Photo credit: Dan4th on flickr
There has been a lot of media attention lately on mothers who were arrested while apparently breastfeeding drunk. There is emphasis put on the word breastfeeding. Like it is a horrible and awful sin to be drinking while breastfeeding. A few examples:
- A drunken mother was breast-feeding her five-month-old baby at the wheel when she almost crashed into a police car, horrified officers discovered. The teenager was so sloshed she could not provide a roadside breath test and was arrested at the scene in the Australian town of Alice Springs. (From Mail Online)
- A North Dakota woman accused of breastfeeding her six-week-old baby while drunk has pleaded guilty to child neglect. PRISON POSSIBLE. Twenty-six-year-old Stacey Anvarinia could face up to five years in prison when she's sentenced on the felony charge in August. (From Associated Press in Edmonton Sun)
I don't think it is a good idea to be drunk while breastfeeding. But here is the thing, if someone is drunk while caring for a baby, the damage that could be done by breastfeeding is the least of the problems. If you are drunk and caring for a baby, you could:
- Drop the baby
- Hurt yourself and be unable to care for the baby
- Be too drunk to take your injured self or injured baby to the hospital
- Fall asleep with and suffocate the baby
- Pass out and be unable to respond to the baby's needs
- Do stupid things like driving a car while drunk and not even putting the baby in a car seat
Breastfeeding while drunk is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. As the first commenter on this post Teenager Caught Drunk Driving WHILE BREASTFEEDING says:
Luckily for the baby, the amount of alcohol in your breast milk mirrors your blood alcohol level. So, even if mom had an nearly lethal level of 0.2% that's not even the equivalent of a tenth of a weak beer. The baby was more likely to incur bodily harm by being handled by a drunken loser than to experience alcohol poisoning.
I said as much when I commented on a review of the Milk Screen product that allows you to measure whether you have too much alcohol in your breast milk or not. I said:
Thank you for the review. It is interesting to see how the thing works.
However, I wonder what they use to determine “safe” levels.
I don’t know that I would rely on the research listed on Milkscreen’s Web site. I’m sure they picked and chose the studies that would make their product seem necessary.
If you look at LLL’s FAQ on alcohol, there are a few things of interest:
1) “Maternal blood alcohol levels must attain 300 mg/dl before significant side effects are reported in the infant. ” That number didn’t really mean anything to me, so I looked it up and it turns out that those types of alcohol levels would only be found in chronic alcoholics or someone that has been drinking straight for several days (Source).
That doesn’t mean that you hadn’t had too much to drink that one night and perhaps the test is right and you shouldn’t have been nursing. But would you have stepped behind the wheel of a car? Do you have a breathalyzer at home to blow in before you drive if you’ve been drinking the night before?
2) The thing that breastfeeding moms should be more worried about perhaps is the effect that drinking too much has on their milk supply, letdown and intake levels by the baby. If a woman drinks regularly, even moderate amounts, and her baby is having trouble gaining weight, then she might want to consider stopping for a while.
For me personally, I do breastfeed and I do drink. But in the more than 4 years now that I have been nursing, there is only one night that I ever had more than 2 drinks and that was a total of maybe 3 drinks or a maximum of 4. I had those drinks early in the evening (between 5pm and 7pm), knowing that I wouldn’t be home until around 2am. I think even if I did nurse when I got home and even if the alcohol levels were a little higher than perhaps ideal, I don’t think it would have long lasting detrimental effects on my child. If I did it every night, perhaps. But once in 4 years…not the end of the world.
It is completely safe for a mom to have one or two drinks while breastfeeding. That doesn't mean that she has to. Some prefer not to. But I hate when I hear about moms that decide they need to wean before their wedding anniversary or before the 4th of July or before Christmas because they want to have a drink or two.
There are some studies that have said that alcohol in your breastmilk can impact your milk supply and can impact the baby's sleep. So if you are having trouble maintaining your supply or if your baby is not sleeping well (and we all know that is relative...most babies are not good sleepers, alcohol or no alcohol), then you may want to give up your drinks for a bit and see if it improves. But otherwise: Cheers! Enjoy a drink or two. You do not need to be a martyr in order to be a breastfeeding mom.
But let's be clear. Parents (that includes moms AND dads) who are drunk while caring for their children are irresponsible. Perhaps they are alcoholics and deserve to get help. Perhaps they are just making a stupid mistake. But this shouldn't be about breastfeeding unless the mom had hired a designated babysitter to take care of the child while she went on regular drinking binges and was having the baby brought to her to be breastfed while she was so drunk that she was almost passing out.
For more thoughts on the most recent case of the North Dakota woman who was arrested while caring for her baby while drunk see:
- Mother Charged For Drunk Breastfeeding: Details Emerge, and the Case Makes Less Sense by Cate Nelson @ Eco Child's Play
- Yeah, I drink while breastfeeding. So arrest me. by Katie Allison Granju @ Babble