Most women know to try and keep off alcohol during pregnancy; that anything other than an occasional glass of wine should be avoided in the interests of the health of the unborn baby. However women are less sure about what to do after the baby arrives – whether it is safe to have a drink at a time when they are also breastfeeding the baby.
Mayo clinic’s view is fairly categorical about this – breast feeding and alcohol do not mix, since alcohol can pass from the mother’s system into the breast milk and then on to the baby. And it is clarified that no level of alcohol in breast milk, no matter how low, is thought to be safe enough for baby to consume.
The reason for this is the fact that while adults are able to eliminate alcohol from their system at a quicker rate, babies take double the time to eliminate the alcohol from their system.
So even if very little actual alcohol will pass from mother to baby, this is a point of concern.
Not only is it a concern that the alcohol mixes with the breast milk and passes to the baby (in particular by way of the foremilk and the hind milk), there is the additional concern that breast milk supply is actually reduced due to the consumption of alcohol.
It is the output of the prolactin hormone that is impacted by alcohol consumption; which reduces milk supply.
Also there is the fact that the flavor and taste of the breast milk can change due to the presence of alcohol. It could be that the odor in the milk may turn off the baby, who may drink as much as 20% less milk if the mother has had a drink or two.
However this is not the only view with respect to breastfeeding and alcohol consumption. Other experts are of the view that some amount of drinking when breastfeeding is not going to cause any harm to the baby.
For instance a question was put to a lactation consultant whether it was possible for a breastfeeding mother to drink at social occasions such as parties.
This view about alcohol and breastfeeding opines that so long that the mother has not got to the point that she is feeling ‘tipsy’ it is OK for her to drink; that so long as the mother felt normal she probably did not have much alcohol in her system anyway. In this view, if a woman had had a drink or two, she could pump and dump breast milk to be sure.