Drinking alcohol while pregnant or breastfeeding can be dangerous to both mother and baby. Alcohol’s effects are complex, but they can negatively impact both mother and child. Let us dive in together to discuss more about how alcohol gets in breast milk and how to prevent it.
The results are not just physiological: it can jeopardize your ability to remain the sole caretaker of your child. A woman’s ability to properly care for an infant is compromised while intoxicated, and her judgment and choices may not be sound. Many people struggle with addiction and substance abuse, but mothers are particularly susceptible to its dangers.
It is never recommended to drink alcohol while pregnant or breastfeeding. However, it may feel impossible to avoid if you’re deep into an alcohol use disorder (AUD). If you are struggling with these issues, please reach out to us today at 405-583-4390. We can help you manage your substance use and find a treatment path that’s right for you.
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Alcohol Lowers Milk Production
When a mother breastfeeds while drinking alcohol, she decreases the amount of milk available to her child. When a mother has five or more drinks, nursing will be disrupted because her milk letdown is decreased.
If you nurse after only one or two drinks, your baby’s milk intake can decrease by 20 to 23 percent. This will lead to irregular sleeping patterns and agitation in your baby since they do not get the nutrients needed when suckling. A baby can become frustrated when they nurse but can’t access the milk they are expecting. This pattern can then lead to problematic behavioral issues in the infant.
The baby may eventually quit nursing if they aren’t receiving a proper milk supply because they realize their nursing is fruitless. A breastfeeding infant will take in 20% less milk than they need when nursing from a mother that is partaking in alcohol abuse while breastfeeding.
The amount of alcohol in the mother’s blood and its presence in breast milk varies widely and depends on various factors. These include the number of drinks the infant takes, how quickly the mother consumes alcohol, or if the mother ate food. Additionally, the mother’s overall body weight and how quickly she metabolizes alcohol affects how much alcohol enters her breast milk.
You should nurse or pump your breast milk one hour before consuming alcohol while breastfeeding. You could lower the chances of there being alcohol in breast milk. This also helps ensure that your baby will receive the amount of nutritious milk they require.
Alcohol Levels in Breast Milk
The amount of alcohol found in breast milk closely parallels the amount of alcohol found in the mother’s blood. If a mother is suffering from alcohol abuse while breastfeeding, she needs to be aware that alcohol levels in her milk will be highest 30 to 60 minutes after she takes her last drink. Eating food with alcohol will widen this time frame.
It is recommended that women dealing with alcohol abuse while breastfeeding allow at least two to three hours to pass after their last drink before letting the infant consume breast milk. Women who are deep into drinking alcohol while breastfeeding is encouraged to formula feed their baby with a bottle.
There is no shame in using the formula for a baby when struggling with alcohol abuse while breastfeeding. Alcohol and breastfeeding can be problematic. Your decision to formula feed your infant instead of putting them at risk is the safest, most responsible choice.
Unfortunately, there are some stigmas about shaming mothers for not being able to breastfeed. Don’t let this affect you when dealing with breastfeeding while drinking alcohol. Formula provides the nutrition an infant needs to thrive. Your success as a mother is not tied to only doing natural breastfeeding.
Effects on the Baby from Alcohol
A mother indulging in alcohol abuse while breastfeeding can negatively affect their infant. Fluid retention, hormonal imbalances and sedation may occur. The baby’s early development will most likely be negatively impacted if you’re drinking during this important time in your life.
In one case study, a mother who consumed a large amount of alcohol while breastfeeding caused her infant’s physiology problems. The baby gained .06 pounds per day until they weighed almost 13 pounds by their fifth week of life. The infant was sleepless and overly restless for multiple days before he suffered from uncontrollable violent fits. The child also developed severe tonic-clonic seizures. The mother asked for medical intervention at that point, and a wet nurse fed the infant. Fortunately, the child dropped .44 pounds, almost half a pound in three days, and began sleeping normally.
There is research on mothers who drink alcohol while pregnant and women who participate in breastfeeding. For instance, the studies show that alcohol negatively affects:
- A baby’s motor development
- Changes their sleeping patterns
- Creates a risk for low blood sugar
- Decreases the amount of time they spend eating
While it is true that an infant gets a small percentage of the alcohol a mother drinks while breastfeeding, a newborn is unable to eliminate the alcohol in their system at the same rate of adults. Newborns process alcohol at about half the rate of grown women, so it’s much easier for a baby to feel the negative effects of alcohol while breastfeeding.
Pumping Breast Milk After Drinking
It is commonly thought that expressing your milk and dumping it after drinking will reduce the amount of alcohol in a your breastmilk. This is a false assumption as you’ll continue to produce alcohol laden breastmilk as long as there is alcohol in your own maternal bloodstream.
Breastfeeding, while drinking alcohol, will transfer alcohol into the milk regardless of a pump and dump. Since the mother’s blood alcohol level determines the alcohol content of breast milk, if there is alcohol in the mother’s system, it will be in the breast milk until the mother’s blood alcohol level has reduced.
The lower the blood alcohol level of a mother, the lower the alcohol concentration will be in her breast milk. If you are deep into alcohol abuse while breastfeeding, make sure that you are as sober as possible before feeding your infant.
Remember that formula feeding is always an option, and it can be the healthiest choice you can make. Allowing your baby to have a clean diet of the formula is much less damaging than providing bad milk because you’re breastfeeding while drinking alcohol.
It is fine to “pump and dump” in order to relieve your discomfort and to keep your milk on the proper expression timeline. However, it is important to remember that this activity does not address the alcohol levels in your breastmilk.
Rehabilitating While Breastfeeding
Realizing the dangers of drinking while pregnant and doing so while breastfeeding is an important first step in seeking the help you need to quit. Asking your doctor for a referral to a rehab specialist during a welfare check may be a great place to start actively seeking help.
Rehabilitative programs that center on the need to be present as a mother can help you end your addiction. It requires massive amounts of courage to ask for help during such a vulnerable time in your life, but recovery is possible.
Like any other chronic illness, you can manage addiction proactively, and with a great deal of success. You’ll learn how to deal with addiction’s powerful hold on your brain and regain a sense of control over your compulsive behaviors.
Sometimes going on medication helps navigate how to stop the cycle of alcohol abuse while breastfeeding. Most prescription medications are safe to use while nursing while simultaneously sparing your baby from the damages drinking can cause.
With a comprehensive rehabilitation program, you can reap the benefits of both changed brain chemistry and altered behavior. Programs specifically help you gain control of your alcohol abuse while breastfeeding.
Therapies in Rehab
Your treatment plan should cater to your specific needs, and a pregnant mother struggling with a drinking problem is no exception. Your medical, social, and psychiatric issues will be addressed alongside your need to be there fully for your baby.
Talk therapy is a great place to start if you’re confused about the rehabilitation process and nervous about mothering while dealing with alcohol and breastfeeding. You can speak to a confidential professional about your concerns while gaining tools that will help you change your behavior and attitude regarding alcohol abuse.
Talk therapy sets the foundation for developing healthier life skills in reaction to your environment. This kind of therapy can also bolster the effectiveness of psychiatric medications you may be on. It provides mindfulness tools that can assist you with temptation pitfalls that medication doesn’t address.
Outpatient treatment is also a great avenue for new mothers as it allows you to maintain control of your daily responsibilities. However, if your addiction mandates that inpatient will be better suited to conquering your abuse, some programs allow mothers to enter a full-time program with their child.
Taking part in a 12-step program (like Alcoholics Anonymous) for drinking alcohol while pregnant or addressing alcohol and breastfeeding can be a powerful tool toward your sobriety goals. AA meetings are prevalent in almost every community, and the individuals involved in that program can continue to support you from the beginning of your sobriety through long-term maintenance.
While AA doesn’t replace a rehabilitative program, it’s a great supplement to the care you’ll receive from the clinicians at your rehab center. You’ll be able to relate to others going through situations similar to your own.
Get Help While Breastfeeding
While rehabilitation isn’t easy, it can benefit both you and your infant. It takes a lot of courage to openly admit that you were drinking alcohol while pregnant and are continuing to consume alcohol while breastfeeding.
Rehabilitation that includes talk therapy will help guarantee that you will stay in treatment longer than going cold turkey off alcohol while ensuring a better chance of conquering your addiction.
Addiction specialists are standing by to help you consider your options. Drinking alcohol while pregnant is more common than you may think, and there are compassionate and confidential professionals standing by to help you navigate breastfeeding while drinking alcohol.
Don’t hesitate to seek support. We are here to answer any questions you have and to reassure you if you’re frightened of potential consequences. Reach out today to 405-583-4390 to speak with knowledgeable professionals about your specific journey toward sobriety.
Written by Kristen Holder
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