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Alcohol and Health

Can You Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

July 19, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 19, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 19, 2023
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 19, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 19, 2023
8 min read

Alyssa is a weary but content new mom. Her 6-week-old baby happily naps away in his crib, and she’s about to pour herself the first glass of wine she’s had since before she found out she was expecting. “I deserve a little break at the end of another day filled with diaper changes and lullabies, don’t I?” she asks herself. 

It's a reward that looks quite appealing, perhaps even deserved. But then she stops and asks herself another important question: Can alcohol and breastfeeding coexist? According to over a decade of scientific research, the answer leans significantly towards "no."

Alcohol in Breast Milk: Impact on the Baby's Development

When a breastfeeding mom enjoys that glass of wine, the alcohol doesn't stay confined to her body. It moves into her bloodstream and ultimately finds its way into her breast milk. According to several studies, the alcohol levels in breast milk mimic those in the mother's bloodstream. More concerning, research has also delved into how infants, due to their undeveloped digestive systems and liver, take longer to eliminate alcohol. This delay increases the exposure time, which can adversely affect their sleep, motor skills development, cognition, and overall growth pace.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Nutritional Value of Breastmilk

Besides the direct exposure to alcohol, there's another subtle but significant way babies can be affected: the impact on the nutritional composition of breast milk. Studies have also found that alcohol can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients in breast milk. One of the critical components affected is lactose, the primary sugar that promotes a baby's growth. Any interference here can potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies, undermining the infant’s health and developmental progress.

Diagram about understanding breastfeeding and alcohol

A Not-So-Abundant Supply: Alcohol's Impact on Milk Production

Ironically, while a mother might reach for a drink to relax, this could counterintuitively lead to more stress by affecting her milk production. Alcohol can lead to an inadequate milk supply, creating challenges in feeding the baby and affecting their growth and contentment. 

Furthermore, a study in Pediatrics suggested that, in addition to the quantity of milk, its quality also suffers when drinking alcohol. Breastfeeding mothers who drank alcohol produced milk that was less appealing to their babies due to unpleasant odors. 

Potential Long-Term Effects of Breastfeeding While Drinking 

Recent research has begun to illuminate the potential long-term consequences for children exposed to alcohol through breast milk. In 2018, the journal Pediatrics published a study showing that even minor levels of alcohol exposure could contribute to cognitive and behavioral implications. These potential effects might manifest as learning disabilities and behavioral challenges later in the child's life.

Alternatives to Alcohol While Breastfeeding

So, what can we do when we're craving some adult-style refreshment after a long day of mothering? Here's a variety of flavorful, satisfying alternatives that we can reach for:

  • Mocktails. Non-alcoholic versions of our favorite cocktails can be just as satisfying and allow for a lot of creativity. Experiment with different combinations of fruits, herbs, and sparkling water.

  • Herbal teas. A vast range of herbal teas offers not only relaxation but also various health benefits. Chamomile, peppermint, or hibiscus teas can be enjoyed hot or cold.

  • Fruit-infused water. A simple twist to regular water — adding slices of fruits, cucumber or even mint can make for a refreshing, flavorful drink.

  • Non-alcoholic beers and wines. Many brands have expanded their offerings to include alcohol-free versions of beers and wines, providing the taste without the alcoholic content.

  • Sparkling water. For those who enjoy a fizzy treat, sparkling water with a twist of lime, lemon, or a splash of fruit juice can be an excellent pick-me-up.

Pump and Dump: What To Do If You Drink

"Pump and dump" is a common practice among breastfeeding mothers who have consumed alcohol. It involves pumping breast milk after drinking, then discarding the milk with alcohol traces, ensuring that the baby doesn't ingest it. While this method can help reduce alcohol exposure, it's important to remember that it takes time for alcohol to leave our systems. The CDC advises only having one drink and waiting at least two hours before breastfeeding. That said, it’s better to avoid alcohol altogether to protect the health of our babies.

Alcohol and Breastfeeding: The Takeaways

So can a breastfeeding mom drink alcohol? Although savoring a glass of wine or a pint of beer might seem appealing, especially when navigating the challenging journey of new motherhood, the potential risks it raises for the baby's development and well-being are substantial. Decades worth of research converge on the point that alcohol and breastfeeding make a risky combination. 

Instead, let's relish the broad array of non-alcoholic beverages available, each offering unique flavors and the satisfaction of knowing we're prioritizing our little ones’ well-being. Remember, the breastfeeding phase, while intense, is a fleeting period in the grand timeline of our lives and our child's life. The wine can wait. In the meantime, we can still toast to the marvels and hurdles of motherhood — just in an alcohol-free way.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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