Myths and Truths About Breastfeeding & Alchohol

While it is very clear that drinking any amount of alcohol while pregnant is not advised, there is some confusion surrounding drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. Most of us might have been told at some point in our breastfeeding journey that alcohol will increase the amount of milk we produce or even that if you pump the milk right after an alcoholic drink the subsequent batch will be free of alcohol. So here is what we found out about these myths:

Myth 1 – Alcohol increases breastmilk production

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not in fact increase the amount of milk produced but rather decreases it especially if you have consumed the hard liquors. In addition, studies show that babies tend to drink less milk during breastfeeding if there are traces of alcohol in the breastmilk which will in fact affect their feeding habit and growth pattern. Nutritionist Dorcus Munge also mentioned that “the alcohol in breastmilk could hinder the baby’s absorption of nutrients and if taken in large doses it could also have far more serious effects such as convulsions.”

Upon further research it was also established that if a baby consumes certain levels of alcohol it could lead to impaired motor development, disruption in sleep patterns as well as affect their liver and other organs which are usually still immature. Babies (especially within the first 3 months after birth) take about half the time an adult would to metabolise alcohol which means that the alcohol will stay longer in their system.

page01That being said, since alcohol is not a galactagogue and hence doesn’t help with milk product or milk let down then where did this myth come from? According to while women who drank beer might have experienced an increase in milk production it is actually the polysaccharide from the barley and hops which fostered this through promoting the increase in prolactin levels (a hormone which helps in breastmilk production); meaning non-alcoholic beer will have the same effect.


Myth 2 – The Pump and Dump

The ‘pump and dump’ is where mothers who want to take some alcohol or alcoholic beverages do so and then later express the next first batch of breastmilk and pour it. According to Nutritionist Dorcas Munge, “the pump-and-dump may not work because certain types of alcohol take longer to leave the blood stream and hence traces of the same might still be found in the second batch of breastmilk”.

If you have alcohol in your blood stream then you have alcohol in your breastmilk as the alcohol can move freely in and out of the breastmilk. It also takes approximately 30 – 60 minutes for alcohol to reach the breastmilk or 60 – 90 minutes if it was consumed with food but this may vary with the type of alcohol consumed. Research also shows that it takes about 13 hours for a 54kg person to eliminate 1 high alcoholic drink like a spirit while other research gives 3 hours depending on the drink, quantity consumed and weight of the person. One thing for sure though is that if you still feel woozy then you still have alcohol in your blood stream and subsequently in your breastmilk.

page01The real question though is “does the pump and dump work?” According to research the only real reason for a mother to pump her breastmilk and pour it out would be to maintain the level of breastmilk being produced as well as ease any pain caused by missing a feeding session. Otherwise, the “pump and dump” does not work since as long as you have alcohol in your blood stream then you will have alcohol in your breastmilk.

However, we understand that mothers are human and might want to take a glass of wine during holiday celebrations. If you find it difficult to abstain, we advise that you express enough breastmilk in advance and store this safely and properly (read our breastmilk storage guide) for your baby to consume during feedings as you wait for the alcohol to leave your system. Also, drink in moderation as the more your drink the longer it takes to leave your bloodstream and most importantly talk this over with your doctor first to establish the correct amount of alcohol to consume for your body weight and how long this will take to leave your bloodstream.

We are happy to hear your thoughts on the myths mentioned above. Kindly share them on the comment section below and feel free to inbox us any pregnancy or parenting myths you will like us to explore. #HappyParenting

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