Red red wine, stay close to me

Ah the heady days before baby, when I could have a few large glasses of wine after work, share a bottle with a meal or finish the night with a wee dram or two; a sudden withdrawal from alcohol was always going to raise suspicions of pregnancy in those around me.

Luckily while pregnant, I just went off the stuff. From occasionally actually craving a glass of wine, I went to not being bothered by it – I would have a sip of Fred’s tipple just so I knew what I was missing, but that was enough. I was paranoid that Elphie would be born with fetal alcohol syndrome as a consequence of the extra drinks I had at Charles and Laura’s wedding following a negative pregnancy test that I mistakenly thought had put me in the clear. Fetal alcohol syndrome has a number of nasty growth and mental retardation symptoms alongside facial abnormalities like the below courtesy of an article by Warren, Hewitt & Thomas. There is speculation that Jade Goody and George W Bush shared these facial characteristics but I’ll leave you to play Dr Google on that one.

But with her birth came the realisation that I was panicking over nothing and that I still was not allowed to go out on a bender.

Don’t get me wrong, in the first few weeks chance would have been a fine thing – my time was not spent fantasising about a glass of wine but when I would get a nap or more than three hours straight (although obviously if she slept more than that I panicked she was starving herself anyway).

Six weeks in and our wedding anniversary loomed and with it the possibility to enjoy a glass or two of vino with dinner. My post describing the occasion stated that I wished I had only had one glass of wine so that I wouldn’t have had to wait six hours for the alcohol from both glasses to leave my bloodstream. Such caution reigned due to the scaremongering tone of this NHS page which although saying “Research shows that occasional drinking, such as 1-2 units once or twice a week, is not harmful to your baby while you’re breastfeeding.”, ends with: “To be on the safe side, some women choose to avoid alcohol altogether while they’re breastfeeding.”

Now my reaction to this with a six week old was to be scared off drinking and to feel guilty about having drunk and being unable to breastfeed as my 1.5 hours per unit wasn’t up. Instead I should have probably treated this statement with a degree of skepticism: “Sometimes planes crash. To be on the safe side some women choose to avoid planes altogether, just in case”.

The point that I was failing to realise was the drinking alcohol while breastfeeding is not the same as drinking alcohol while pregnant. When pregnant, the alcohol level in your bloodstream can pass across the placenta to the foetus directly whereas when you are breastfeeding, the alcohol is in the milk they are drinking so the actual amount that gets into their bloodstream is a fraction of the level they ingested it at.

To put this into perspective, the following graph courtesy of our friends at Clemson Redfern Health Center shows that a 10 stone woman who had had two standard glasses of wine (equivalent to our 175ml glasses), would have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%.


So whereas they may have been drinking a wine that was 12%, by the time that rocks up in their blood it’s down to 0.05% and then only tiny percentage of that would hit your baby’s bloodstream.

An excellent article from Evolutionary Parenting on this debunked the whole thing for me:

“Compare the alcohol content of the breastmilk of a legally intoxicated mama (0.08 BAC) to the alcohol content of orange juice is approximately 0.09% ethanol-by-volume (aka ABV). The legally intoxicated mama will have breastmilk which has an ABV concentration that closely mirrors her BAC, approximately 0.08. That means that mama’s breastmilk when legally intoxicated is less alcoholic than orange juice! … But really, if the mother would feel comfortable with a child imbibing the alcohol concentration found in fresh juice, why even blink at the alcohol concentration in milk after a glass of wine. It’s not logical.”

“the reality of the science is that even when legally intoxicated, the mother would only pose a threat to the infant through loss of motor function (dropping baby, rolling over on it, etc) and not through the alcohol content of her breastmilk. Indeed, the motor impairment of an intoxicated mother is my major concern when mothers choose to drink, rather than the risk of exposing the child to miniscule, infinitesimal concentrations of alcohol.”

The Simon Says blog also did an experiment of their own to find out what the alcohol levels in her breastmilk were after drinking various amounts, and found that after one strong drink (2 oz of 80 proof (40%) vodka i.e. 2 shots in 10 oz of soda (Sprite)):

“The alcohol content in breast milk immediately after drinking is equivalent to a 0.0274 proof beverage. That’s like mixing 1 oz of 80 proof vodka (one shot) with 2919 oz of mixer. By the way, 2919 oz is over 70 liters. Two hours after drinking one (strong) drink the alcohol has disappeared from the sample.”

Now I am not suddenly putting my glad rags on and heading out on the town drinking and dancing on tables, but equally I believe the benefits of continuing to breastfeed outweigh any likely risk posed by a couple of glasses of wine. My level of comfort changes over time as well, as she gets bigger and developmentally more mature, I’m even less worried about the effects of infinitesimal amounts of alcohol on her (especially once she’s passed 6 months and could in theory imbibe orange juice if it weren’t for the evils of sugar). But when she was much littler then limiting my intake was probably a good idea if only because sleep deprivation, infant care and alcohol probably don’t make the best threesome.

Also, a more scientific guideline is that you shouldn’t co-sleep if you have been drinking due to the increased risk of SIDS. I don’t particularly want to be up in the night checking whether the alcohol is likely to be out of my system enough to co-sleep when the reason for co-sleeping is being desperate to go back to sleep!

So my days of drunken hijinks might be over for now, but then so are the hangovers, and there are some advantages – I feel no guilt heading for the higher priced wines now, because if you are only having one or two then might as well make them good ‘uns!

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