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Drinking and Breast Milk: Will Mom's Alcohol Consumption Help Baby Sleep?

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Updated October 04, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Drinking and Breast Milk

Drinking and Breat Milk Does Not Improve Sleep

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Question: Drinking and Breast Milk: Will Mom's Alcohol Consumption Help Baby Sleep?
I've been wondering how drinking and breast milk might affect a baby's sleep. If the mom has an alcoholic beverage, will it help baby sleep at night?
Answer:

The very short, sweet simple answer. No, if a mother drinks alcohol, it will not help a baby sleep.

While I see nothing wrong with a breastfeeding mom drinking the occasional alcoholic beverage responsibly, using mom's alcohol consumption as a method to lull baby to sleep really isn't a good solution to improving a baby's sleep. In fact, the strategy is likely to actual backfire and worsen a baby's sleep patterns.

Summary of Drinking and Breast Milk Research

The idea out there that as alcohol transfers to breast milk it will have a soothing effect on the baby is fairly persistent. However, medical research pretty much blasts that theory out of the water. What has been found is that breastfed babies of light drinkers slept less than babies of non-drinkers.

Stepping away from our short simple answer to give a more complicated response, what research shows is that those babies of mothers who drank alcohol experienced disruptions in the amount of time the spent in active sleep. Incidently, it's not just babies who have experienced this disruption, tests run on adults and animals who drank alcohol also experienced issues in the same same area.

What's even more troubling, if a mother would try to use this technique on a regular basis, drinking even one alcoholic beverage on a daily basis can have negative effects on a baby's gross motor development. It is simply not a road that parents should go down.

The Many Myths About Alcohol and Breastfeeding

The fact is, there are many myths out there about how drinking affects breastmilk. While these myths are quite popular, it doesn't make them true. Here are some facts that you should know.

Reasonable Ways to Improve Baby Sleep

Rather than relying on an incorrect and potentially dangerous myth to help your baby sleep, stick with some tried-and-true methods.

The bottom line: trying to get a baby to sleep better at night by having the mom drink alcohol before breastfeeding, not a sustainable or even workable solution.

Sources:

  • Little, R. Sc.D., Anderson, K. B.Sc., Ervin, C. Ph.D., Worthington-Roberts, B Ph.D., and Clarren, S. M.D. Maternal Alcohol Use during Breast-Feeding and Infant Mental and Motor Development at One Year. N Engl J Med 1989; 321:425–30.
  • Mennella JA, Pepino MY. Biphasic effects of moderate drinking on prolactin during lactation. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2008 Nov;32(11):1899-908. Epub 2008 Aug 18.
  • Mennela, J. A. , AND Gerrish, C. J. Effects of exposure to alcohol in mother s milk on infant sleep. Pediatrics 101( 5) : 21-25, 1998.
  • Pepino MY, Mennella JA. Effects of breast pumping on the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of ethanol during lactation. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2008 Dec;84(6):710-4. Epub 2008 Jul 2.
  • Giglia RC, Binns CW. Alcohol, pregnancy and breastfeeding; a comparison of the 1995 and 2001 National Health Survey data. Breastfeed Rev. 2008 Mar;16(1):17-24.
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