Practical advice for new parents

Breastfeeding and Alcohol

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What's Right For You And Your Baby?

While new mothers are given an extensive amount of information on the health benefits of breastfeeding their babies, there is still a great deal of debate and misinformation surrounding possible risks involved with the consumption of alcohol while breastfeeding. This can be quite confusing for mothers who want to give their babies the best possible nourishment while still being able to enjoy an occasional cocktail or glass of wine.

Almost every medical, lactation, and childcare professional is in agreement that heavy alcohol use is detrimental to both a mother and a breastfeeding baby. A baby who is exposed to large amounts of alcohol in breast milk can suffer from poor weight gain and delayed gross motor development. Alcohol can also interfere with a baby's sleep patterns and a mother's milk production. Notwithstanding the fact that the effects of large amounts of alcohol can certainly impair a mother's judgment or ability to properly care for a baby, mothers who are heavy drinkers or alcoholics statistically have higher rates of certain physical ailments, can suffer from bouts of depression, and are prone to accidents.

However, opinions become far more varied when evaluating light or moderate alcohol usage by breastfeeding women. Some professionals err on the side of caution and advise a woman not to drink at all while breastfeeding, while others take a more relaxed stance on the subject. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs has classified alcohol as being a maternal medication that is 'usually compatible with breastfeeding'.

It has been determined through medical studies that less than 2 percent of alcohol consumed by a breastfeeding mother reaches her milk, and that the amount of alcohol found in the milk will peak approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour after drinking. After that time, the amount of alcohol steadily decreases. Because there is no way to speed up the elimination of alcohol from breast milk, it is not necessary to 'pump and dump' milk prior to feeding a baby. However, most lactation consultants recommend that a mother wait several hours after consuming alcohol prior to breastfeeding a baby to ensure that the breast milk is completely void of alcohol. It is also important to note that newborns and infants with immature livers will be more affected by alcohol in breast milk than older babies who have more body weight and might be taking additional nourishment from solid foods.

In general, the majority of medical professionals and lactation consultants take a middle of the road stance on the subject of breastfeeding and alcohol. Most agree that a mother can safely breastfeed her baby and have an alcoholic beverage occasionally. The most commonly given advice is for mothers to breastfeed shortly before they consume any alcohol. This will allow time for the alcohol to be metabolized prior to having to nurse again. Ideally, it is best to wait at least 2 to 3 hours after consumption before breastfeeding your baby.

There are still some experts who are adamant that no amount of alcohol can be safely consumed during breastfeeding. However, some of this thinking may be based more on moral judgment than on hard evidence. There has not been a conclusive study that has determined that there are risks involved with light to moderate drinking during breastfeeding. In fact, there is more evidence to suggest that an occasional glass of wine can benefit a woman's health.

Ultimately, each mother will have to determine what is best for her baby and herself, and when in doubt, always seek the advice of a professional health advisor. Regardless if she drinks occasionally or not at all, a mother should be commended for her commitment to giving the best possible nourishment to her baby.

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