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In honor of World Breastfeeding Awareness Week, I figured there was no better time than to publish another topic regarding breastfeeding. I strongly believe in breastfeeding, though I also believe that women and families’ choices regarding the feeding of their child(ren) is ultimately up to them and therefore respect each individual choice. I also believe that breastfeeding isn’t well supported in our culture and society, though some wonderfully positive strides have been made.
There are many common topics and concerns for those that choose to breastfeed. It goes along with all the hype and the lack of social support and understanding, as well as the misinformation that is all widely available. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the unsolicited advice and opinions of others. All these factor into how and why women (and their partners) have difficulty in sustaining (or sometimes even beginning) their breastfeeding relationship and goals or desires.
One of the topics is that of consuming alcoholic beverages. Now, I could talk about the whole US idea that drinking during pregnancy is such a terrible no-no and if you do so, then you’re one of the worst mothers in the world. (Not true, by the way) But, I’m not going there. There is research published on the matter and here are links to a Slate article and Harvard article that summarizes some information. Regardless, I’m only going to address the topic of consuming small and reasonable amounts of alcohol while also breastfeeding. Simply put, this is not a terribly taboo and worst-mother-in-the-world act.
Think about it, if you don’t drink at all during pregnancy and also choose to breastfeed, for even a minimum of 6 months, you’ve already gone without drinking for at least 15 months. I mean, not drinking as in “I cannot drink for fear of harming my unborn child/infant/baby”. This, of course, is not the same as “I haven’t drank in 15 months”. See the difference in those two statements. One is wrought with fear and concern. The other, pure choice.
Now, one can argue that you can formula feed in order to be able to ‘choose’ to drink, at will. I’m not going into the issues that I personally have with that. If this is your choice, I give you the freedom to make it without judgement. At the same time, there’s pumping before drinking and therefore the concern about transmitting alcohol to your baby/child can be (mostly) eliminated. Pumping and having a supply to cover the time that you’d likely be drinking, as well as a considerable amount of time after (depending on how much you drink) is a responsible act, if you ask me. Even if you choose to do this, you likely need to also “pump and dump”, which basically means to pump and not save any milk that you think will be contaminated with alcohol.
These aren’t the only two options though when it comes to consuming alcohol while breastfeeding. Other than choosing not to drink any alcohol while breastfeeding, you can also responsibly drink an alcoholic beverage or two. Generally speaking, ensuring that your baby/child has been adequately fed prior to your consumption of alcohol and that your baby/child will not need to be fed for at least an hour after drinking alcohol, things will be alright. Now, this is granted your consumption of alcohol isn’t to the point of being drunk (which is different for everyone).
It’s important to take your baby/child’s age and nursing schedule in mind if you do plan to drink alcohol. For example, if your only a few weeks postpartum and want to drink but your baby/child is nursing every 30 minutes, it might be more helpful to have a really good supply of stored breast milk before drinking and then to “pump and dump”. On the other hand, if your baby/child is 6 months or older and nursing every 2-4 hours, then nursing before drinking and ensuring there’s some time after should be alright.
By following these few general guidelines, you can rest easy with a drink or two and still safely breastfeed your baby/child. Some other ways of doing this are to drink after you put your baby/child down for a long nap or bed at night. You don’t have to go out to drink, a glass or two of your preferred alcoholic beverage while watching a movie with your partner, playing a game with your partner or friends, having a late snack/hors d’oeuvre, or even just hanging out reading a book, bathing, or otherwise relaxing.
Additionally, if you’re planning on drinking heavily or drinking more than a glass or two of wine or liquor, I would suggest ensuring a stored supply of breast milk that will last a few feedings.
In fact, I’m having a small glass of wine while finishing up this post. Baby Boy has been nursed to sleep and is doing so soundly. Even still, remember to use your best judgement and always consult with a trusted healthcare professional to discuss any concerns or questions surrounding the issue of alcohol consumption and breastfeeding. (Quick note: This post was originally drafted when Baby Boy was 10 months old. Although, tempting, I did not have a glass of wine before 9am when I finalized the post for publishing.)
At the end of the day though, drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding, is a individual choice. Whatever your choice, the primary concern is keeping in mind the potential effects that alcohol consumption may have on your child. I am in no way condoning drinking alcohol in excess in general, let alone as a pregnant or breastfeeding mother. Additionally, I’m not a doctor or healthcare practitioner so I cannot tell you what to do, nor am I trying to. Always check with your preferred healthcare professional before making any decisions regarding alcohol consumption and keep them informed if you do choose to drink.