Alcohol & Breastfeeding. Do They Go Well Together?

Lactation consultant says ‘occasional drink’ is OK for nursing moms

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Should nursing moms avoid alcohol? While alcohol doesn’t offer any benefits, lactation experts agree that those who drink may do so — with limitations.

“Women [who are nursing] shouldn’t be afraid to have an occasional drink,” said Tammy Kowalik, a nurse and certified lactation consultant with Mercy Hospital of Buffalo.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric guidelines, women weighing 130 to 150 pounds who consume half to one ounce of liquor or eight ounces of wine, or two 12-ounce beers should wait two to three hours before breastfeeding. Unlike during pregnancy, the alcohol doesn’t go directly to the baby.

Pregnant women should never drink alcohol. While nursing, the baby’s not continuously connected to Mom for nutrition.

For nursing moms, an occasional drink planned between nursing sessions is OK.

“We say ‘occasional drink’ because excessive drinking isn’t good,” Kowalik said. “If someone’s planning to go to a party or wedding, they can store breast milk ahead of time in a bottle. They could then pump to relieve their own discomfort. A baby that’s less than 2 months old will eat more frequently.”

Imbibing may be harder to do with a newborn through about 6 months.

The time it takes for alcohol to leave the body depends upon the individual’s tolerance level, which can lower after abstaining from alcohol for nine months, as well as through changes inherent to pregnancy.

Shaveta Malik, OB-GYN and assistant program director with UBMD OB-GYN, said that babies of drinking moms experience disrupted sleep, may gain too much weight, and, in the long term, exhibit slightly decreased scores in their abject reasoning, IQ, and motor development.

“Avoid alcohol or at least minimize it,” Malik said. “There’s many reasons we say that.”

Even three drinks can decrease the amount of breast milk by 20 percent and the time it takes for letdown by 30 to 40 seconds. That may not sound like a long time, unless parents are holding a hungry, inconsolable infant. Women who regularly drink are more likely to discontinue breastfeeding earlier because of decreasing supply and the disruption to the baby of switching back and forth between breast and bottle.

While drinking water during and after alcohol consumption may aid in minimizing hangover symptoms, water won’t clear alcohol out of the system faster.

Expressing breast milk with a pump and disposing of it (known colloquially as “pump and dump”) doesn’t work.

“The breast milk will have the same level of alcohol as the mothers’ blood,” said Mary Jo Parker, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in private practice in Williamsville. “She would have to pump breast milk for two hours and that’s not doable.”

Julie Szumigala-Farkash, outpatient OB-GYN and medical director at Kaleida Health, agreed that waiting two hours is the only way to clear alcohol from blood and breast milk.

“Alcohol takes a certain amount of time to get metabolized,” she said.

Pumping may help keep breast at a comfortable level of fullness; however, it does nothing to clear out alcohol from the body since the blood alcohol level correlates with alcohol in breast milk. Moms who pump while drinking should not bottle feed their babies with that milk.

Szumigala-Farkash said that some moms have told her they’ve heard that they should drink a beer a day to increase the milk supply. While it may promote relaxation, its harmful effects aren’t worth it, Szumigala-Farkash said.

Instead, she wants moms to stay hydrated with water and take it easy.

“I advise patients that when you sit down to breast feed, take a few moments to de-stress yourself,” Szumigala-Farkash said. “Don’t do it running around. Have a big glass of water near you to stay hydrated. Maybe read or listen to music that calms you down. All that will affect the milk letdown.”

She added that nursing mothers should continue taking prenatal vitamins and may need up to 500 extra calories daily. to help with breast feeding.

Baby Café to Open at Oishei Children’s Hospital

Oishei Children’s Hospital plans to open a Baby Café for breastfeeding moms Jan. 9. Hosted Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., moms can learn from lactations consultants and receive peer support. No appointment is necessary. Moms who delivered outside of Oishei are welcome as well.