Mothers who breastfeed should NOT consume alcohol during the first month of their baby’s life as this is when breastfeeding is being established, the HSE has announced. However, alcohol can be consumed after the first month once breastfeeding has been established and provided the mother adheres to the guidelines on low-risk alcohol consumption, available here and here. This debunks the belief that breastfeeding women must cut out alcohol entirely.
The HSE released the updated advice to clear up confusion among mothers, and the guidelines were explained by Dr. Paul Mullane and Dr. Mary T O'Mahony of the HSE South at the Royal College of Physicians' summer scientific conference yesterday.
According to the HSE website, "It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol until your baby is more than 1 month old", as this is a time of potential stress and adjustment as the mother and baby are getting used to breastfeeding.
This is a crucial period as a woman's breast milk supply is established during the first few weeks, and is regulated by "supply and demand", the HSE explains.
The high number of feedings needed at this stage is also a factor, as your baby will require more milk within the first four weeks.
The HSE state that women who continue to breastfeed past this one month period should keep following the guidelines on low-risk alcohol consumption, which is less than 11 standard drinks per week. The HSE defines a "standard drink" as half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine.
To avoid passing alcohol onto the baby through milk, the HSE advises that mothers express their milk before feeding if they plan to drink more than two standard drinks, wait two hours after each standard drink before breastfeeding, spread alcoholic drinks over the course of the week, keep at least two days per week alcohol-free or, quite simply, breastfeed before drinking.
However, the jury is still out in the international medical community, as varying scientific bodies continue to differ on how safe alcohol consumption is during the breastfeeding period.