Breastfeeding and Alcohol
Will Alcohol Harm My Nursing Infant?There is considerable debate on whether alcohol found in breast milk would affect an infant in the long or short term. Many healthcare providers consider occasional exposure to alcohol in breast milk to be insignificant, as long as the mother has not consumed large amounts.
With that said, however, it does not mean that the small amount of alcohol found in breast milk might not have some effects on a nursing infant. The limited research available indicates that alcohol found in breast milk may affect the infant in several ways, such as sleep patterns, early learning, and infant development.
The common folklore suggests that alcohol consumption by the mother may cause the infant to relax and improve his or her sleep. However, research has shown that in the short term, acute exposure to alcohol through breast milk altered the infant's sleep-wake pattern in ways that contradict the folklore. These studies showed that infants whose mothers were light drinkers slept for significantly shorter periods of time during the 3.5 hours after breastfeeding than those infants whose mothers did not consume any alcohol.
In a study of 400 nursing infants and their mothers, researchers took a look at the long-term effects of alcohol consumption in lactating mothers. This study examined how alcohol consumption might affect an infant's development during the first year of life. The results of this study found that gross motor development was slightly altered in infants who were regularly exposed to alcohol through breast milk. Mental development, however, did not seem to be affected.
For those cases where the mothers drank less than one drink a day, the motor and mental development of the infants did not differ significantly from those infants whose mothers did not drink any alcohol.
Researchers suggest that the developing brain is highly sensitive to even small amounts of alcohol. Some also speculate that alcohol may accumulate in the infant after repeated exposure, as they may excrete alcohol more slowly than adults.