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Breast or Bubbly?

I have a newborn and as this is the first Christmas season since I have had my baby, I am wondering, what is a safe alcohol level while breastfeeding?

The National Health and Medical Research Council are currently revising safe drinking guidelines and it looks as though pregnant and breastfeeding women will be advised not to drink alcohol at all. This is because, in light of worldwide research, a safe limit of alcohol consumption can’t be determined during pregnancy and breastfeeding – there are potential risks to babies whose immature livers aren’t able to process the alcohol transmitted through the placenta or their mother’s milk.

Daily consumption of alcohol by breastfeeding mothers has been shown to affect baby’s sleep patterns (with babies falling asleep more quickly but waking more often), increases the risk of slow weight gain and slows gross motor development.

Although many people may tell you that a glass of alcohol will increase your milk supply, there is evidence that this isn’t the case. Drinking more than 2 standard drinks can inhibit your letdown and even small doses of alcohol can alter the taste of breast-milk. Babies dislike this, so may not drain the breast. These factors could result in temporarily reducing your milk supply and an inadequately drained breast could increase the likelihood of mastitis. .

If you do choose to drink while you are breastfeeding, it is important to be aware that alcohol will pass into your milk very easily – as your blood alcohol level rises, so does the level of alcohol in your breast milk. The good news is that as your blood alcohol level drops, so does the level of alcohol in your milk.

Alcohol peaks in your blood approximately half an hour to an hour after drinking (this varies among individuals, depending on factors such as how much food was eaten in the same time period, your body weight and percentage of body fat). It takes approximately two hours for your body to break down one standard drink and your blood alcohol level to drop to zero (two standard drinks will take 4 hours).

If you plan to drink while you are breastfeeding, either express before drinking and feed your baby ‘alcohol – free’ milk or drink after a feed and wait until your blood alcohol level is safe before you breastfeed. Expressing after you drink will not reduce the alcohol level in your milk, but could actually increase the transfer of alcohol from your bloodstream to your milk

Bear in mind that alcohol will affect your responsiveness to your baby so whether you are breastfeeding or not, if you drink it is wise to have a designated parent (one parent stays sober and in charge of the baby) just as you would have a designated driver. Also, please remember safe sleeping guidelines: if either you or your partner have been drinking – even single drink - it is unsafe to sleep with your baby.

Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice and a mother of five breastfed children. She is also the author of several books including “Sleeping Like a baby” (Penguin)  Visit her website www.pinkymckay.com.au

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