Breastfeeding and Alcohol: THE TRUTH
It’s that time of year again where the family convenes and we all pretend to like each other – or, you know, at least attempt to get along for the few mandatory days we’ll be living in each other’s pockets. Being British and – more significantly – English (or for International readers, if you have English tendencies), when we hover dangerously close to passively-aggressively ignoring our arrogant brother for the next hour; or smiling tightly rather than sincerely at our mother-in-law, there’s only one way to survive. It begins with ‘al’ and ends with everyone feeling a little less frayed around the edges… I am, of course, referring to booze. But what of those of us who are pregnant or breastfeeding? Well, we should definitely talk about breastfeeding and alcohol.
Frankly, if you’re pregnant, you need to suck it up. It is what it is and there’s no getting away from that. Console yourself with the fact that next year, Christmas is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT on your terms; a brief reprieve from the usual stresses of the festive season.
But what of breastfeeding mothers? Do you know the facts? Are you sure? Because I think there’s a conspiracy; a well-meaning and possibly beneficial one – but a conspiracy nonetheless. I’m an advocate of the truth (which is why I’ve published an entire book about breastfeeding) and allowing those of us with a little common sense and discipline to regulate ourselves.
The majority of information available about breastfeeding and alcohol discourages women from drinking, and certainly not more than a very tiny amount. (See what the NHS says here.)
And while I absolutely do not promote quaffing to excess for anybody, irrespective of their circumstances, scaremongering is unfair and patronising.
The overwhelming majority of mothers will want to keep their children safe and healthy, and they will not use a post such as this – which is intended to impart truth and allay unwarranted concerns – as an excuse to be irresponsible.
So – Breastfeeding and Alcohol: THE FACTS
Firstly, it is not necessary to pump and dump. Alcohol in the milk is ‘filtered’ at the same rate as alcohol in the bloodstream. This means that the best way to provide uncontaminated milk to your baby is to simply…wait.
More significant though is the concentration of alcohol in the milk. This is the crucial piece of information about which we’re being misinformed.
Here’s a simple way to understand the science: We’ve established that a woman’s milk alcohol level is equal to her blood alcohol level; when her baby ingests that milk, it will repeat the process of filtration that the alcohol passing the mother’s lips underwent before it was purified by the mother’s liver. So, the alcohol has been broken down by the mother’s liver, and then the diluted alcohol will undergo the same process by the baby’s liver. By the time the alcohol reaches the baby’s liver, it’s already at very moderate levels; by the time it enters the baby’s bloodstream it’s negligible.
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Breastfeeding and Alcohol: Considerations (aka Covering My Back)
My intention is to alleviate concerns for those breastfeeding mothers wishing to enjoy a couple of vinos during Christmas and New Year.
However, I’m now going to address the reasons to remain mindful of alcohol intake – just in case this does reach anybody looking for an excuse to behave in a way I would completely reprehend.
- The livers of newborns are not fully developed and will not process alcohol as efficiently as an adult.
- Alcohol can inhibit the production of breastmilk.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol skews adults’ perception.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol makes adults behave irrationally.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol makes adults behave irresponsibly.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol makes adults clumsy.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol makes adults drowsy.
- Skewed perception, + irrationality + irresponsibility + clumsiness + drowsiness is the perfect combination for endangering your baby or otherwise causing them harm. But any one of these factors is enough by itself.
A Christmas Tipple
I imagine that for the most part, this information will not alter the behaviour of responsible breastfeeding mothers.
Ultimately, the point of this post is to allow you to enjoy your usual Christmas tipple without fear or guilt. You’ve cooked the baby, and probably the entire Christmas dinner too – the least you deserve is an indulgent Baileys. (Especially if you’re entertaining the MIL this year. In which case – good luck, and I won’t judge you for pouring a double measure. Promise.)
Did the info in this post surprise you? Has it changed the way you feel about drinking whilst breastfeeding – and will it change the amount you imbibe?
If you found this post insightful and feel better informed about breastfeeding and alcohol, please consider sharing!