Alcohol and Breastfeeding, Dangers, Effects, Alcohol and Milk Production, Symptoms of Alcoholism & Dual Diagnosis Rehab Washington

Research about drinking alcohol and breastfeeding Breastfeeding mothers and lactating parents often receive conflicting advice about whether alcohol consumption can have an effect on their baby. While warnings are often given not to consume alcohol during pregnancy due to evidence that it could cause damage to an unborn child, the risks of consuming alcohol and […]

Research about drinking alcohol and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding mothers and lactating parents often receive conflicting advice about whether alcohol consumption can have an effect on their baby. While warnings are often given not to consume alcohol during pregnancy due to evidence that it could cause damage to an unborn child, the risks of consuming alcohol and breastfeeding have not received as much research attention. A number of studies have focused on the effects of alcohol on lactation and the infant, but long-term outcomes are still unknown.

Especially when it is consumed in large amounts, alcohol can cause drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness, and abnormal weight gain in the infant. There is also the possibility of decreased milk-ejection reflex in the mother. No harmful effects to babies have been found when breastfeeding mothers drink no more than one drink a day.

Depending on how much alcohol you consume before you nurse your baby, may experience a number of effects from the alcohol in your milk. Even a small to moderate amount of alcohol may impair milk production and the milk ejection reflex. Some of the negative effects on the baby may be:

  • Increased REM sleep in the period from 3.5 hours to 24 hours after exposure to alcohol
  • Decreased milk intake by the baby
  • Decreased weight gain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased crying
  • Increased startling
  • Increased arousal
Alcohol and breastfeeding
If you suffer from alcoholism, stopping drinking may be a challenge, even if that involves the well-being of your baby.

Potentially, depending on how much you drink and when you nurse your baby after drinking, there may be other, more severe effects on your baby as well. As a result, the guidance on drinking and nursing is changing. According to the CDC, “moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men”. 

In brief, LactMed®, a database that contains information on drugs and other chemicals to which those who are breastfeeding may be exposed, offers the following information:

“Breastmilk alcohol levels closely parallel blood alcohol levels. The highest alcohol levels in milk occur 30 to 60 minutes after an alcoholic beverage, but food delays the time of peak milk alcohol levels. Nursing after 1 or 2 drinks (including beer) can decrease the infant’s milk intake by 20 to 23% and cause infant agitation and poor sleep patterns. Nursing or pumping within 1 hour before ingesting alcohol may slightly reduce the subsequent amounts of alcohol in breastmilk.”

Infants exposed to a significant amount of alcohol (0.3 g/kg parent’s body weight) through drinking human milk, spend significantly less time in both active and total sleep. REM sleep is also disrupted.  As infants are less able to process alcohol than adults due to their immature systems, some researchers believe that the dosage they receive through their mother’s/lactating parent’s milk may be stronger than it would be in an adult. In research conducted by Mennella and Garcia-Gomez, when an infant’s exposure occurred within 3.5 hours of a mother/lactating parent consuming a significant amount of alcohol, the effects were stronger.

In the following 24-hour period, sleep patterns continued to be disrupted as the infant makes up for the earlier disruption. In addition, the research showed that during times when the infants were awake, they were less active.

Can alcohol and breastfeeding stimulate milk production?

A long-standing “old wives’ tale” regarding the consumption of alcohol, particularly beer, while breastfeeding, is that it can help boost milk production. While a barley component in beer–not the alcohol–does boost prolactin production, alcohol alone does so as well. However, in one study, milk production was actually decreased. In addition, in their research on alcohol consumption in lactating women, it was found that alcohol also inhibits the milk ejection reflex and thus reduces the baby’s milk intake.

The research shows that nursing infants actually consumed less milk in the three-to-four-hour period after mothers consumed a small to moderate amount of alcohol. When a mother/lactating parent drinks alcohol and then breastfeeds their baby, their perception is that the baby nurses normally and for a normal time, so they do not realize that their baby is not getting as much milk. According to Menella, who conducted this research on this over a period of years, “infants consumed approximately 20% less breast milk”.

This was the case even though the infants nursed a “similar number of times during the first 4 hr after exposure to alcohol in mothers’ milk” (pp. 591-592) compared with nursing infants not exposed to alcohol in their mother’s milk. Similarly, additional research conducted by Menella and Beauchamp showed that infants consumed about 23% less milk. Menella also found that when pumping milk two hours after drinking alcohol, mothers obtained significantly less milk.

Current evidence shows that, rather than producing more milk for your baby by drinking alcohol, the effects of alcohol on your body actually mean your baby will get less of your valuable milk. Why is this?

Mennella, Pepino, and Teff found that alcohol significantly reduces oxytocin levels while also increasing prolactin levels. Both hormones influence the milk ejection reflex. The lower the level of oxytocin, the longer the delay in the ejection of milk. The higher the level of prolactin, the longer the delay. The combination of alcohol’s effect on the two hormones leads to a significant delay in milk ejection.

Dangers of alcohol and breastfeeding

Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed by the mother/lactating parent, and depending on when the baby is breastfed after alcohol consumption, various researchers have found the most common negative outcomes for the baby to be:

  • Sleep disturbances, including shorter sleep periods, more frequent wakefulness, and less total active and REM sleep in the three-hour-period after consuming alcohol
  • Increased crying
  • Increased startling
  • Increased arousal
  • Increased REM sleep in the period from 3.5 hours to 24 hours after exposure to alcohol
  • Decreased milk intake by the baby
  • Growth retardation
  • Impaired immune function
  • Delay of motor development
  • Potential impairment of cognitive development
  • Reduction in the ability for abstract reasoning at school age (6-7 years)

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine state in Clinical Protocol #21 that consuming alcohol during lactation has several negative effects ranging from mild to severe. This is dependent on the amount of alcohol the mother/lactating parent has consumed and other factors related to how quickly their body processes alcohol.

As alcohol is completely water- and fat-soluble, it enters the bloodstream and human milk very easily. The amount of alcohol in human milk after consumption of one standard drink is about 95% that of the amount of alcohol in the mother/lactating parent’s bloodstream.

Another review, conducted by Nonacs, showed that motor development of infants who were exposed to alcohol in human milk regularly was decreased or delayed. The more alcohol the infants consumed through breast milk, the lower the infants scored on indices of motor development. Infants cannot metabolize alcohol as quickly as adults can; newborns can only metabolize alcohol at 25% to 50% of the rate at which adults can.

Alcohol and breastfeeding
The amount of alcohol in human milk after consumption of one standard drink is about 95% that of the amount of alcohol in the mother/lactating parent’s bloodstream.

Concerns about negative effects on the infant’s developing brain are based on animal research. Oei notes that “robust animal data” indicate that “alcohol may be toxic to the developing brain, especially during periods of rapid brain development” such as occur in the first year after birth. Impairments to memory and inhibitory responses may also occur as a result of an infant’s consumption of alcohol.

Though research continues, Haastrup, Pottegård, and Damkier stated that “the possible long-term effects of alcohol in mother’s milk are unknown”.

Warnings about alcohol and breastfeeding

Several sources offer safety suggestions to consider when breastfeeding and drinking alcohol.

  • Be aware that newborns cannot metabolize alcohol well; if possible avoid drinking alcohol until your baby is at least 8 weeks old or older
  • Breastfeed your baby immediately before drinking any alcoholic beverage, if possible, or pump and save your milk.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to one (preferably) or two glasses of wine (8 ounces total) or one or two beers (see “How Is One Drink Defined” for more information on amounts of alcohol)
  • Wait at least 2 hours after drinking one standard drink before breastfeeding your baby.
  • Be aware that the more you drink, the longer it takes for the alcohol to clear your system.
  • If your baby needs to be nursed before two hours or more is up, use your previously expressed milk to feed your baby.
  • Drink juice when drinking alcohol
  • Eat food when drinking alcohol–it will slow the rate at which alcohol enters your bloodstream.
  • “Pump and dump” only if needed for comfort. As long as there is alcohol in your bloodstream, there will be alcohol in your milk.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

As stated by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, these are the signs to be aware of in terms of this condition: 

  • Appearing intoxicated more regularly
  • Appearing tired, unwell, or irritable
  • An inability to say no to alcohol
  • Becoming secretive or dishonest
  • Drinking more, or longer than one intended
  • Want to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but haven’t been able to do so 
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, being sick, or getting over the aftereffects
  • Experiencing craving, a strong need, or an urge to drink
  • Founding that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interferes with taking care of your home or family, job troubles, or school problems
  • Continuing drinking even though it was causing trouble with family or friends
  • Giving up or cutting back on activities that are important or interesting to you, in order to drink
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)
  • Continuing to drink even though it was making you feel depressed, anxious, or adding to another health problem, or after having had a memory blackout
  • Having to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want. Or finding that your usual number of drinks have much less effect than before
  • Finding that when the effects of alcohol are wearing off, you have withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating.

Types of Behavioral Treatments for Alcohol Treatment

  • Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy for alcoholism: The type of therapy that can take place one-on-one with a therapist or in small groups. This form of therapy is focused on identifying the feelings and situations (called “cues”) that lead to heavy drinking and managing stress that can lead to relapse. The goal is to change the thought processes that lead to alcohol misuse and to develop the skills necessary to cope with situations that might trigger problem drinking.
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy: It is conducted over a short period of time to build and strengthen motivation to change drinking behavior. The therapy focuses on identifying the pros and cons of seeking alcohol treatment, forming a plan for making changes in one’s drinking, building confidence, and developing the skills needed to stick to the plan.
  • Marital and Family Counseling: This therapy for alcohol treatment incorporates spouses and other family members in the treatment process and can play an important role in repairing and improving family relationships. Studies show that strong family support through family therapy increases the chances of maintaining abstinence, compared with clients undergoing individual counseling.
Alcohol and breastfeeding
Cognitive–Behavioral Therapy for alcoholism can take place one-on-one with a therapist or in small groups.
  • Brief Interventions: These are short, one-on-one, or small-group counseling sessions that are time-limited. The counselor provides information about the individual’s drinking pattern and potential risks. After the client receives personalized feedback, the counselor will work with him or her to set goals and provide ideas for helping to make a change.

Reclaim Your Life From Alcohol and Breastfeeding with Dual Diagnosis Rehab Washington

If you’re facing the challenges of alcohol addiction and its impact on your breastfeeding journey, We Level Up Washington is here to support you. We specialize in treating the co-occurring mental health issues often accompanying substance abuse, including alcohol addiction. We understand the complexities of this situation and are dedicated to providing comprehensive care to address your mental health needs.

While we do not provide detox services, we recognize that alcoholism can be a significant hurdle to overcome, especially when considering your baby’s well-being. Seeking a safe and medically supervised medical detox is essential for those struggling with alcohol addiction. We can provide guidance and support in connecting you with trusted detox resources.

With our expertise in dual diagnosis and mental health treatment, we can help you navigate the underlying mental health issues that may contribute to your alcohol addiction. Our compassionate team of professionals will work closely with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs and supports your journey toward recovery.

At We Level Up Washington, we believe in a comprehensive approach to care that combines evidence-based therapies, medication management, and holistic practices to promote overall well-being. We offer various levels of care tailored to your specific requirements, from intensive therapy in the early stages of recovery to ongoing support in a comfortable and nurturing environment.

If you or someone you love seeks a compassionate and secure resource for addressing alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health concerns, We Level Up Washington is here to help. Contact us today to speak with an addiction counselor about our range of care options and how we can support you on your path to healing.

We Level Up Washington Mental Health Center: Primary Mental Health Treatment with Secondary Co-Occurring Treatments

The We Level Up Washington primary mental health center is dedicated to providing comprehensive support. We offer secondary treatment programs specifically tailored to address the underlying issues associated with alcohol addiction, which often contribute to harmful behaviors. Taking that crucial step towards seeking professional assistance can be genuinely transformative.

We understand the significant impact that co-occurring mental health disorders and alcohol addiction can have on individuals. At the We Level Up Washington treatment center, our evidence-based mental health treatments form the foundation of our recovery programs, guiding you towards improved well-being. Reach out to us today for a complimentary mental health assessment!

While our primary focus is on mental health treatment at our Washington facility, we may be able to provide recommendations for inpatient medical detox and residential primary addiction treatment through affiliated We Level Up Treatment Centers located outside of Washington.