Alcohol While Breastfeeding?
It’s well established that there are clear threats to fetal brain development when pregnant women consume alcohol. But what is much less studied is the effect of alcohol consumption while breastfeeding. And this is an important question as some 36% of breastfeeding American women consume alcohol.
In a recent study, researchers used an animal model to gain some understanding of what happens to lactation when alcohol is consumed as well as its effects in terms of subsequent developmental consequences for offspring. This rigorous animal study, utilizing a mouse model, casts a spotlight on the potential dangers and long-term impact of alcohol intake during the breastfeeding phase.
The study’s strength lies in its precise methodology and meticulous attention to detail. The fact that it is an animal study made it easier to control for extraneous variables, thereby enhancing the reliability of the outcomes. However, as an animal study, the extent to which its findings can be generalized to humans is still a question that warrants further investigation. Nonetheless, we are able to derive some important information.
One of the study’s key findings is the deleterious effect of alcohol consumption on lactation, which, in turn, resulted in developmental deficits in the offspring. The implications of this result are profound, especially in the context of human health, and may warrant an urgent reconsideration of alcohol guidelines for lactating mothers. To be fair, it is important to note that the biological processes and lactation mechanisms in humans and mice are not entirely identical. Therefore, it is crucial to conduct further research to verify the extent of these findings within the human context.
A recommendation from this study is that it would be advisable for lactating women to significantly reduce their alcohol consumption, given the potential risks posed to their offspring’s development. While the study does not explicitly quantify the acceptable amount of alcohol during lactation, at the very least, it prompts a need for caution. More nuanced guidelines, based on additional research, would be of tremendous value in helping lactating mothers make informed decisions about alcohol consumption.
Checking the CDC posted guidelines as it relates to this question revealed the following:
Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding mothers. Generally, moderate alcohol consumption by a breastfeeding mother (up to 1 standard drink per day) is not known to be harmful to the infant, especially if the mother waits at least 2 hours after a single drink before nursing. However, exposure to alcohol above moderate levels through breast milk could be damaging to an infant’s development, growth, and sleep patterns. Alcohol consumption above moderate levels may also impair a mother’s judgment and ability to safely care for her child.
They also called attention that, aside from reducing lactation as this animal model suggests, alcohol does indeed make its way into breastmilk, and remains detectable for at least 2-3 hours per drink consumed. And, being a neurotoxin, alcohol can have a significant direct effect on brain development.
My conclusion is that women who are breastfeeding should not be drinking alcohol. Perhaps a workaround would be to pump and preserve breast milk before alcohol is consumed.