Can I Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

Consuming an alcoholic beverage is a social and cultural experience enjoyed by many Americans, but the safety of alcohol consumption for a breastfeeding parent is controversial. Let's explore alcohol consumption while breastfeeding, risks of drinking for the baby and parent, tips for responsible drinking while breastfeeding, milk test strip overview, and some frequently asked questions.

Key takeaways:

Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

For the sake of the baby and the parent, it is safest to not consume alcohol while breastfeeding. However, this is not always the desire of a lactating parent. The safety of consuming alcohol and breastfeeding is very dependent on the pattern of the lactating parent's drinking.

More than one standard alcoholic beverage a day is considered moderate alcohol consumption and highly discouraged. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding parents should limit their alcohol intake and not drink two hours or less before breastfeeding.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one standard drink is 12 ounces of 5% beer, 8 ounces of 7% beer, 5 ounces of 12% wine, or 1.5 ounces of 40% distilled spirits. The research regarding the safety and risks of alcohol consumption is often inconclusive, biased, or unclear because it is challenging to develop an ethical, high-level study that addresses alcohol and children.

Risks of alcohol consumption for baby

According to research, even low amounts of alcohol, one or two drinks, can decrease a baby's milk intake by 20 to 23%. This small amount of alcohol ingestion is also associated with temporary infant agitation and poor-quality sleep.

However, the long-term adverse effects of casual drinking, such as a daily drink, is not conclusive. The research has shown mixed results regarding long-term health outcomes in children.

Some studies have shown that significant amounts of alcohol consumption, greater than one or two drinks daily while lactating, is associated with more serious complications for the infant and child, including:

  • Impaired infant growth and motor function
  • Infant sedation
  • Fluid retention
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Reasoning deficits in childhood

Other risks of alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption is associated with decreased milk supply and potential changes in the milk taste that your baby may not like. Daily, heavy alcohol use appears to decrease the length of time the lactating parent chooses to breastfeed.

It is also essential to consider the physical, neurological, and psychological impact of excessive alcohol consumption and the breastfeeding parent's ability to care for their baby while under the influence.

Milk testing strips

Ethanol testing strips for breast milk are now available and have become a popular product for parents. The consumer market is filled with several manufacturers and multiple avenues for purchasing.

Despite multiple manufacturers, the test strips all work similarly. The test strip is saturated with a small amount of breast milk that has been expressed or pumped. A color change occurs based on the amount of alcohol that is present in the milk. For accurate testing, it is important to follow the instructions and wait the full amount of time for saturation and results.

Safety and reliability

To date, no reliable scientific studies have verified the accuracy and reliability of alcohol testing strips for breast milk. The milk test strips are marketed as a consumer product, not a medical product, indicating that they have not undergone rigorous testing for accuracy and reliability.

The internet is filled with personal "experiments" with mixed results. Some parents verified the accuracy of the test strips based on how they felt neurologically after consuming alcohol and what the test strips revealed about the ethanol content of their milk.

Other parents felt that the tests were "delayed" because the milk tested positive for alcohol well after they felt neurologically normal and may normally choose to breastfeed. Using milk testing strips is a parental choice, but it is essential to be aware of the lack of evidence for their trustworthiness.

Tips for parents who choose to consume alcohol

There are a few strategies that you can use to limit your baby's exposure to alcohol-tainted breast milk:

  1. Wait to drink. Avoid alcohol in the first six weeks postpartum, as breastfeeding is frequent. Wait to drink until a milk supply and feeding schedule are more established.
  2. Feed before drinking. Before consuming alcohol, feed your baby and/or pump your breast milk.
  3. Eat. Consume alcohol with food.
  4. Test. Consider utilizing milk testing strips for peace of mind.
  5. Pump and dump after drinking. This will not decrease the level of alcohol in your blood or breast milk, but it may bring comfort to know you aren't feeding alcohol-tainted milk.

If you are breastfeeding and would like to consume alcohol, make sure you do so in moderation. Follow some tips, like feeding before drinking, to help ensure safety for yourself and your baby. If you feel that you have an alcohol use problem, or you know someone who does, especially while breastfeeding, do not hesitate to contact your healthcare provider, who can direct you to the available resources.

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