Busting the myths on alcohol and breastfeeding


Woman breastfeeding outdoors

Caring for a newborn baby can be a challenge, especially when mothers have multiple opinions and advice coming at them with often conflicting messages. 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.

There's really no such thing as a safe amount of alcohol for anyone. The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol, which were developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council, recommend that no alcohol when planning a pregnancy, while pregnant and breastfeeding is the safest option.

No alcohol when breastfeeding is the safest option

A baby's growth and development depends on the food they get. Although there is lower risk in drinking alcohol during breastfeeding, alcohol is concentrated in breastmilk so can cause serious harm to the baby as well as affect the mother's ability to produce milk. Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding requires careful planning, monitoring and specific actions so as to avoid these dangers. The FASD Hub provides information and advice on how to safely breastfeed at www.fasdhub.org.au.

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.

Beyond pumping and dumping

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 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

According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, a number of factors affect how much alcohol can get into your breastmilk, including:

  • the strength of alcohol in your drink
  • how much you are drinking
  • what and how much you've eaten
  • how much you weigh

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 about alcohol and other drugs 24 hours, 7 days a week, call the Alcohol Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015.

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