Is there a safe level of alcohol consumption while breastfeeding?
In answer to this question, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding mothers. However, moderate alcohol consumption (up to 1 standard drink/day) is not known to be harmful to the infant, especially if the mother waits two hours after consuming the drink to feed her baby.”
However, exposure of the infant to alcohol above moderate levels through breast milk may adversely affect the development, growth as well as sleep pattern of the infant. And, more than moderate consumption of alcohol may also impair the mother’s judgment and ability to safely care for her child.
The CDC also cautions that the “pump and dump” method (expressing or pumping milk after drinking alcohol, and then discarding it) that many women use to remove alcohol from their breast milk after having a drink does not achieve this intended objective. Breast milk continues to contain alcohol as long as alcohol is still in the bloodstream of the mother.
Alcohol levels are usually highest in breast milk 30-60 minutes after an alcoholic drink is consumed.
The duration for which alcohol remains in the breast milk depends upon the amount of alcohol consumed by the mother. Alcohol can be detected in the breast milk for 2-3 hours after one drink; after three drinks, alcohol can be detected in the breast milk for up to 8 hours.
Higher levels of alcohol consumption also interfere with the milk ejection reflex (letdown) while maternal alcohol levels are high. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption could lead to shortened breastfeeding duration due to decreased milk production.
Definitions of a “standard drink” (1 ml alcohol = 0.8 g) differ, both within and between countries.
• A standard drink in the US contains 14 g of alcohol. Examples would be 5 oz. of 12% wine, 12 oz. of 5% beer, 1.5 ounces of 40% (80 proof) liquor or 8 oz. of 7% malt liquor, the CDC says.
• Great Britain: 8 g alcohol
• Japan: 19.75 g alcohol
• India: 10 g alcohol
• Patiala peg: 20 g alcohol
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Elect Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA
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