Issue Paper: Alcohol and Breastfeeding

We recently released a new issue paper summarizing the available evidence on the potential risks surrounding alcohol consumption and breastfeeding. Below is a short summary of this paper.

Issue 

Prenatal alcohol exposure has the potential to result in a range of complex physical, mental, and behavioural disabilities, known collectively as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Although alcohol exposure through the consumption of breast milk does not cause FASD, it has the potential to negatively impact infant and child development. 

Background

  • Historically, alcohol consumption was encouraged during breastfeeding for a variety of reasons; however, this advice has changed in light of our improved understanding of the impact of alcohol on infant development. 
  • The consumption of alcohol can disrupt the release of the two hormones that control breastfeeding, which can decrease milk production and availability.
  • Breastfeeding infants are exposed to the same concentration of alcohol that is in the mother’s bloodstream at the time of breastfeeding, which means the timing of consumption has an impact on infant health. 
  • Infants cannot metabolize alcohol in the same way as adults; thus, they may be at risk for alcohol-related harms.   
  • The limited research that has been conducted on breastfeeding and alcohol is somewhat contradictory and is impacted by limitations in research methodology. More research is needed to determine the impacts of postnatal alcohol exposure via breast milk.   
  • Women who drink alcohol while breastfeeding should drink very moderately and plan ahead to consume alcohol immediately after breastfeeding to limit infant exposure. 

Take Home Message
Given the known limitations in existing research about alcohol consumption and breastfeeding, the risks to infants are not well understood. At this time, the clearest recommendations that can be made are: a) it is safest not to drink alcohol when breastfeeding; and b) if you choose to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, follow harm reduction methods to limit infant exposure.  

Authors: Nancy Poole & Lindsay Wolfson

Date: April 2020

For more information, including recommendations, please refer to the full issue paper here.  

Leave a Reply