Being a medically trained doctor, I have learnt to always be on my guard.
Not only for inflight medical emergencies (which I have experienced) and people collapsing in the street, but for the less urgent “will you have a look at my rash?” questions posed by neighbours. Even at parties I must be ready to give impromptu answers to medical questions.
I was at one celebration that a friend, glass of red wine in hand, asked me: “When I drink alcohol, does it get stored in my breast milk?” (she had recently given birth). It was a time of celebration and she had got her baby tucked up in his cot. It wasn’t the time to be a party-pooper. Sometimes, however, people wish they’d never asked...
Alcohol is remarkable stuff. When you drink it, it has an exceptional ability to spread through the body very quickly – into the blood, internal organs and brain. And we all know what happens when it hits the grey matter: we relax, lose our social inhibitions; start doing silly things, and, ultimately, can end up staggering around and getting quite unwell.
Because of alcohol’s biological power to get everywhere, it will be found in the breast milk in less than 30 minutes.
At the risk of being a wet blanket, I had to let my friend know that whenever she has a drink, she could be giving her tot a couple of tots. For us adults, alcohol is safe in moderation – but this isn’t true for a little one. A baby’s tiny liver and brain can’t deal with liquor in the same way ours can, meaning youngsters are far more susceptible to the adverse effects of alcohol.
For any breastfeeding mum, abstaining from alcohol near the time of breastfeeding is sensible. However, a bit of tipple isn’t out of the question. Current research and official guidelines state that an occasional one to two units is not harmful to mother or baby (a small glass of wine contains 1.5 units) – providing there is a decent gap before breastfeeding.
The body treats alcohol like a poison and works hard to get it out of the system quickly: it takes about two hours to remove one unit of alcohol from the blood of a breastfeeding mum.
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that alcohol isn’t stored in the breast; some women choose to express milk (or ‘pump and dump’ it) in an attempt to get alcohol out of the breast. This isn’t necessary.
My friend had also come prepared. Obviously fearing my answer would be a bad one, she had stowed some freshly expressed milk in the fridge. And when el Bambino decided to rouse and make his presence known, he was appreciative of his soft drink. I’m pretty sure that the little one had a good time – even if he needs to work on his karaoke wailing skills.