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Breast Feeding

Breast feeding and alcohol

10/01/2000

Question:

if i drink heavily one night a week, am i better off formula feeding my infant daughter?

Answer:

Drinking one or two alcoholic beverages over a period of several hours occasionally is not considered incompatible with continued breastfeeding. However, alcohol readily passes in and out of breast milk in about the same amount and at about the same rate it enters and leaves your blood stream. When a mother is feeling inebriated or becomes drunk, her milk often smells differently and it can cause irritability or sleepiness in babies. Once a mother is again sober, her milk is free of alcohol--just as her blood stream is--even if she did nothing to empty her breasts since having her last drink. Many mothers prefer to express their milk by hand or breast pump several times a week and then freeze it, so there is still breast milk available for their babies if they are unable to breastfeed for several hours. Other mothers choose to use infant formula for such situations.

If you plan to have an alcoholic beverage when breastfeeding, breastfeed your baby before having a drink and allow a couple of hours to pass after the drink (or second drink) before breastfeeding afterward. It will take longer for your body to rid itself of "heavy" amounts of alcohol, so if you become intoxicated, pump your milk every few hours to avoid uncomfortable engorgement but don`t save that milk to give your daughter. (Interestingly, research indicates that many babies do not seem to like either the taste or the smell of alcohol in their mothers` milk, as they tend to drink less at feedings when the milk contains alcohol although they "ask" to breastfeed more often.) You can resume breastfeeding once you are sober.

Chronic, frequent consumption of even small amounts of alcohol may delay a baby`s motor development. This may contribute to weak sucking, so weight gain may be affected. In addition, it can slow rather than speed the milk let-down (milk-ejection reflex).

No matter how you choose to feed your baby, the most important point is that abusing alcohol by drinking heavily, whether once a month, once a week or daily, affects your ability to properly care for your daughter. Alcohol use can create all kinds of unsafe child-care situations. A sober adult needs to be available to care for your daughter at all times. Also, if you (and your partner) are out and become intoxicated, your daughter is depending on you when it comes to assuring there is a sober, designated driver to get you back home to her safely.

Your question is a very important one, and your daughter is lucky to have a mother who is concerned about her baby`s welfare and safety. All the best for you and your little one.

References:

Black RF, Jarman L & Simpson JB (1998). Lactation specialist self-study series: The science of breastfeeding (Module 3). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Hale TW (2000). Medications and mothers` milk (9th ed.). Amarillo, TX: Pharmasoft Medical Publishing.

For more information:

Go to the Breast Feeding health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, MSN, RN, IBCLC
Adjunct Clinical Instructor
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati