Yes, it is safe to drink and breastfeed

Yes, it is safe to drink and breastfeed

Mother and child

After a long pregnancy, I was looking forward to my first refreshing beer. But I worried about what impact having a drink would have on my breast milk. There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there.

I recently stumbled on this fantastic blog post by Jennifer Heisleman Ingalls demystifying breastfeeding and alcohol consumption. I wish I’d seen it 11 months ago, when I first nervously held my newborn boy and desperately wondered if I was being too cavalier, too selfish, accepting advice that it was okay to have a drink and breastfeed.

The punchline is that your milk’s alcohol content follows your blood alcohol content (BAC). This alcohol percentage is extremely low. To be legally intoxicated in the US, you need a BAC of 0.08%. That’s about 80 mg of ethanol for every 1 dL of blood. Or about 80 mg per 3.4 oz. of breast milk. Orange juice typically contains 64-70 mg of ethanol in the same volume!

An intrepid forensic biologist and mommy blogger, Erika, decided to conduct her own experimental study of her breast milk. She drank 2 oz of 80-proof vodka (40% alcohol by volume) and pumped milk samples 30 minutes and 1.5 hours after finishing. The first sample registered 14 mg per dL (0.014%) and the second registered no alcohol, 0.0 mg (0.000%). She did a follow-up with two 6 oz glasses of wine and half a beer (sounds like a good night). An hour after starting her last drink, her milk contained 38 mg per dL (0.038%) and another hour later she was down to 6.3 mg per dL (0.0063%).

So having a drink and breastfeeding exposes your baby to less alcohol than giving them a glass of orange juice.

But what if even such small amounts are dangerous? After all, the recommendation is to completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

As OJ lovers out there might suspect, these levels are fine. A study of over 400 nursing mothers showed no correlation between maternal drinking and infant mental development after 1 year. The only effect found was a small but significant difference in motor skills for infants of mothers who were heavy drinkers (one or more alcoholic beverages daily). But infants of mothers who drank less often than every. damn. day. showed no significant difference in motor skills.

So Prost, my fellow mamas. Enjoy that beer and rest easy. Heck, the brewer’s yeast in your pint might just increase milk production (although more studies are needed).

Banner and featured image: Robert Whitehead | Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

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