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Celebrating Breastfeeding Awareness Week: Can You Drink Alcohol and Breastfeed?

(Disclaimer: Whether to drink alcohol and breastfeed should be discussed with your OB/GYN.)

"You are not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor should you feel the world must live up to yours" – F Perl

Recently, someone asked me when a breastfeeding mother can begin partying again. Otherwise expressed as, "When can I get it in?!" or "When can I start drinking???" Lest you think that this question was posed by someone in need of the twelve step program, it wasn't. It was posed by very caring and thoughtful moms who want to give their babies every advantage, but also want to resume a bit of their former lives.

If you are a purist and believe that breastfeeding moms should absolutely not consume alcohol ever, don't write me or use this blog post as yet another sign of why America is going down the tubes. Instead, stop reading. For all others, please see below for my tips about how to breastfeed and maintain your sanity...

Can you drink alcohol and breastfeed?

During our pregnancies, most American women sacrifice their desires for the health of their babies. We abstain from drinking, smoking, and staying up too late. We gladly make those sacrifices because most moms are scared.  Also, we do not want to carry the guilt of doing something that might harm our baby in utero. Everyone understands that things can happen, but who wants to think that the shot of tequila they had while pregnant is why their baby fails to thrive and is born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome??? No matter how rare the tequila or how much it costs, it just ain't worth it. Also, let's be real, there is something profoundly uncomfortable about seeing a pregnant woman take shots. Even in the 60's, before we were advised against drinking and smoking during pregnancy, women had the good sense to drink slowly from a martini glass ala January Jones on "Mad Men".

After we deliver, whether we should drink alcohol is less clear. Some believe that "teetotalling is next to godliness".  I think that philosophy is a bit extreme for a couple of reasons.  I think that it places an inordinate amount of pressure on women.  It also decreases the likelihood that American women will be able to commit to breastfeeding for the one year recommended by the American Pediatrics Association and makes it a near certainty that none will breastfeed for two years as recommended by the World Health Organization.  Also, the science doesn't necessarily support that practice.  In Europe, women drink wine throughout their pregnancies and they don't have a higher rate of babies born with birth defects.  So, I am hard pressed to believe that drinking alcohol post-pregnancy would have a more dramatic effect.

You can drink alcohol and breastfeed, but not at the same time.

I'm not a physician, but I have successfully breastfed two children and chatted with physicians about it. Here's what I have learned, drinking in moderation after the first three months is fine.  For the first three months you're likely to be too distracted and sleep deprived to want alcohol anyway.  Also, it takes a while to develop your taste for it again. 

Five Tips on How to Breastfeed and Have a Life

  1. Be smart about drinking.   
  2. Don't binge drink.  (I am hard pressed to think how you could manage to do that and do morning feedings anyway.  However, I thought I'd include that for my hard core party moms.)
  3. Don't drink to get drunk.  (If you forget this tip, you'll quickly learn it as you will not be able to function as a mom very well with a hangover.) As one doctor says, "if you can't drive your car, you can't nurse your baby."
  4. If you're breastfeeding exclusively, wait until the baby is asleep to drink. That way, you'll have a good 6-8 hours for the alcohol to get out of your system before you have to nurse again.
  5. Have a good supply of frozen milk on hand to use if you forget points 1-4. This will ensure that your baby has an adequate supply of nourishment and you don't have to resort to using formula.  (For those moms who use formula, that's your choice. I am assuming that anyone who's struggling with this issue doesn't want to do that, OK. Chaton's World is a place for formula using moms too!)
My approach is supported by some doctors.  See, They believe that the benefits to the baby of breastfeeding longer is tremendous and women should do whatever they can to breastfeed as long as possible.  For some women that means, drinking alcohol on occasion so that they can easily incorporate breastfeeding into their lives.  As a lawyer, I am required to say, "I am not a doctor. This post does not contain medical advice.  Please review anything that you read here with your treating doctor."  

Cool Breastfeeding Mom Pledge: "We agree to love and care for our babies.  We vow to abstain from all liquors of an intoxicating quality whether ale, porter, wine or ardent spirits, except as medicine during the first three months of our babies lives. After the three months, we pledge to live our lives to the fullest and drink responsibly, if we choose."

Check out this link to "Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami" where Kourtney Kardashian discusses breastfeeding and drinking:  She shows moms how to test the alcohol content in their milk, which can come in handy if you get a little carried away...

At the end of the day, I am about moms supporting moms.  So, I hope this post helps those who asked me the question as well as others.

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