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Breastfeeding and Alcohol

What Does the Research Say?

Little scientific research has been done on whether alcohol benefits lactation. The research that has been done showed that less than 2 percent of the amount of alcohol consumed by the mother reaches her breast milk. However, alcohol is not stored in breast milk and will be processed and removed from the body. In fact, the levels of alcohol found in the breast milk parallel the amounts found in the blood. Therefore, if the mother has substantial blood alcohol levels, the milk will also contain similar amounts of alcohol.
Research has also shown that alcohol levels peak in both the mother's breast milk and in the blood approximately 30 minutes to an hour after drinking and then decrease thereafter. This basically means that if you decide to have a drink, you should avoid breastfeeding for at least several hours after drinking until the blood alcohol levels have declined a considerable amount.
It is also important to understand the process of breastfeeding and how alcohol might affect this. The production and release of breast milk from the mammary glands are the result of a synchronized hormonal process that is partially initiated by the infant's ability to suckle. All of these intricate processes may be influenced by alcohol consumption.
In animal studies, when small amounts of alcohol were given to lactating rats, it significantly inhibited suckling-induced prolactin and oxytocin release and also milk production. These declines in important hormones caused reduced milk intake by the baby rats. However, it is unknown whether these effects would be similar in humans. Researchers also do not know whether long-term drinking would affect the quantity and quality of milk produced in lactating women. 
During research, infants consumed less milk when their mothers had consumed an alcoholic beverage compared with a nonalcoholic drink. However, the mothers were apparently unaware of this difference. These mothers believed that their infants had taken enough milk. They reported that they had felt the let-down of their breast milk and they felt they had some milk remaining their breasts at the end of the feedings.
This misperception, however, may be the catalyst that has contributed to the folklore that alcohol is a magic elixir. While a lactating mother may feel more relaxed after having a drink, she may not be able to perceive correctly how much milk her infant has ingested in the short term.
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