Consequences and damage of alcohol during lactation
Alcohol consumption during breastfeeding has effects on both the mother and the infant and can have numerous consequences. On the maternal side, alcohol interferes with the hormonal balance and reduces the level of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the milk-donor reflex. The reduced milk flow causes a milk congestion, which can make the breasts appear fuller.
Contrary to the long-held belief that alcohol stimulates milk production, the exact opposite is true. Especially in the first four hours after drinking alcoholic beverages, the amount of milk produced is reduced. In addition, newborns drink less milk containing alcohol and the whole breastfeeding relationship can be affected.
The texture and smell of breast milk also changes, which could be a reason for the infant’s reduced intake or complete refusal of breast milk. Mother-child interaction during breastfeeding may also be impaired. In this case, alcohol influences the mother’s psyche, whereby irritability and impatience can increase and it becomes more difficult for the infant to properly attach the breast.
Breastfeeding mothers are also observed to have a stronger negative influence of alcohol on their behaviour, making them more susceptible to upset, slowing down and drunkenness. These consequences, in turn, can reduce the mother’s attention span, making her less receptive to infantile signals and making it more difficult to act adequately. In infants, on the other hand, alcohol often influences their sleeping behaviour and regularly shortens their sleeping time.
In addition, sleep is less deep and the infant wakes up more easily. In addition, children are more irritable and jumpy after drinking milk containing alcohol. The crying phases become longer.
These effects are particularly pronounced in newborn babies and decrease somewhat as the child grows older. If the mother consumes a lot of alcohol, the child’s growth may be impaired. Furthermore, negative influences of alcohol on the motor development of the child are discussed. There are not many studies that have investigated direct consequences of alcohol on the infant. Nevertheless, in many countries, a general recommendation is to avoid alcohol altogether during breastfeeding or to keep consumption very low, with an appropriate interval between feeding and the next feeding of breast milk.
Alcohol in food
Even if chocolates with mostly high-proof alcohol are eaten only in small amounts, this amount of alcohol also passes into the mother’s milk. The alcohol content of the milk is very similar to the alcohol concentration in the mother’s blood. Even if one might be inclined to consider this small amount of alcohol in only a few chocolates eaten as insignificant, there is currently no amount of alcohol that can be classified as harmless to the newborn baby.
Accordingly, to be on the safe side, the consumption of chocolates containing alcohol should be avoided when breastfeeding. If the nursing mother nevertheless wants to eat alcohol chocolates, care should be taken to ensure that there is a sufficiently long interval between consumption and the next feeding unit so that the newborn baby is not exposed to alcohol-related risks. As with chocolates containing alcohol, the consumption of alcohol-infused cakes during the nursing period may appear harmless due to the small amount of the stimulant.
Nevertheless, consumption cannot be classified as absolutely harmless. Since even small amounts of alcohol pass into breast milk, it can have effects on the child and have consequences. The sleeping behaviour of the infant is particularly affected, which can be disturbed even by the smallest amounts of alcohol.
To be on the safe side, it is best to either refrain from consuming the stimulant altogether or to ensure that there is a sufficient time interval between the consumption of the alcoholic cake and the next breastfeeding unit or pumping out. As alcohol can have an effect on the infant during the breastfeeding period, it should be avoided if possible. Although the alcohol is often “overcooked” due to its relatively low boiling point at around 70 degrees Celsius, it takes up to three hours to remove all the alcohol added in full.
If the cooking time is shorter, only parts of the alcohol are reduced and a substantial portion remains in the prepared dish. As any amount of alcohol absorbed by the nursing mother passes into the breast milk, it is best not to use it. Even the smallest amounts of alcohol can have an effect on the baby, especially on sleep patterns.
The newborn baby’s sleep is particularly susceptible to disturbing factors. If, however, alcohol is to be used for cooking, it is recommended to keep a time interval between the consumption of food containing alcohol and the next feeding unit. In this way the body can break down alcohol to a sufficient degree and breast milk can be given again safely.