Business Insider Edition

Data says it's fine to have a drink or two while breastfeeding

Emily Oster, 'Cribsheet' , Business Insider US
 May 10, 2019, 12:29 PM
PLEIKU, VIETNAM - 2018/10/04: Mother breastfeeding
Photo by Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • It's OK to have a drink while breastfeeding, according to the data that author Emily Oster breaks down in her new book "Cribsheet". 
  • The alcohol level in your milk is about the same as your blood alcohol level.
  • Since the baby consumes the milk and not the alcohol directly, the level of alcohol they are exposed to is extremely low.
  • As blood alcohol level goes down, so does milk alcohol level. Therefore, there is no need to pump and dump.
  • For more, go to Business Insider South Africa.

What about alcohol? Many women hear-from the internet, typically not from their doctors-that they should avoid alcohol altogether, or that if they drink at all, they should "pump and dump." On the other side, some people will tell you that having alcohol (beer, specifically) will increase your milk supply. So you should have more! Are either of these true?

No, not really.

When you drink, the alcohol level in your milk is about the same as your blood alcohol level. The baby consumes the milk, not the alcohol directly, so the level of alcohol they are exposed to is extremely low. One paper carefully calculates that even if you had four drinks very quickly and then breastfed at the maximum blood alcohol level, the baby would still only be exposed to a very, very low concentration of alcohol, one that is extremely unlikely to have any negative effects. And this is in a kind of "worst-case scenario".

This paper cautions that drinking four drinks quickly will impair your ability to parent and is not healthy, so it should be avoided, but the issue isn't alcohol in your breast milk. Therefore, there is no need to pump and dump. The milk has the same alcohol concentration as your blood. As that goes down, so does the milk alcohol level. It isn't stored in the milk.

Given this, it is not surprising that we do not find much evidence of the impact of a mother's alcohol consumption on her infant. There are some reports that babies sleep in shorter intervals when they consume milk after their mom has been drinking, but this isn't supported in all studies. And no long-term impacts have been identified.

What if you want to be super, super cautious and not expose your baby to alcohol at all? No problem. You can have a drink, but you need to wait for two hours afterward to let the alcohol metabolise before breastfeeding. For two drinks, that increases to four hours.

These studies all caution-correctly-that we do not know much about binge drinking, or frequent heavy drinking (three or more drinks every day). Many women who binge drink frequently also did so during pregnancy, and they differ in other ways from women who do not binge drink.

Even if you are not pregnant or nursing, binge drinking isn't good for your health. Binge drinking during pregnancy is very dangerous for your baby, and after birth, it will impair your ability to parent.

On the flip side, I'm sorry to report that drinking does not improve your milk supply. If anything, it may lessen it a bit, so if you are struggling with supply early on, do not consider alcohol as a supply booster.

From CRIBSHEET: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster. Reprinted by arrangement of Penguin Press, part of the Penguin Random House company. Copyright (c) 2019 by Emily Oster.

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