Controversy Wednesdays: DRINKING ALCOHOL

6 Oct

As a new mom, I have so many questions.  Yeah, some of them are questions about how much breastmilk and sleep the baby should be getting, how to put a fitted sheet on the crib mattress without throwing my back out, and how to tell the difference between Seabass’ cries.  Let’s call those “safe questions.”

But then there is a bevy of squirrely questions that I’m kind of afraid to ask.  And that’s where Controversy Wednesdays come in.  Controversy Wednesdays are about getting your opinion on the sorts of questions for which we all want answers but wouldn’t be caught dead asking.  (And by that token, if you have a suggestion for a topic, please feel free to share it with me at  Just remember, I am not an expert on anything at all.  I’m just a mother trying to figure out where she stands.  In other words, if you somehow wind up in jail because of something you read on this blog, I will not be held responsible, capisce?

This week’s topic: DRINKING ALCOHOL.  That’s right, I’m not messing around, people.

No need to send hate mail for this. It's a joke. And a funny one, too.

A number of years ago, Jake and I were wine tasting somewhere near our home in San Luis Obispo and I realized that I really loved wine.  As in, I loved it more than the average person.  Thus began a career change that would take me through sommelier certification, vineyards and wineries around the world, and would ultimately return me to San Luis Obispo as a wine and food writer for several magazines and marketing firms.  (Interestingly, along the way I discovered that my true passion is actually beer.  But that’s another blog altogether, now isn’t it?)  Anyway, the point is this:  I enjoy alcohol on a fundamental level.

But when we started trying for a wee Seabass, I gave it up after hearing that alcohol can inhibit conception.  And it wasn’t difficult at all.  Sure, I missed the occasional glass of something spectacular, but I wanted a child so much more than that.  And then we conceived and there were nine months of pregnant non-drinking.  In the meantime, I was still writing tasting notes and having to sniff my way through several bottles just to pay the bills.  I believed that I’d be able to return to my moderate drinking habits as soon as Seabass was hatched.

So when the baby was born and my life suddenly consisted of little more than nursing, sleeping, and listening to screaming, there was no more welcome treat than a turkey sandwich and a cold, frothy mug of beer trickling down the hatch.  That is, until…

…until I told my OB.  Whoa, Nelly!  Doc put the brakes on my momentary mini-vacations from new parenthood by sharing that drinking – even moderately – while nursing is considered majorly verboten by several in the medical community.  These good folks assert that no matter how much a breastfeeding mother drinks, at least some of the alcohol will pass to baby and affect his or her nursing and sleeping, kill brain cells and otherwise guarantee that the child will grow up to be a serial killer.  Okay, I thought.  Case closed.

But then both a rogue lactation consultant and delivery nurse informed me that the hops in my delicious Dogfish Head 90-minute India Pale Ale would increase breastmilk production, and another anonymous but highly reputable source revealed that one drink would have no effect on Seabass if I waited a couple hours to nurse him.  Okay, I thought.  Case re-opened?

Upon hearing my confusion over the whole drinking-whil-nursing conundrum, a friend told me about Milkscreen Breastmilk Alcohol Detection Strips.  To use these little strips, you place a bit of breastmilk on the white tip after you’ve had a drink to see if you’re safe to nurse baby.  If the strip turns brown within two minutes, you are not safe to nurse, but if it stays white, you are good to go.  I gave it a whirl after one beer and three hours had passed, fully expecting the strip to remain white as a spring daisy so that I could go nurse the wee Seabass in perfect safety.

But it didn’t stay white.  In fact, it turned black.  Yikes.  Is that CPS I hear knocking at the front door?

You see, every woman’s metabolism is different.  Apparently mine is quite slow, because it took nearly six whole hours to get a strip to come up white after my ONE BEER.  So I made the decision then and there primarily to abstain from drinking alcohol until Seabass is weaned.  The fact that I shouldn’t drink while on anti-depressants only served to reinforce that decision.

So now it’s your turn.  What do you think?  Have you tried Milkscreen’s products?  What does your OB say?  More importantly, are you drinking while nursing?

14 Responses to “Controversy Wednesdays: DRINKING ALCOHOL”

  1. M October 6, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Everything I’ve read (What to Expect the First Year, Nursing Mother’s Companion, websites, etc) and what my OB has said is that its fine in moderation. As in one drink a day even isn’t going to kill anyone (or their brain cells). You can always pump and dump if you’re very concerned that its still in your bloodstream. Or pump ahead of time and feed him bottled breastmilk while you wait for the alcohol to leave your system.

  2. Rachael v. October 6, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    I am not a huge drinker but I have had a few beers while nursing the boys. By A few I mean 10 between the two of them. I always drink it just after a feed them so the next feeding is a few hours away. The Bf class I took said one serving is fine…and as long as you don’t feel any thing. In that case I only have half a beer.

  3. Sara McGrath October 6, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    a relative of mine drank near beer (non-alc)to help with supply- same hopsy taste- no alcohol! i had the occassioanl wine or beer. from what i have read, moderation is ok. i remember reading that one should cut down to ONLY 5 cups of coffee per day also! ha! i guess one cup is ok…

  4. photosheri October 6, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    Pump and dump. But it’s still a bit scary, therefore I only drank a couple of times during the entire year I breastfed.

  5. Lorrie October 6, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    Thank you for the information on the Breastmilk Alcohol Detection Strips!! I don’t drink but I know plenty of moms that do that would probably use those! I will pass on that information.
    I wasn’t worried about the alcohol in my breastmilk, but I did worry about the painkillers after surgery. My doctor said it was safe, it’s just always in the back of my mind “is it really safe???”

  6. J.C October 6, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    I’ve done plenty of reading about this, and asked the some nurses, most say that the occasional drink is not an issue. From what I gather, alcohol leaves breastmilk at the same rate as it leaves your blood stream, so if you have one drink and wait a few hours you should be fine. You don’t actually have to pump and dump because the alcohol doesn’t sit in your milk.
    That said, I only have the occasional bottle of light beer (1% alcohol). I figure at that little, one bottle isn’t going to do any harm, considering that only a small percentage of that 1% makes its way into my milk in the first place, and I wouldn’t be feeding for awhile anyways. I know a lot of people who will have a glass of wine and think nothing of it, so opinions definitely vary widely!

  7. Sandi Sigurdson October 6, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Here’s an idea: quit bloody nursing. I’m 57. Back in the day my mom was a freak for nursing (like a damn foreigner). Bottle feeding was all the rage. So by the time I had kids six months seemed like plenty of time to nurse and 6 weeks on the last kid seemed reasonable. They grew up to be cute and smart and have no obvious deformities (nor to I or my four siblings)though my oldest DID turn out to be a lactation specialist….who recommends a half beer periodically to stimulate milk production. If this is Controversy Wednesday I vote for weaning. There! I said it out loud! retro-ly yours, sandi

  8. BA October 6, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    My OB told me that even a few drinks while pregnant is okay. I never touched a drop of alcohol when I was pregnant the first time. Two glasses of wine while pregnant with my second. Ten or so glasses of while pregnant the third time. All in moderation – and by glass, I mean 3-4 oz. My Euro friends couldn’t believe that this was even a discussion that I would have with my OB.

  9. Odoley October 7, 2010 at 2:17 am #

    Funny, the BBC did a feature on this just a couple of days ago:

    • jaimeclewis October 7, 2010 at 10:23 am #

      Now hold on a second. We’re not talking about drinking while pregnant. That is another subject entirely. The county I live in, San Luis Obispo County, is the highest for babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the US – ostensibly due to the proximity of wine country. (Who knows why?) Anyway, the going opinion around here is that there is NO amount of alcohol that’s safe for pregnant women to drink, and a lot of good people have worked hard to spread that message:

  10. AKeo October 7, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    I couldn’t live without the painkillers after the c-section and I have to think those had more of a sedating effect on my little guy than the occasional glass of wine. I had a few drinks while nursing. No more than a small glass of wine per time. Wish I’d known about hops helping production – could have used that to nurse longer. Like all good things (alcohol, sex) if you want to avoid the risks don’t do it at all.

    I agree with your NO alcohol during pregnancy. People expect fetal alcohol syndrome to be from alcoholic, dead beat mothers (not from their glass a day habit) and the babies be physically deformed as well as mentally challenged. Not so! Those babies can come out perfectly normal, develop just fine, but they struggle in school – I know, I teach some!

  11. Debbie October 7, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    If there is a concern, don’t do it. There are no do overs.

  12. Jim October 8, 2010 at 11:21 am #

    I hope you don’t mind a comment from a dad. About the strips, I had no idea that such a thing existed. What a great idea.

    In my opinion, there seem to be multiple reasons to abstain for now.

    I think the reason that I enjoy your blog is 1) as a parent I relate very well to much of what you write, and 2) it is evident that you make a conscious effort to do what you think is best for Seabass, even when it means making a sacrifice of some sort. This is impressive and inspiring to me.

    • jaimeclewis October 8, 2010 at 11:42 am #

      How could I mind that a dad is jumping in on the parenting action? I love that you wrote in – thank you!

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