- How alcohol gets into breastmilk via your bloodstream and the fact that alcohol will be present in your breastmilk about 30-60 minutes after you start drinking.
- How much alcohol gets into your breastmilk depends on how much you weigh, how much you have eaten, how quickly you are drinking and the strength and amount of alcohol in your drink.
- The reason why time is the only way to reduce the amount of alcohol in your breastmilk and the “pumping and dumping” myth.
- What a standard drink looks like. As a general rule, it takes 2 hours for an average woman to get rid of the alcohol from 1 standard alcoholic drink (ie 4 hours for 2 drinks, 6 hours for 3 drinks and so on). This brochure issued by the ABA has a useful table which shows the approximate time taken for alcohol to be cleared from breastmilk. This table can help mothers to estimate how long it will take for their breastmilk to contain no alcohol.
- The Australian guidelines recommendation for all women (except when pregnant) is no more than two standards drinks per day. It is generally recommended that breastfeeding mothers can have up to 2 standard drinks (but not every day) once their baby is a month old (which is around the time that breastfeeding is going well and there is some sort of pattern to a baby’s feeding).
- When feeding an older baby, who tend to have a more regular feeding pattern, it can be easier to time a drink so that the next feed will contain little or no alcohol. However, sometimes babies don’t stick to their routine and may need extra feeds if they are unwell or “out of sorts”.
- Drinking 3 or more standard drinks per day can be harmful to your health and your baby’s health. Motor development skills have been found to be significantly lower in infants regularly exposed to alcohol through breastmilk (Little, 1989).
- Some ABA counsellors have reported instances of babies being drowsy and fussy after being breastfed by a mother who has had alcohol. Studies have shown that one standard drink changes the smell of breastmilk and has a mild sedative effective on the baby. A drowsy baby may not suck well which can lead to a reduction in milk supply. Any drug that causes drowsiness in the infant may be implicated in SIDS.
- Mothers who have been drinking often report a delayed let-down reflex and a perceived reduction in milk supply. They also report having a lower tolerance to alcohol which could be attributed to low oestrogen levels during lactation which can be associated with higher alcohol levels.
- Too much alcohol can impair the mother’s ability to properly care for her baby, cause the baby to be slower to reach developmental milestones and decrease the flow of milk which can reduce supply.
- If you are planning a big night out and think you will have more than 2 standard drinks, you may wish to express and store some milk beforehand and arrange for someone who is not affected by alcohol to look after your baby. Do NOT sleep with your baby if you or your partner is affected by alcohol.
- We will also discuss some strategies to reduce the amount of alcohol in breastmilk such as breastfeeding your baby BEFORE you drink (and you know it will be a couple of hours before you are likely to feed again), eating before and while having a drink, as well as alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
- And, why it is better to give a breastfeed with a small amount of alcohol than to feed artificial baby milk (in short, the health risks of artificial baby milk outweigh the health risks of a breastfeed that contains a small amount of alcohol).
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A common reason for giving up breastfeeding is when mothers suspect that their milk supply is low. Sometimes mothers can mistakenly think that their supply is low as they lack confidence in their ability to provide breastmilk and can become worried when their babies seem unsettled. At other times we can confuse normal infant behaviour as a milk supply problem.
However, for some women, low milk supply can be a real problem. It is important to know that the more milk that is taken from your breasts the more milk you will make. Introducing other fluids including artificial baby milk (infant formula) will decrease your milk supply. With the right information and support a low supply can usually be increased. If you are worried about your milk supply, contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s 24 hour helpline on 1800 686 268 or make an appointment with a lactation consultant – you can find a list on the Lactation Consultants of Australia & New Zealand’s (LCANZ) website