breastfeeding
More than the level of alcohol in breastmilk, the real danger of consuming alcohol while breastfeeding is that if a breastfeeding mum does not set herself limits, the result of possibly being heavily intoxicated and handling a baby can be devastating — sometimes even fatal for the baby like in the case of Morales.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you are breastfeeding and want to have a drink:
- Plan ahead: if you are breastfeeding and decide to avoid alcohol altogether, that is excellent. But if you do enjoy the occasional drink, remember to plan ahead.
- Have a designated non-drinker: Do make sure you have a trusted friend, or your husband/partner (make this person the designated non-drinker of the night) with you to keep you safe if you have one too many.
- No co-sleeping: If you are in a state of heavy intoxication, you should not be co-sleeping with, or handling your baby. Your designated non-drinking partner of the night could ensure that both you and your baby are safe if this should happen. The danger of co-sleeping with a baby if the mum is heavily drunk is that she could easily pass out and smother her baby unknowingly like Morales probably did.
We also asked two lactation consultants for their views on alcohol consumption and breastfeeding.
Jani Combrink, who is a Singapore-based International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, stresses the extreme danger of handling a baby while in a state of intoxication.
Wendy Deshpande (RGN. RHV. IBCLC) says, “any mother who has been drinking alcohol, whether breast or formula feeding should avoid co-sleeping with her baby because of the increased risk of cot death.”
Please do keep in mind that the information presented in this article is for breastfeeding mums who enjoy the occasional drink and are wondering if it is OK to breastfeed and drink in moderation.
However, if you do have an ongoing issue with alcohol, it is crucial that you seek medical help and guidance from your doctor. There are also organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous Singapore that can assist you.
We hope this information has been helpful. If you know of any other things to keep in mind about alcohol consumption and breastfeeding, do share them with everyone by posting a comment below.