Why Alcohol Is Not Good for Breastfeeding Mothers and Their Babies
Partying moms, and moms who have developed the habit of having a glass of wine or two with dinner, had to forgo their alcohol-consuming ways during their pregnancy in order to protect the young one they have inside their wombs. But when the baby has been delivered and the mother has begun breastfeeding, the question always is whether or not they can go back to consuming alcohol without endangering their babies.
Research has shown that alcohol consumption does not pose any harm to breastfeeding mothers. They can enjoy a drink or two if they want to. The caveat here, however, is that they cannot nurse their babies while they are still under the influence of the spirits.
Why is this so? So that we can understand why, we need to take a look at how a woman’s body processes alcohol and how breastfeeding while under the influence of alcohol can be harmful to the baby.
Metabolizing Alcohol in the Mother
One of the common misconceptions about alcohol consumption among breastfeeding mothers is that the alcohol they drink gets stored in their breast milk. This is why some mothers pump and dump their breast milk for 24 hours after they have had a few drinks.
Researchers say that it is not true. Instead, when a nursing mother has a drink of wine, beer or any liquor, the alcohol stays in the blood stream. The alcohol simply passes through the breast milk but it never stays there.
However, it takes time for the alcohol to dissipate from the system, around two hours per drink. The rate by which a woman metabolizes alcohol also depends on her weight. Women with more body fat tend to metabolize more slowly than lean women. A mother will have to wait until she is sober before she can nurse her baby.
Metabolizing Alcohol in the Baby
Only a tiny fraction of the alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby during breastfeeding. The problem here is that babies have a much slower rate of metabolism than adults. If the alcohol gets cleared out of the mother’s system within two hours, it can take a lot more than that for the alcohol to get out of the baby’s body. By that time, the alcohol in the breast milk would have already caused some problems regarding the baby’s development.
These problems would not be as serious as those observed in babies with fetal alcohol syndrome, but they cannot be ignored either. Babies that have been exposed to alcohol through breastfeeding sometimes have their growth stunted because they are not getting enough of the nutrition they need. Studies have shown that the smell of alcohol turns a baby off from his or her mother’s milk and would feed less, if not refuse to feed outright. The lack of proper nutrition in babies resulting from this can also lead to impairment of motor functions and changing in the baby’s sleeping patterns.
Breastfeeding mothers who have had one or two drinks are always advised to wait until they are sober before they nurse their babies. But one cannot be sure that the alcohol has already cleared the mother’s system before she feeds her baby. The best way to find out for sure is to use a home alcohol testing kit for breast milk that chemically examines breast milk for traces of alcohol. These kits are highly effective and work within a couple of minutes. They are also inexpensive.