The holiday season is here and with it comes lots of cheer, festive foods, and popular seasonal drinks like spiked eggnog and coffee with cream liqueur. For the past few weeks, my inbox has seen an uptick in messages from breastfeeding moms looking for advice on how they can indulge in their favorite holiday beverage while continuing to safely breastfeed their little one.
Can they drink at all?
How much is too much?
Should they pump and dump?
Just how merry can breastfeeding moms safely get this Christmas?
Let me start by stating that the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that the safest option for breastfeeding mothers is not consuming alcohol at all. That said, they note that moderate alcohol consumption by breastfeeding moms has not been shown to be harmful to infants. The key word here is moderate. This means no more than one standard size drink per day. In general, it takes about two hours for the body to clear a standard alcoholic drink from breast milk. The more alcohol a mother consumes, the longer it takes to be cleared from breast milk.
The effects of excess alcohol intake are concerning for both mom and baby. Infants exposed to alcohol through breast milk are at risk for impaired neurologic development and growth as well as disrupted sleep patterns. Excess alcohol intake can also impair a mother’s judgement and interfere with her ability to adequately care for her child. Additionally, excess alcohol consumption can actually decrease a mother’s breast milk supply since it is a diuretic and can leave moms dehydrated.
When it comes to “pumping and dumping”, there are a few misconceptions that need to be cleared up. The alcohol level in breast milk is essentially the same as the alcohol level in a mother’s bloodstream. Expressing or pumping milk after drinking alcohol, then discarding it, does not reduce the amount of alcohol present in the mother’s milk more quickly. As the mother’s alcohol blood level falls over time, the level of alcohol in her breast milk will also decrease. As a general rule, it’s best to wait two hours for every drink consumed before allowing the infant to have more breast milk. If a mom has three drinks, it will be six to nine hours before her breast milk is once again fit for her baby to consume.
So, how does a breastfeeding mom get through the holiday season? Drink in moderation. Plan for one of your favorite beverages per outing and savor every drop. If you think you are going to consume more than one drink, pump sufficient breast milk ahead of time, so that there is plenty of alcohol-free breast milk for your baby to consume while your metabolism is at work clearing alcohol from your system. Be sure to enlist the support of your partner and friends. It’s no fun being limited to one drink, while dad is on his fifth bottle of seasonal craft beer. Both parents need to be free from impairments when taking care of their little one.
Being a breastfeeding mom doesn’t mean you can’t have any holiday spirits. It simply means you have to enjoy it in a more mindful way. With proper planning and support, you can enjoy your favorite seasonal libations and safely breastfeed your baby. Remember, your pediatrician is a valuable resource for helping you raise happy and healthy kids. If you have questions about the best ways to keep your little one safe as you navigate the holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out. Have a Merry Christmas and all the best to you and yours for the new year!
• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in New Providence, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.