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Will Your New Year’s Celebration Harm Your Baby?

Keeping in mind that I drink a glass of wine MAYBE once every month (the Cranberry Wine from Sorrenti is a seasonal favorite in our house), and I’ve got some “sparkling cider” chilling in the garage to ring in the New Year with…so its not like I’m some kind of a lush…

It’s New Year’s Eve Day and so the internet is awash in what else…an article that intends to instill fear in breastfeeding mothers who just wanted to enjoy a toast to the New Year…

Mother Kills Son While Breastfeeding Him Drunk” reads the headline…which is of course eye catching.  But the story its self is full of holes.

The story contends that the mother drank a liter of Port, which resulted in her blood alcohol content being 2.5%.  Most people are unconscious at a blood alcohol somewhere between 0.3-0.39% and death comes around 0.5%. How was this woman somehow still able to breastfeed her baby with a blood alcohol level of 2.5%?  And would one liter of Port really have given a woman a blood alcohol level that high?  By my calculations using a chart on Wikipedia, a woman weighing 120 lbs would actually need to consume more like 5 liters of port to get a 2.5% alcohol level.  That’s some serious drinking…

Assuming there was a typo in the article and the woman had a lower blood alcohol level…lets say even 1%…her baby would need to take in about 12 oz of milk to end up with a blood alcohol level of 0.4 (extrapolating from the Wikipedia chart for an 8 lb baby). How many two week old baby’s take in that much milk?

I suggest that something else was done to that baby to result in a 0.4% blood alcohol level…like giving the Port directly to the baby.But the resulting discussions have led to many recommendations to “pump and dump.”

For the average woman who has a couple of drinks, there really is no need to pump & dump in my opinion. The amount of alcohol her baby would get in her milk is miniscule. I’m not alone.  Dr. Jack Newman, renowned for his expertise in breastfeeding, has said:

Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.

La Leche League recommends against pumping and dumping because it doesn’t work.  You will simply make new milk that has alcohol in it.  Once the alcohol is cleared from your blood stream, it also clears from any milk that was already in your breasts.

In one Facebook discussion a mother mentioned having used alcohol detection test strips specifically made for breastfeeding, and being surprised at how little she needed to drink to get a positive result (I do get the impression that it took her at least 3 drinks to get a positive result)


The test strips are…well…a marketting ploy in my mind.  The description of them uses phrases like “alcohol concentrated in breastmilk” and “recommended feeding guidelines” [for alcohol concentration in breastmilk].  But alcohol does not “concentrate” in the breastmilk, it is in the same concentration as it is in the blood.  Further, where are the “recommended feeding guidelines” coming from?  Neither La Leche League or The American Academy of Pediatrics say anything about recommended maximum alcohol concentration in breastmilk. 

The strips test positive for alcohol at 0.02% alcohol, while admitting that it takes at least a level of 0.03% alcohol level to have any impact on the baby. To put this amount in some perspective…wine has about 12% alcohol, so its like putting about 1/100th of an ounce of wine in a 5 oz bottle of milk. Of course they don’t tell you that the impact on the baby is only short term…the baby will nurse more frequently for a few hours, and take in less milk (because mom is making less milk–so it is kind of debatable whether the impact is due to the alcohol directly, or due to the mom’s lowered milk supply which was caused by the alcohol), but then will make up the missed milk intake during hours 8-16 after the mother has stopped drinking alcoholic drinks.

So my thoughts?  Enjoy a glass of champagne or two tonight.  And once you get back to your baby, don’t feel guilty about breastfeeding.

What do you think is a safe policy on alcohol consumption for a woman who is breastfeeding?

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Posted in Birth in the news and Food Friday and Home and Protecting the fun out of Childhood 2 years, 11 months ago at 6:20 pm.

7 comments

7 Replies

  1. Vanessa Peterson Dec 31st 2011

    Thank you for posting this - I’m so tired of women having all sorts of restrictions that have little or no merit. Cheers!

  2. Michaela Dec 31st 2011

    It’s my understanding that TIME is the best way of dealing with alcohol intake. Breasts are closer to the circulatory system, and so you can way an hour or so until the alcohol leaves your system and THEN breastfeed. The only reason I can see to pump and dump might be if your boobs become engorged while drinking alcohol and pumping relieves the pressure.

  3. Hi!

    It appears they’ve slipped a little typo into the english version of this piece. Her blood alcohol level was 0,2% and the baby’s was 0,04%, which apparently can be fatal to a two-week-old.

    My theory is, the mom slipped some port wine to the baby directly, to stop baby from crying (and thus interrupting her bingeing). Another possibility is that she’s been drinking since the baby was born: Getting REALLY drunk every day and exposing the newborn to alcohol every single day of his/her life might also be enough to ruin baby’s liver.

    That, of course, is very different from us average moms having one or two, maybe even three drinks a night every now and then. Usually with babies a little older than two weeks. With a blood alcohol level of 0.2%, a person shouldn’t be anywhere near a small child, even if they’re not breastfeeding! They might get idiotic ideas into their head, like feeding baby a spoonful or two of portwine, to get them to sleep through the night and stop interrupting.

    I agree Saga. My thought was that the mom likely was giving the baby alcohol directly. And yes, it is possible too that she was drinking heavily consistently…which is SO different than an occassional drink. A breastfeeding mother having 2 drinks per day on a regular basis can be harmful to the baby I think is what I read in the LLL piece I linked to above.

    Do you happen to have any references on the idea that a fetal blood alcohol level of 0.04% could be fatal? I can’t find anything that suggests a level nearly that low, and in fact found one story about a baby born with a blood alcohol level of 0.29% with a doctor who said she was not in any immediate danger. (http://www.choosehelp.com/news/alcohol-abuse/newborn-baby-girl-born-to-drunk-mom-has-a-blood-alcohol-content-of-0.29.html) I think the 0.4% alcohol level for the 2 week old baby probably was accurate…it would only take about 2 oz of Port to get a baby that drunk.

  4. Bronwyn Dec 31st 2011

    I have to agree that I’ve been ok with having a glass or two of wine while nursing. The only issue I found was when my son was first born and he was very difficult to wake. I was having a very stressful time getting breastfeeding going and I would have a half glass of wine in the evening.

  5. Jasmine Dec 31st 2011

    Right on! I have heard it put this way… when a breastfeeding woman drinks an alcoholic drink and it affects her blood alcohol level, the baby gets an “alcoholic drink” that is only as strong as the woman’s blood alcohol level. In other words, an infinitesimally minimal amount. However the bigger risk is that if someone is getting super drunk while trying to care for an infant, that’s a big problem. I agree the record needs to be set straight about the Russian mom who supposedly killed her baby with tainted breastmilk. It’s a very sad story, and it’s also sad that it could lead to many responsible moms feeling bad about themselves.

  6. Aireal Jan 1st 2012

    The irony… It took 3 pumping sessions to get enough milk to leave with my parents tonight so my husband and I could leave the baby and go out… And I just filled 3 whole bottles that I dumped because I had a few drinks! Amazing thing this human body! Happy New Year everyone. :-*

  7. Becca Jan 1st 2012

    I am a nurse and previously worked in the NICU. I asked our fantastic lactation consultant once how much a mother could drink before she’d need to “pump and dump” or abstain from nursing. Her response was, “if you can walk, you can breastfeed”. She said that you had to be basically at the fall down, slurring stage for it to be an issue. With both of my boys who I nursed for a year, I used that motto to an extent. I allowed myself a few cocktails from time to time!


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