Busting the myths on alcohol and breastfeeding


Woman breastfeeding outdoors

Caring for a newborn baby can be a challenge, sometimes made more difficult by the multitude of opinions and advice for soon-to-be parents out there. One thing we know for certain is that smoking, drinking alcohol and using other drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding can harm mothers and their babies.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the chances of a child developing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a type of acquired brain injury that can cause life-long complications for learning, growth, behaviour, memory, language, communication and everyday living.

The 2020 updated Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council, recommend:

To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol

A baby's growth and development depends on the food they receive. Alcohol becomes concentrated in breastmilk and can cause serious harm to the baby as well as affect the mother's ability to produce milk.

The power of breastmilk

Breastmilk is the quintessential human superfood, it not only feeds but provides protection against disease and infections like sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), 'glue ear' or ear infections, respiratory infections, diarrhea, eczema and allergies.

Breastmilk is also the ultimate transformer, adapting itself to the needs of the baby each time the baby feeds. The first milk, known as colostrum contains high concentrations of antibodies, is nutrient dense and adds beneficial bacteria to their digestive tract.

Throughout breastfeeding the baby's saliva sends messages back to the mother, changing the nutrient makeup of the milk to make the baby's immune system stronger.

The FASD Hub provides information and advice on how to safely breastfeed at fasdhub.org.au.

The pumping and dumping myth

Expressing breast milk and throwing it away to help remove alcohol, otherwise known as 'pumping and dumping', does not reduce the amount of alcohol in breastmilk. As it is with alcohol in blood, only time can bring down the levels of alcohol in breastmilk.

"No amount of pumping and dumping will clear the alcohol from the breastmilk, it's really time and metabolism." – Dr Roslyn Giglia, Alcohol, pregnancy & FASD researcher

The Get Healthy Service

If you're struggling to cut down your alcohol consumption, help is available – and it's free! Get Healthy is a telephone-based coaching service that provides NSW residents over 18 with a free personal health coach to guide and support them on their journey to drink less alcohol, get active and eat well.

The service has a Healthy in Pregnancy module which helps pregnant women be active and healthy during their pregnancy. You can speak to a Get Healthy in Pregnancy Service coach by calling 1300 806 258 or sign up online.

For health information and content about pregnancy, having a young baby and how alcohol during pregnancy can affect a baby's development check out the Stay Strong and Healthy Facebook page.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Family Drug Support on 1300 368 186 or Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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