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Nursing and drinking: Is it OK?

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Many new mothers wonder whether or not it’s irresponsible to drink alcohol while breastfeeding. We know we shouldn’t drink while pregnant, but what about afterwards? Will it harm the baby? Do I have to pump and dump to remove the alcohol before breastfeeding? Can alcohol perhaps increase milk production? These are common questions and the answers are not always clear. Like most health-related issues, one person will tell you one thing and another will say the opposite. So, to drink or not to drink? That is the question.

The answer, most experts agree, depends entirely on the amount of alcohol. If you’re drinking so much that your own health is adversely affected, then it’s safe to assume your baby’s health is being negatively affected as well. If it’s bad for you, it’s probably bad for your baby. If you’re drunk, you’re probably not caring for your child as you should be. There is no evidence, however, that moderate alcohol intake while nursing does any harm to your baby.

“Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all,” Dr. Jack Newman MD says, according to La Leche League International. “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.”

As for pumping and dumping, it’s unnecessary. Alcohol exits your breast milk at the same rate that it exits your bloodstream—you cannot flush it out any faster. Drinking to excess, needless to say, is best avoided. If you do have a few too many, do not breastfeed until you are sober again, as the effects of breastfeeding while drunk are not well understood.

Overall, a drink here and there while nursing is almost certainly fine. However, if you’re still anxious about it, maybe it’s best to go with mocktails for a while.