To elaborate on alex.tan's excellent writeup, please never, never, never consume alcohol while breastfeeding. Drinking even a single alcoholic beverage within a few hours of a feeding can have profound effects on the feed and on the infant.
When a breastfeeding mother drinks alcohol, a small amount of that alcohol passes into the breast milk unmetabolized (This is true of many drugs, including but not limited to, caffeine, nicotine, and the THC in marijuana).1 This means that when the baby next feeds, it will be feeding on alcohol-laced milk. Obviously, consuming a large amount of alcohol would result in a larger amount of alcohol making its way into the milk, a situation that would obviously cause problems. Research has shown that even the small amounts of alcohol in the breast milk resulting from a single serving of alcohol can have a marked effect on the infant.
- When a breastfeeding mother drinks alcohol, the amount of milk she produces is reduced.2 Less milk means less sustenance available for the infant.
- The infant consumes significantly less of the milk produced if the feeding occurs within a few hours of alcohol consumption.3 The mother is often unable to tell that the infant did not get as much milk as it needed.
- After an infant has fed from an alcohol-tainted breast, it will sleep less--only about two-thirds of the normal time spent sleeping.4
- Years after exposure to alcohol in breast milk the child will have significantly altered responses to objects that smell like alcohol.5
Many breastfeeding manuals and OB/GYN doctors suggest that new mothers have a glass of wine to make let-down easier. These sources are disturbingly misinformed. From the literature I've come across, it seems reasonable to conclude that infants exposed to alcohol while breastfeeding are more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life. Be nice to babies, and pass this information along to new mothers.
1. Breastfeeding and the use of recreational drugs--alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and marijuana. Liston, J. (1998). Breastfeeding Review, 6(2), pp 27-30.
2. Short term effects of maternal alcohol consumption on lactational performance. Mennella, JA. (1998). Alcohol Clinical Experimental Research, 22(7), pp 1389-1392.
3. Infants' suckling responses to the flavor of alcohol in mothers' milk. Mennella, JA. (1997). Alcohol Clinical Experimental Research, 21(4) pp 581-585.
4. Effects of exposure to alcohol in mothers' milk on infant sleep. Mennella, JA., Gerrish, CJ. (1998). Pediatrics, 101(5), E2.
5. Infants' exploration of scented toys: effects of prior experiences. Mennella, JA., Beauchamp, GK. (1998). Chemical Senses, 23(1), pp 11-17.