Alcohol and breastfeeding: What are the risks?

Dear Doctor,

I am still breastfeeding a 6-month-old baby and I haven’t really been out since I gave birth. I was wondering, how soon can I have an alcoholic drink and when is it safe to breastfeed after I’ve taken some alcohol?

Lucy

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Dear Lucy,

What you are experiencing is something billions of women across the globe can relate to.

Once you have a baby, it is a 24-hour job. The new-born baby needs frequent feeds, and change of diapers. Her sleep/wake cycle is not set yet. Hence, the baby can sleep throughout the day and stay awake throughout the night. All this makes baby care both exhausting and monotonous over time. Therefore, it is natural to feel the urge for a change in the routine for rejuvenation and relaxation. This can be in many forms, like going out to meet friends, watching a movie, travelling to a new place, and etcetera. But alcohol should never be part of the enjoyment.

Alcohol is neither healthy for the mother, nor the baby. On a regular basis, it tends to damage the brain and nervous system, the liver, heart, blood vessels and hormonal system. Levels of alcohol in the breast milk are the same as in the blood. It passes to the baby through breast milk. A new-born infant exposed to alcohol can develop physical and mental abnormalities and her growth can be affected. Quantity of breast milk produced can be reduced due to the effect of alcohol. This happens because alcohol causes hormonal disruption. The result is the baby is deprived of adequate nutrition and benefits provided by breast milk.

After consumption, the level of alcohol peaks in the blood within 30 to 60 minutes, if taken on an empty stomach, and a little longer if taken after food. It clears in around two hours or may take a little longer. Therefore, if a woman has a strong urge to drink alcohol, she may drink immediately after a meal and that too in moderation. That is, she should not drink regularly and the small quantity consumed should be spread over the week. But when somebody becomes habituated to alcohol, drinking in moderation becomes difficult. The body cells become habituated to alcohol, creating a craving for alcohol and the amount consumed is also increased slowly, without the person being aware of it. As one takes more and more alcohol, the damage to body parts, mind and the baby become more and more. The higher the concentration of alcohol in the drink taken, the more the harm. Therefore, branded beers and wine cause comparatively less damage, but hard drinks like crude home brewed beers, whiskeys, and etcetera, are more
harmful.

Therefore, considering the harmful effects of alcohol on the mother and baby is prudent. So avoid alcohol completely while pregnant and even during breastfeeding.
                        
Dr. Rachna   Pande is a specialist in internal medicine. 

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