Why breastfeeding moms can enjoy a glass of wine

There's no need for breastfeeding women to worry about having an occasional drink, according to reviews of the research.
breastfeeding-alcohol

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Attention all nursing moms! Are you a currently brainstorming “pump-and-dump” strategies around that glass of champagne you want to enjoy on New Year’s Eve? Well, fear not! It would appear that drinking alcohol while nursing may not be quite as evil as you’ve been led to believe.

Melinda Wenner Moyer is a science writer and parenting expert at Slate.com. She recently did an extensive review of the literature surrounding breastfeeding and alcohol to see if she actually did need to pump and throw out her breast milk after enjoying a couple glasses of wine—commonly referred to as a “pump and dump.” Her verdict? Drinking in moderation will not harm your baby.

Moyer explains how basic physiology shows that very little alcohol actually goes into breast milk. If a nursing mom drinks something that increases her blood concentration to .08 alcohol, then her milk has the same concentration of alcohol in it. For example:

If a 150-pound nursing mom downs four alcoholic drinks—say, four five-ounce glasses of wine—and then breastfeeds her 13-pound baby four ounces of milk when she’s at her tipsiest, her baby will end up with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.0038 percent—the same blood alcohol concentration her mom would have after consuming a mere 1.5 ounces of Bud Light (one-eighth of a 12-ounce bottle).

After 45 minutes, alcohol begins to leave your system, so the concentration level decreases rapidly. Instead of pumping and dumping, Moyer suggests waiting an hour before feeding your baby so you don’t have to throw out any precious breastmilk. She claims there’s more naturally-occurring alcohol in some fruit juice than there is in the breast milk of a woman who has had a couple of drinks. The other good news is that the most toxic component of alcohol metabolism—acetaldehyde—doesn’t pass into breast milk at all.

Is it realistic to ask women to completely abstain from alcohol for two years, which is how long the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for breastfeeding? Many breastfeeding advocates say no, and woman shouldn’t feel guilty for having the occasional drink. For years, breastfeeding experts, including the La Leche League and Dr. Jack Newman, have confirmed that it’s OK to have a drink or two while nursing. Dr. Newman said that prohibiting alcohol is another way that “we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.”

He wrote: “Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does.”

I don’t think anyone is advocating a full-blown New Year’s Eve party for nursing moms. There’s lots of risks involved with drinking, especially for new moms, including an increased chance of falling, becoming drowsy or even of passing out. Also, bed sharing is never a good idea if you’ve been drinking.

However, drinking is an incredibly personal decision at any stage of life. If having a glass of wine while you’re breastfeeding makes you feel incredibly guilty, then don’t do it. But if you want to celebrate the incredible year that you had and want to toast 2015 with a glass of bubbly, then cheers!

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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