Saturday, 29 June 2013

Alcohol and breastfeeding

I'll have one of these please. Much obliged.

In response to a recent reader's question I thought I'd share my experience with alcohol and long-term breastfeeding as a post rather than a reply to the comment.
I've passed the 5 years continuous breastfeeding mark, if you count the 41 weeks pregnancy previous to that it's a huge chunk of my life,  more than a 7th. I hope to be breastfeeding for another 5 years if not longer (more children- not still breastfeeding a teenager please!)

I'm a typical Irish citizen, I love a drink. Or two. Pints first. Or prosecco. Or cocktails. Oh anything.
I used to have no shut-off; manys the night I fell in the door and remembered nothing of my antics, but I've neither the metabolism nor the money for that carry on now. Nor the inclination actually.
Being a responsible kind of lady I've googled the hell out of the question "how much alcohol gets into breastmilk?" And have found a huge range of answers from 4% to 40%.
When pregnant I go off alcohol and caffeine completely.  I just don't crave, need or want them. It's like my body knows they are no good for the baby. I don't miss them either. On nights out during pregnancy I would have the odd Coke or ginger ale, or non-alcoholic beer but to be honest a night out without alcohol seems a waste of time. In a pub/club I mean. I'd still enjoy a meal out etc. Rambling now.

After both births alcohol was the last thing on my mind until about 3 months postpartum. I don't think it's fair on a small baby to have to deal with alcohol in breastmilk, however little there may be. They have enough trouble getting gassy on my diet of pulses and beans, so I tend to keep my whole diet really clean as I did in pregnancy for the first 3 months or so: not much sugar, fats etc.
Then I start to crave a bit of normality. It's now been a year that I've given my body over to incubating this baby, and I miss my treats. So I gradually start drinking more tea,  eating more sugar, the winter comes in and I enjoy a glass of wine (planned two summer babies-ultimate control freak!)

I do baby-led solids (not baby-led weaning!) so once the baby is eating a little of everything and seems hardy (8-10 months) I don't worry about a drink here or there. I don't think I really feel like drinking until I get to the stage of going out without the baby for a few hours, which isn't until they are about 1 year old. Then I'll maybe have 2-3 drinks in an evening, making sure to drink them as early as possible so I'm metabolising them before returning home. I'll usually have a drink as I'm getting ready to go out, give the baby their last feed, and away I go. My youngest is 2 now and I still only get maybe 3 hours max door to door. So I might be meeting a friend at 8pm. I'll start getting ready and have a drink at 7, leave house at 7.30 and be home again by 10.30. I absolutely love these nights out, and I have them once every month or so. I get all dolled up and feel like the old me again for a few hours.

Other drinking opportunities are of course with kids in tow. A picnic with a beer, a pub lunch, a beer with dinner or shared botttle of prosecco of an evening at-home date. In the last few years I've discovered whiskey with ginger ale and lime juice. Great! The home bar we built gets very little use but it's there, well-stocked, waiting...

I can't handle alcohol the way I did 10 or 15 years ago. I start to feel hungover while I'm still out partying. I've had a few nights of finishing the bottle of wine and maybe more, but they're few and far between and I usually regret them the next day.

Ask any long-term breastfeeding mother does she enjoy a drink and I'm sure she'll say "hell yeah!" We're all adults, we time our drinks responsibly, why shouldn't we live a little? I believe that the long-term benefits of my breastfeeding outweigh the odd "lesser quality" feeds my kids may get. I like them growing up seeing me enjoy a drink with a meal or for a special occasion, there's no big deal to it. I love the French attitude to alcohol - binge-drinking just doesn't happen on the continent. I've given my kids a sip of my drink if they ask for it, as the whole "forbidden fruit / abstain until you're 18" Irish attitude to alcohol is partly to blame for our culture's abuse of it. So it's not a big deal here, there's no mystery.

I feel the need to add a disclaimer here. I am not advocating drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. I'm sharing my experiences here so other mothers can drop the guilt they may feel about it. I have never been (outwardly) judged for drinking alcohol and breastfeeding.  Just outwardly been judged for breastfeeding.  Which says a lot about we Irish.

Nee x


  1. Great, honest post Niamh! There is too much out there on what you can't do when BF instead of all the things that can be done as normal. I know two friends who wouldn't consider BF as they had been told that alcohol, spicy food, etc., was not allowed while BF. Yet one lady who attended a private obs told her drinking 'if you don't go too mad' is fine in pregnancy

    1. Thanks Anon!
      I wouldn't drink at all while pregnant, though know a few people who still did. But I as a long-term breastfeeder would have missed the fun of alcohol if I abstained while BF. I know some ladies who gave up BF as it curtailed their lifestyle too much. So in sharing my attitudes here I hope I've inspired some mothers to relax and enjoy the odd drink! It's all about balance! Spicy food avoidance sounds weird, maybe in the very early days of BF, but what about cultures where they eat spices regularly and BF into childhood? There's so much conflicting advice out there!
      Thanks a million for reading and commenting!


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