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Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 127 views

Breastfeeding and alcohol are not a good combination. As in pregnancy, the same applies when breastfeeding: your child drinks with you. Alcohol harms child development and promotes breastfeeding problems. Here you can find out the concentration of alcohol in breast milk, the risks of breastfeeding and drinking alcohol and the consequences of an occasional drink for your child.

Breastfeeding and alcohol: dangers and risks

If you drink alcohol, your body absorbs the alcohol through the mucous membranes. This already happens in the mouth , but for the most part in the gastrointestinal tract. The alcohol enters the blood from the mucous membranes and from there directly into the mother’s milk in the breastfeeding woman .

alcohol in breast milk

About half an hour to an hour after the first sip, the milk is alcoholic. Blood alcohol level and the concentration of breast milk are almost the same. If the alcohol level in the blood falls, it also decreases in breast milk. How much alcohol reaches the blood and milk is difficult to say. The alcohol level depends on the alcohol content of the drink, the amount consumed, your body weight and whether you drink it on a full or empty stomach .

Depending on the amount of alcohol, it may take a few hours for the alcohol to break down completely. Pumping doesn’t help in this case, you have to wait for the alcohol to break down in your body.

Alcohol harms the child

Mothers should avoid breastfeeding and drinking alcohol. Alcohol is a cytotoxin. It can impair child development – especially the brain. Babies break down alcohol much more slowly than adults. From which dose it becomes problematic for the baby has not been medically proven.

Long-term damage to the child from long-term alcohol consumption while breastfeeding is difficult to assess. If the mother drinks alcohol while breastfeeding, this can impair the motor and mental development of the child, its sleep rhythm and its growth. It has been scientifically proven that alcohol shortens the time children sleep.

Alcohol also changes the composition, smell and quantity of breast milk. The result is that the children drink less, gain weight more slowly and tend to be more restless. According to the current state of knowledge, however, an occasional drink does not seem to cause serious damage to the child.

Alcohol increases breastfeeding problems

Women who breastfeed and drink alcohol struggle more often than abstinent breastfeeding women with breastfeeding problems such as sore nipples, engorgement or insufficient milk supply. The reason for this are the hormones responsible for milk production . Their blood levels are sensitive to alcohol and are thrown off balance by the mother’s alcohol consumption. The consequences: Milk production slows down, the amount of milk decreases and the milk ejection reflex is inhibited.

The widespread belief that a glass of sparkling wine or beer stimulates milk production is not true!

Alcohol while breastfeeding – yes or no?

Unlike during pregnancy, your body is no longer constantly supplying the baby with nutrients. There are breaks between meals, which theoretically allow some freedom. However, you should be careful if you are breastfeeding and consuming alcohol at the same time.

If you are breastfeeding: do not drink alcohol before the first month

It is better for mothers to refrain from combining breastfeeding and alcohol until the end of their child’s first month of life. Complete abstinence from alcohol is advisable, since newborns often experience unexpected hunger. Milk production also has to level off first and is sensitive to alcohol.

You should therefore wait until the breastfeeding rhythm has settled, the amount of milk has adjusted and, ideally, you have already been able to express some milk beforehand . Then the alcohol can wear off by the next feed, or you can feed your baby expressed milk.

There is never a guarantee that breastfeeding will be permanent, but after the first month the chances are better. If your baby finds it difficult to find a rhythm, you should not combine breastfeeding and alcohol as a precaution.

Not too much alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are taboo for breastfeeding women. If you absolutely have to, give preference to spirits with a lower percentage of alcohol, such as wine spritzers or light beer. It should not be more than one or two glasses of it. Otherwise the alcohol will not be completely broken down until the next breastfeeding.

For orientation: A bottle of beer (330 ml) contains around 13 grams of alcohol, a quarter liter of wine or sparkling wine around 20 grams and a small schnapps (20 ml) around 6 grams of alcohol.

Breastfeeding and alcohol – you have to consider that!

You should definitely avoid intoxication if you are breastfeeding. What else also applies is particularly important when breastfeeding and drinking alcohol: Eat well before drinking so that the alcohol does not get into your blood too quickly and drink water in between. Women who are breastfeeding and consuming alcohol should also consider the following:

  • Breastfeeding and alcohol – in that order!
  • Have pumped non-alcoholic milk on hand in case your child is hungry earlier than expected or you have drunk more than planned. Then pump out the alcohol-laden milk and throw it away.
  • To prevent breastfeeding problems, you should not miss a breastfeeding period! As mentioned above, use non-alcoholic milk stock if necessary.
  • Make sure your child is well looked after until you are sober!
  • This is especially true at night: alcohol delays the reaction and changes sleep, so you could easily miss the child’s signals.

Breastfeeding and alcohol: recommendations

The Federal Ministry of Health in Germany advises breastfeeding women to avoid alcoholic beverages. In particular, women who are breastfeeding should definitely avoid spirits with a high alcohol content. In other countries, the advice is formulated more specifically and women are allowed to occasionally consume one or two glasses a week, but only under certain conditions.

Unfortunately, reliable data that prove the amount of alcohol that poses a risk to the child’s health is lacking. The National Breastfeeding Commission recommends that women who drink a small glass from time to time do not stop breastfeeding, as the positive aspect of breast milk outweighs it.

Alcohol only occasionally!

Women who are breastfeeding and who drink alcohol should be aware of their responsibility for their child’s health and adjust the amount of alcohol and the amount of alcohol to suit the breastfeeding period. Regular three or more glasses a day harm not only the child, but also the mother.

If you cannot give up alcohol permanently, you should seek professional help. Because regardless of whether you are breastfeeding or not: If you drink alcohol regularly, you have to ask yourself to what extent you are able to look after your child appropriately and build a stable mother-child relationship. Don’t lose sight of your child’s well-being when breastfeeding. Alcohol should remain the exception.

You can read more about the dangers of high alcohol consumption and where you can get help in the ” Alcohol ” special.

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