‘Breastfeeding is best’ unless you’ve been drinking alcohol

Mano! by Aurimas Mikalauskas, on FlickrBeing a medically trained doctor, I have learnt to always be on my guard. Not only for those inflight medical emergencies (of which I have experienced) and people collapsing in the street, but for the less urgent “will you have a look at my rash?” questions posed by neighbours. Even at parties I must be ready to give impromptu answers to medical questions.

And so it was at one jovial celebration that a good friend, glass of red wine in hand, asked me: “When I drink alcohol, does it get stored in my breast milk?” (She had recently given birth.) It was a time of celebration and she had finally managed to get her baby tucked up in his cot. It was certainly not the time for me to be a party-pooper. Sometimes, however, people say they wish they had never asked…

Avoid breastfeeding soon after drinking

Alcohol is remarkable stuff. When you drink it, it has an exceptional ability to spread through the body very quickly – into the blood, internal organs and brain. And we all know what happens when it hits the grey matter: we relax, lose our social inhibitions; start doing silly things, and, ultimately, can end up staggering around and getting quite unwell. And because of alcohol’s biological power is get everywhere, it will be found in the breast milk in less than 30 minutes.

At the risking being a wet blanket, my friend needed to know that whenever she has a drink, she could be giving her tot a couple of tots. For us adults, alcohol is safe in moderation – but this isn’t true for a little one. A baby’s tiny liver and brain can’t deal with liquor in the same way ours can, meaning youngsters are far more susceptible to the adverse effects of alcohol.

For any breastfeeding mum, abstaining from alcohol near the time of breastfeeding is sensible. However, a bit of tipple isn’t out of the question. Current research and official guidelines state that an occasional 1-2 units is not harmful to mother or baby (a small glass of wine contains 1.5 units) – providing there is a decent gap before breastfeeding.

The body treats alcohol like a poison and works had to get it out of the system quickly: it takes about 2 hours to remove 1 unit of alcohol from the blood of a breastfeeding mum. Perhaps the most important thing to know is that alcohol isn’t stored in the breast; some women choose to express milk (or ‘pump and dump’ it) in an attempt to get alcohol out of the breast. This isn’t necessary.

My friend had also come prepared. Obviously fearing my answer would be a bad one, she had stowed some freshly expressed milk in the fridge. And when el Bambino decided to rouse and make his presence known, he was appreciative of his soft drink. I’m pretty sure that the little one had a good time – even if he needs to work on his karaoke wailing skills.

Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

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