My daughter suffered from severe silent reflux for the first 10 months of her life. She would arch away from my breast, she’d scream and claw at me as I tried to feed her. 

My analytical mind began to question whether my child hated breastfeeding, and I could see some of those around me wondering the same thing.  However, my gut feeling was that she was struggling to feed because of pain, and I felt that until we got the right medical help any feeding method would provoke the same reaction. My instinct was to keep her at the breast, so we struggled on. One desperate night my husband called (yet another) breastfeeding counsellor and passed the phone to me. After listening to me witter on incoherently for several minutes she asked very calmly: ‘do you have any wine in the house?’.

We did, and my husband poured me a glass.

Call social services.

 
Indirectly, the counsellor was asking me to ‘chill’.  She realised that this panicky first-timer needed to take a step back.  She knew I was struggling to cope and needed a drink!  The upshot of it all was that I did as I was told. Having a little time out (and a glass of wine) helped me recharge enough to fight on until we got the right medication for my daughter. Together my daughter and I discovered the joys a ‘normal’ nursing relationship can bring for the first time.  
 
 How many breastfeeding mums do you know who drink alcohol?
 
How many breastfeeding mums do you know who drink alcohol to excess?
 
It is often said that common sense is not very common. The myth persists that you cannot drink and breastfeed. It’s even in the popular press.  So what is the truth?
 
This quote is taken from kellymom.com:
 
 “In general, if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed. Less than 2% of the alcohol consumed by the mother reaches her blood and milk. Alcohol peaks in mom’s blood and milk approximately 1/2-1 hour after drinking (but there is considerable variation from person to person, depending upon how much food was eaten in the same time period, mom’s body weight and percentage of body fat, etc.). Alcohol…. leaves the milk as it leaves the blood; so when your blood alcohol levels are back down, so are your milk alcohol levels.
 
“Always keep in mind the baby’s age when considering the effect of alcohol. A newborn has a very immature liver, so minute amounts of alcohol would be more of a burden. Up until around 3 months of age, infants detoxify alcohol at around half the rate of an adult. An older baby or toddler can metabolize the alcohol more quickly.”
 
In general, one unit (1/2 pint beer/ small glass of wine) of alcohol takes approximately one hour to be metabolised and leave the body.  
 
You can have a glass of wine, you just can’t have the whole bottle.
 
 How does drinking alcohol affect a breastfeeding mother and her baby? 
It seems to depend on how much you drink as well as what you drink. Beer, rather than pure alcohol has been “reported in a number of studies to stimulate prolactin levels and breastmilk production”
(Thomas W. Hale, R.Ph. Ph.D., member of the LLLI Health Advisory Council, in his book Medications and Mothers’ Milk)
Because this effect is not observed with other alcoholic drinks, it is presumed that “the polysaccharide from barley may be the prolactin-stimulating component of beer. Non-alcoholic beer is equally effective“.  
However – we also need to consider the other effects of alcohol on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding children seem to feed more frequently after their mother has a drink, but they consume less milk. Excessive (abusive) alcohol intake can inhibit the nursing mum’s milk-ejection reflex (the ‘let-down’).
In addition, mothers who abuse alcohol may not feed their babies as often and this can result in poor weight gain or a sleepy baby.

 

So what does all this mean for those of us who like a drink but don’t abuse the privilege?

 

Dr Jack Newman is a member of the La Leche League International’s Health Advisory Council. In section 5 of this article he deals with the issue of breastfeeding and alcohol.
 

“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. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.”

 

Dr Newman is a very wise man 😉

Like everything else in life, the issue of how much alcohol you drink (whether breastfeeding or not) is about weighing the risks against the benefits.

 

If you want to have more than one or two drinks in an evening, you can consider expressing your milk in advance to avoid any possibility of your baby ingesting alcohol thtough your milk. You can time your drinking so that any alcohol will be out of your system before you nurse again. This is harder with very young babies but a doddle when they’re older.  The truly saintly amongst us can even buy little ‘test strips’ which will tell you if there’s alcohol traces in your milk.

 

More information about ‘pumping and dumping’ is here.
Even the celebs are doing it these days!

 

I wonder how many new mothers in the first couple of months of their baby’s life honestly have the inclination or energy to drink a lot anyway? I know I didn’t! Wondering about whether I should drink alcohol or not just didn’t happen. I followed my instinct, in the same way I did when my daughter was struggling with her silent reflux.
To quote another wise woman I’ve met on my mothering journey:
 
 “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”.

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