Alcohol and Breastfeeding

MilkScreen

Julie Jumonville is a staunch advocate of breastfeeding. She breastfed both of her children, sat on the board of directors for Mother’s Milkbank in Austin and is the creator of Milkscreen™, a simple test that detects levels of alcohol in a woman’s breast milk.

In October 2002, Jumonville was battling post partum depression following the birth of her son and her doctor had recommended a trial of the antidepressant Zoloft. Jumonville was very concerned about the effects the medication would have on her baby and was unwilling to take anything that could be passed through her breast milk and have even the tiniest negative effect on her child.  A civil engineer, Jumonville researched the medication thoroughly and once convinced no harm would come to her baby, she agreed to take the antidepressant for a limited amount of time.

But medication was not Jumonville’s only hurdle when it came to breastfeeding.  She often attended business functions and was offered wine or other adult beverages. She knew the dangers of heavy alcohol consumption on an infant but wondered if the occasional glass of wine was in anyway detrimental. Looking for answers she found that breastfeeding guidelines are sketchy at best and most women err on the side of caution, pumping their breast milk and dumping it if they have consumed alcohol. Some women, confused by conflicting guidelines and strict dietary restrictions stop breastfeeding altogether. Jumonville wanted answers and the engineer in her wanted concrete facts. She learned that breast milk containing 30 milligrams per deciliter or more (0.03%) of alcohol caused infants to drink less breast milk and to sleep less and awaken more frequently. She also found that most women’s bodies clear alcohol from their breast milk in 30-90 minutes. Yet these facts are not well known. Many women dump their breast milk for hours after they drink not knowing that their breast milk no longer contains harmful levels of alcohol. In an effort to bring clarity to the issue and more importantly, to extend the life of breastfeeding for many mothers, Jumonville developed Milkscreen™.

“It’s so hard for women to know what to do,” says Jumonville. “The old wives tales tell women to drink a bit of alcohol to help with milk production, yet other sources tell women that they should not drink at all as it may harm the baby. I wanted to give women a simple and concise way to monitor alcohol levels in breast milk so that they could make an informed decision.”

The wives tale has been disproven*. Julie Mennella, PhD, of Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center tested alcohol to see its effect on breast milk production. What Mennella and her colleagues found is that in women who drink moderate amounts of alcohol (0.4g/kg) their milk production actually goes down because levels of oxytocin, a hormone responsible for milk production and subsequent ejection, dramatically drops in response to the alcohol. Additionally many women in the study reported feeling more relaxed and had increased breast fullness after they drank moderate amounts of alcohol. Mennella explains that these effects are due to increases in the hormone prolactin which increases significantly with alcohol consumption and causes sensations of sedation, dysphoria and drunkenness in addition to the feeling of breast fullness. The effects of alcohol peak approximately 45 minutes after alcohol consumption.1

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding alcohol while nursing, because alcohol passes through breast milk to the baby. “If you choose to drink alcohol, drink it just after you nurse rather than just before,” says the AAP’s web page on breastfeeding and diet (www.aap.org).

Milkscreen™ is simple to use. After drinking alcohol a woman tests her breast milk alcohol levels by expressing a few drops of breast milk onto the test strips (mothers can also dip the test strips in expressed breast milk.) If after two minutes the test strip turns from off white to light brown, the alcohol levels in the breast milk are too high (higher than 0.02%) and baby should be fed stored breast milk, formula or wait to nurse until the alcohol levels in the breast milk are no longer a cause for alarm. The amount of alcohol passed through to breast milk varies among women as does the time it takes for alcohol to completely leave a woman’s system. With Milkscreen™, a woman has a definitive indicator of when she can safely nurse after drinking alcohol.

The decision to drink alcohol while nursing is very controversial. Each woman has to examine her own values in order to reach the decision that best suites her needs.  For women who decide to have the occasional glass of wine or beer, Milkscreen™ provides the reassurance that their babies will remain alcohol free.

The Milkscreen kits come in packs of 3, 8 and 20 tests. They are available at Babies R Us, Target, Walgreens and Amazon.com

*Julie A. Mennella, M. Yanina Pepino and Karen L. Teff. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Vol. 90, No. 4 1979-1985. Copyright © April, 2005 by The Endocrine Society

Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond in no way advocates for or against drinking alcohol while breastfeeding nor does it endorse Milkscreen or receive any compensation for this article. This information is strictly for informational purposes only. Each woman has to determine for herself if drinking alcohol while breastfeeding is for her.